Johnny Boychuk (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
With both New York teams in a favorable position heading to the playoffs, neither team will be looking to ship out players. The Rangers will look to bolster their depth at center, while the Islanders are going to make sure they keep the pieces that have made them so successful thus far.
With the NHL's March 2 trade deadline less than a month away, the New York Rangers are popping up more frequently in the rumor mill. After reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season, there's speculation Rangers GM Glen Sather will try to boost his club's chances for another shot at the Cup.
NBC Sports' Jason Brough believes Sather will be a buyer, citing his history of swinging deadline deals. His most recent was last season's blockbuster swap of Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay for Martin St-Louis. The Rangers need depth at center. Brough suggests Arizona's Antoine Vermette, Ottawa's David Legwand or Toronto's Mike Santorelli as possible trade targets.
On Sunday, the New York Daily News' Pat Leonard reported Rangers coach Alain Vigneault didn't sidestep questions about possible moves by his team, particularly their need for a skilled center. Leonard also listed Vermette as a trade option.
Newsday's Steve Zipay thinks the asking price for Vermette will be expensive, perhaps a promising youngster like J.T. Miller and a prospect. Zipay recommends pursuing Coyotes center Martin Hanzal as he's younger (27) and is signed through 2016-17 at an annual cap hit of $3.1 million. He wonders if an offer of Miller, little-used defenseman John Moore and a mid-round pick might tempt the Coyotes.
The Rangers' limited cap space prompted NorthJersey.com's Andrew Gross to speculate pending free agents like Moore and Mats Zuccarello could be used as trade chips to add a “physical and reliable defensive presence.” However, ESPN.com's Katie Strang reports a source claims it's unlikely Zuccarello or fellow pending UFA forward St-Louis will be shopped. She notes St-Louis' no-trade clause, which he waived at last year's trade deadline to join the Blueshirts, remains in effect.
The Rangers could also seek experienced depth for their defense corps. The New York Post's Larry Brooks recently speculated they were showcasing Moore in hopes of adding a rental rearguard like Carolina's Andrej Sekera, Colorado's Jan Hejda or Ottawa's Marc Methot.
Strang claims the Rangers have around $1.5 million in cap space, so unless they're shipping out a salaried player they'll have to accept an affordable depth player. Without shedding salary, Sather will likely only be able to address one of his roster needs, which at this point appears a skilled faceoff man.
Sather must also be careful not to add too much salary for next season. He presently has over $52 million invested in just 13 players. Given the uncertainty over next season's cap ceiling he could have less than $19 million available with notable like St. Louis, Zuccarello, Moore, Miller, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin to re-sign or replace. That could rule out pursuing a player like Hanzal with term remaining on his contract.
In the past, Sather has pulled a few surprised out of his hat near the trade deadline. If he's in “go for it” mode this year, he could still swing a significant deal. Given his cap constraints, however, it appears landing an affordable rental center like Mike Santorelli could be his best option.
BOYCHUK STAYING WITH THE ISLES
The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported Sunday “several teams”, including the Dallas Stars, contacted the New York Islanders about pending UFA defenseman Johnny Boychuk. In the understatement of the year, Garrioch said “it's doubtful he's going anywhere.”
Doubtful? Try impossible. While the Isles risk losing the 31-year-old Boychuk to free agency in July, he's an invaluable part of their lineup and a key factor in their success this season.
Despite missing nine games to injury earlier in the season, Boychuk leads the Islanders in average ice time (21:49) while his plus/minus of plus-15 leads the team. He also leads all Isles defensemen in assists (21), points (25), power-play goals (4) and power-play points (13).
Though Boychuk is eligible for UFA status there's no guarantee he'll test the market this summer. On Jan. 14, Newsday's Steve Zipay reported contract talks between the blueliner and Isles management were ongoing.
Re-signing Boychuk could cost over $6 million per season. Given the Islanders recent improvement, their incoming new ownership and pending move to Brooklyn, they could pony up the big bucks to keep him in the fold. If Boychuk remains unsigned by the trade deadline, Isles fan can rest assured he won't be dealt.