Trading for Vladimir Tarasenko looked to be the New York Rangers’ big move in their attempt to take a big stride in becoming a Stanley Cup contender.
With the NHL trade deadline now less than a full week away, players are waiting for the next skate to drop on another seismic acquisition.
Speculation about the Rangers acquiring three-time Stanley Cup champion Patrick Kane from the Chicago Blackhawks has been building. And while agent Pat Brisson said Friday there’s nothing new on Kane’s status, the prospect of adding more talent for a deep playoff run is causing a mix of distraction and excitement around the Rangers.
“You hear stuff, but you just try to focus on the team and the game and what we got going on each day,” defenseman Ryan Lindgren said. “We proved that we can be a good team this year. Obviously it’s always exciting when you add guys and some really good players.”
Even if some of the external chatter is seeping into New York’s play — like a 4-1 loss at Detroit on Thursday night — trading for players sure beats selling at the deadline like the team had done in previous years before making the playoffs last season.
The Rangers shifted into win-soon mode in the spring of 2021. They signed gritty winger Barclay Goodrow and made other moves to inch closer to contention. They acquired a handful of players at the deadline last year and are in that same sort of spot now, giving general manager Chris Drury more reason to trade picks and prospects for immediate help.
“As players, you work hard and you work to put yourself in a position come deadline time that you’re a spot where you’re heading for the top,” said Goodrow, who was a major deadline addition for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020 before they won consecutive Stanley Cup titles. “We’ve done that: We’ve followed up our season last year with another good one this year.”
The Rangers sent a 2023 first-round pick, a conditional 2024 fourth, depth forward Sammy Blais and minor leaguer Hunter Skinner to St. Louis for Tarasenko on Feb. 9. But they still have another first-rounder this year thanks to a trade last summer with Dallas and — with some help — maybe just enough salary cap space to also add Kane.
As Hart Levine of PuckPedia, a site that tracks NHL contracts and the cap, points out: New York would need to clear forwards Vitali Kravtsov and Jake Leschyshyn off the roster to fit Kane in, as long as a third team is willing to get involved to make the money work, as the Minnesota Wild have done twice this month.
Not coincidentally, the Rangers scratched Kravtsov and Leschyshyn on Thursday for “roster management.” Neither player practiced Friday, and coach Gerard Gallant was all too happy to play coy.
“What’s the word we used, ‘roster management?’” Gallant said. “Nothing changed today. Nothing changed.”
Kane, who has seven goals and three assists in his last four games, also was held out of practice. The Blackhawks said it was for “maintenance,” and coach Luke Richardson called the forward “a little sore.”
“He’s going hard right now and he’s feeling it,” Richardson said. “So I think it’s just smart, he doesn’t need to practice every day at this point in his career.”
While Chicago is finishing another losing season, no one with New York is shying away from the expectation of repeating last year’s trip to the Eastern Conference final, if not improving on it, and with that comes uncertainty around the trade deadline.
“Management’s on the same page, coaches are on the same page and the players are on the same page: We think we’re one of those teams that has a chance to legitimately win,” Gallant said. “You’re trying to make your team better every day, and that’s what management does. It’s going to be over in a week’s time, but you just got to focus on playing the games.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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