Yes, the Rangers will require reinforcement in the wake of losing Sammy Blais for the remainder of the season to a torn ACL he sustained as a consequence of that skate clip in the corner by P.K. Subban early in the third period of Sunday’s match at the Garden.
The 25-year-old winger, who was in the midst of establishing himself as an important top-nine NHL piece following his acquisition from St. Louis this summer as the featured part of the return for Pavel Buchnevich, will undergo surgery in a couple of weeks once the swelling in his right knee subsides.
But though the Blueshirts now have both a significant hole that needs to be filled and the ample cap space on hand with which to address it, general manager Chris Drury should avoid rushing into the void to make a trade out of weakness.
The 9-3-3 record the team carries into Tuesday night’s matchup against Montreal at the Garden eliminates the need to make an immediate, panicky move such as sending away one of the organization’s stable of young assets on the blue line in order to obtain a band-aid replacement for the hard-hitting physical winger.
Before looking outside the organization and delving into a trade market that is generally not all that welcoming at this time of year to buyers, the GM might want to give first cracks to either Morgan Barron or Tim Gettinger, both big-bodied forwards toiling in Hartford.
Actually, Drury and the hierarchy must first identify specifically what and who they are trying to replace. Do the Rangers need a winger capable of playing on the top line, where Blais had been for the last three games? Or is there the sense that Alexis Lafreniere is on track to reclaim that assignment in the foreseeable future? Or, instead, do they need a physical presence to slot in on the third line, which is where Blais had been projected to play and had spent the earlier portion of the season?
(Independent of this situation, the Kings have assigned 22-year-old center Gabriel Vilardi to the AHL. The 11th-overall selection of 2017 would merit interest, perhaps even in a swap for Vitali Kravtsov’s rights.)
The hole left by Blais’ departure will for the moment be filled by Barclay Goodrow, who will shift from his slot as third-line center to skate on the right with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Drury. At the same time, Filip Chytil is serendipitously coming off IR after missing three games with an upper-body injury to slide into the middle between Lafreniere and Julien Gauthier.
But as valuable and as versatile as Goodrow is, he was not signed to his six-year, $21.85 million deal, after his rights were peremptorily acquired from Tampa Bay in advance of free agency, to play on the top line. So we’ll see where all this goes.
“I feel horrible for the guy,” Goodrow said of Blais. “His physicality [and] his compete level is what we all want to play like. It’s what I think our group has been striving to be. He’s one of the hardest hitters I’ve ever seen, to be honest. He’s a guy that D-men don’t want to play against, and that’s kind of infectious throughout the group.”
Blais, who carries a $1.5 million cap hit and will become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights following the season, was an emerging and popular personality among his teammates. He will be missed off the ice, as well.
“He’s very lighthearted, keeps things light in the room,” Goodrow said. “He’s a funny guy, he’s a competitor, he brings it every single night, he’s always engaged.
“It’s a big loss for our group and a big hole but we’ll get it done as a group.”
Goodrow has already skated as part of eight different line combinations. That does not make him unique on this squad, with head coach Gerard Gallant having assembled 22 different forward lines to start games. That total does not include in-game adjustments such as Dryden Hunt joining Zibanejad and Kreider for four shifts after Blais left Sunday’s match 3:53 into the third period.
“Is it temporary? Is it 10 games? We’ll see, we’ll take it one day at a time,” Gallant said when asked about Goodrow’s assignment. “There’s other options , obviously, but for now that’s the likely one.”
So the Rangers, thin up front to begin with, thinner up front in the wake of Kravtsov’s desertion, and even thinner now in the wake of this season-ender to Blais, must soldier on while Drury peruses the market but avoids rushing into the abyss.