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Rangers should be aggressive ahead of NHL trade deadline

NHL Trade Deadline New York Rangers

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 19: Filip Chytil #72, Adam Fox #23 and Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers defend against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden on January 19, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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The 2022 NHL Trade Deadline is a little more than a month away and we saw one team get a head start on the moves on Monday. That is when the Calgary Flames, quickly emerging as a contender in the Western Conference, acquired Tyler Toffoli from the Montreal Canadiens to address a significant depth problem beyond their top line. They are reportedly still in the market for additional moves before the deadline.

The New York Rangers are in a similar position (top team, obvious depth need) and should follow their lead and try to make a serious run this season.

The Rangers are a fascinating team this season because there is a lot to love, and a lot to not love, about the way they are constructed at the present time.

Their top half of the roster is, quite honestly, as good as any other contender in the league.

Artemi Panarin is one of the most impactful offensive players in the NHL, Chris Kreider is having a career year offensively and in contention for the goal scoring crown, while Mika Zibanejad has started to catch fire again is back to being a point-per-game player.

Adam Fox is the reigning Norris Trophy winner and might be even better this season, while their goalie, Igor Shesterkin, is not only the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy, he also has a strong case for the league MVP award (or should have a case for it).

[Related: Five likely playoff teams that need to address their depth]

The concern for the Rangers is that their underlying numbers are not in line with what you would normally see from a contender, while they get badly outscored when their top-two forwards are sitting on the bench. A lot of that stems from the fact that for as good as their top-tier players are, their bottom-six is just not all that intimidating and is lacking a lot of scoring punch. Part of it is due to them just not really building out those bottom lines that well. Another part of it is recent top picks Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko not yet emerging as stars just yet. Either way, they need depth. They need secondary players that can complement their stars and balance out their lineup.

The front office has the ability to correct that, and they should explore all options in doing so.

New York currently has more salary cap space than almost any other contending team in the NHL and a decent cupboard full of prospects and young talent in which to deal from.

It is absolutely the right time to dip into that. For starters, players like Panarin and Kreider are on the other side of 30 and while they should remain productive players for several more seasons, it is far from a given that you will ever get *this* level of production from them again. The Rangers are also going to see some significant new contracts kick in next season that will tap into their salary cap space. Fox’s contract goes from $925,000 to over $9 million. Zibanejad goes from $5 million to over $8 million. They will still have to fill out the remainder of their roster.

So this is the time to strike, and there are no shortage of intriguing options that could be available to them.

This week the Post’s Larry Brooks threw out the possibility of a reunion with J.T. Miller, who could be a game-changer for their depth given his versatility and production. He has been a point-per-game player the past three seasons in Vancouver and the Canucks could be looking to shake things up with a new front office taking over in the middle of a disappointing season.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Avalanche in a tier all by themselves]

Would the Flyers trade Claude Giroux within the division? Why not try!

Tomas Hertl could obviously be in play if he and the Sharks can not come to terms on a new contract.

If the Rangers wanted to upgrade their defense around Fox, John Klingberg and Jakob Chychrun could be available (and Chychrun’s contract is a steal for the next three seasons).

The Rangers are not the best team in the league right now and are probably a tier below the true elites like Colorado, Carolina, and Tampa Bay. But they have a game-changing goalie that can steal games and flip a playoff series upside down against any team, as well as a couple of superstar players at extremely important positions. Those two things can mask a lot of flaws and take a team a very long way. Give them a little bit of help around that and you might have something special. The Rangers have the assets and salary cap flexibility to give them that help.