Marc Staal missed his 2nd straight game after leaving the Devils-Rangers game last Saturday evening. It is being touted by the Rangers brass as a 'minor concussion,' yet it all but guarantees Staal out of the lineup at least a few weeks... if not more. And tonight, in NYR's 2nd consecutive 4-1 defeat on home ice, NYR captain Ryan Callahan left the game with a sprained knee. It is recently been reported it will be a six-to-eight week injury.
NY has played averagely-to-below-averagely, revealed in their 15-16-1 record. Once again, Broadway faces a rash of the injury bug, in the face of an already underachieving hockey club. It does not bode well for a team turnaround in performance, as NY has struggled mightily of late, so far taking little opportunity of their deluxe nine-game homestand. But of course, that's the simple bad news, the obvious writing on the wall.
Is their any good news?
Hear me out on this...
1) Political pressure. If the NY Rangers are struggling while totally healthy, NYR General Manager Glen Sather has little options for explaining (to the fans, press, employees or employers) why a big trade, or multiple trades, need to happen now. But if a team that sucks while healthy has some key players injured, now and sporadically since October? Now all of a sudden Sather is expected to do something amending of the current roster. It simply won't look as bad to cash in NYR 1st Round Draft Picks or AHL prospects for talented mid-season acquisition. Sather had his options all summer long, and assembled a team that has not met its expectations. Injuries or management's incompetence (or, more likely, a combination of both), injuries like this can take the heat off of a GM's offseason plan falling on its face by December. But, then again, Jim Dolan's earlier vote of confidence assuring Sather his job was somehow invariably safe in NY. How sour does the season have to turn for Sather to actually lose his job?
2) If... and granted this is a big if... If NYR were to make the 2014 playoffs... with Callahan/Staal/Nash having played significantly less games than their opposition come April... surely it would be an advantage in the dimensions of fatigue. Two players of very similar stature, roll, talent and value squaring off. One has played 80 NHL regular season games, the other has played 55. In a seven-game triple overtime, which player do you want? Lest we forget, Henrik Lundqvist has put up his best numbers in years he played his least amount of games (53 in 05-06, 62 in 11-12, & 43 in 12-13). The real trick is getting to the playoffs, which is the rub when we're discussing post-season advantages of your key players not playing in the regular-season. However, we have a pretty great feeling that Sather will do a lot to salvage this season for some sort of playoff birth. The Metropolitan Division is, of course, the worst division in the NHL.
What are the numbers regarding trade options?
As of right now, with 13 healthy forwards and an injured Callahan, as well as 6 healthy defensemen and a concussed Staal, and Lundqvist/Talbot: NYR can afford to add $1.75 million in cap hit to the roster today. That is on pace to be a $5.51 million opening if the roster stays this way until the trade deadline, which is doubtful. If Callahan or Staal are placed on Long-Term Injury Reserve, additional cap credit can be added.
So, here we are in Rangersland. Sather will have a lot of freedom to do what he wants with the majority of NYR's contracts expiring next July. With circumstances as they are now, Sather will also have a lot of freedom to make moves in the next few months should NY continue to flounder around mediocrity. Lundqvist was just signed to the big bucks until he turns 39 years old, meaning of course it is a huge commitment to compete for the Cup while ~12% of your salary cap is tied up in a guy who turns 33 next March. As injuries continue to daunt a roster seemingly incapable of consistent competition, even on home ice, it will be 'good news' for those interested in the team making attempts at trade & improvement.
We shall see how things unfold, or continue to fold.