LOS ANGELES – The decision to repeatedly scratch Vitaly Kravtsov, despite the fact that the Russian winger is healthy enough to play, comes down to the Rangers’ overarching issue of continuing to include 23 players on their roster.
It’s been more than a month since the Rangers called up AHL’s Julien Gauthier from Hartford to reach the roster limit. And each day that passes, the Rangers leave dollars on the table that will be needed by the March 21 trading deadline. A move may have been necessary at the time due to injuries, but it is no longer and the club is only aching itself the longer it continues on this path.
Still, to continue scratching Kravtsov, it only raises an eyebrow. There is no doubt that Kravtsov’s inability to stay healthy played a significant role in the problem. The uncertainty surrounding his situation from game to game puts Rangers in a precarious position.
But if Kravtsov is cleared of his latest issue — a tooth infection/stomach malfunction — and is able to play, the Rangers definitely want to see what they have as the No. 9 pick overall in the 2018 NHL Draft.
If not when the team is looking for a spark at five-to-five, then when? If not, when does the team have to decide who to cut, and when? If not now then when?
“He was ready for the last two,” Rangers manager Gerard Gallant said after training on Monday when asked if he had a plan to get Kravtsov back in the squad. “I have an idea, but I don’t know when. I liked the way our team played the last game… It might be the same lineup. I don’t have a problem with the way Kravy has been this year. He worked hard and all that. He had some unfortunate luck.”
“At the moment it’s about our team and I’ve liked the way our team is playing now. We’ll see when it happens, but it will happen. He’ll play. We want to give him every chance. So far, he’s worked hard. He’s been a good character. He’s done everything we’ve asked for.”
“Just a matter of getting in the game…. It will happen sooner rather than later, but we’ll see.”
Kravtsov, who has clocked 52:28 of ice time this season, said he feels ready to play, but admitted it’s not 100%. This can be a factor in all of this as well. The 22-year-old indicated that he believes he has played well in his previous two matches, which has given him some confidence he can build on when he gets his next chance.
“Sure, it’s bad luck,” Kravtsov said. “Nobody wants to get injured, three times in a season, that’s a lot. It’s hard to go through that. After that, I feel like he’ll be much better.”
Not only do the Rangers have a viable option among the top six players sitting in the press box, but Ryan Reaves and his $1.75 million gross are also present. The Reaves have been a healthy scratch in six of the past seven games — and it looks like it will be seven of the last eight after the Rangers take on the Kings on Tuesday. The Rangers would save $1.125 million proportionately under the cap by allocating Reaves to Hartford, freeing up something in the order of $3.75 million in space by the trade deadline. If Reaves is claimed on waivers or traded, the Rangers will provide the full amount.
It would be foolish for the Rangers to demote Gauthier, who will now have to go through waivers in order to be assigned to AHL Hartford. And after making an impression in his 11 games, the Rangers probably don’t want to risk losing another player so deep. Another option would be Ryan Carpenter, whose tackles contributions were the only lead in his 16 games. But as a center, Carpenter may seem more valuable to lean guards in the position.
Time is of the essence when it comes to Rangers and their cap. tick, tick, tick.