LOS ANGELES — The decision to repeatedly scratch Vitali Kravtsov, despite the fact that the Russian winger is healthy enough to play, circles back to the Rangers’ overarching issue of continuing to carry 23 players on their roster.
It’s been over a month since the Rangers recalled Julien Gauthier from AHL Hartford to reach the roster limit. And every day that passes, the Rangers are leaving dollars on the table that will be necessary come the trade deadline on March 21. The move may have been necessary at the time due to injuries, but it is not anymore and the club is only hurting itself the longer it continues on this path.
To continue to scratch Kravtsov, however, only raises the eyebrow higher. There’s no doubt that Kravtsov’s inability to stay healthy has played a significant role in the problem. The uncertainty surrounding his status from game-to-game puts the Rangers in a precarious spot.
But if Kravtsov has been cleared from his latest issue — a tooth infection/stomach bug — and is able to play, the Rangers surely want to see what they have in the No. 9-overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.
If not when the team is looking for a spark at five-on-five, when? If not when the team needs to decide who to cut, when? If not now, then when?
“He’s been ready the last couple,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said after practice on Monday when asked if he has a plan for Kravtsov’s return to the lineup. “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’ve got no problem with the way Kravy has been this year. He’s worked hard and all that. He’s had some unfortunate luck.
“Right now, it’s about our team and I liked the way our team played right now. We’ll see when it’s going to happen, but it’s going to happen. He’s going to play. We want to give him every opportunity. So far, he’s worked hard. He’s been a good, character person. He’s done everything we’ve asked.
“Just a matter of getting into the game. … It’ll happen sooner than later, but we’ll see.”
Kravtsov, who has logged a mere 52:28 of ice time this season, said he feels ready to play, but admitted he’s not 100 percent. That could be a factor in all this, as well. The 22-year-old noted that he thought he played well in his past two games, which gave him some confidence he can build off of it when he gets his next chance.
“For sure, it’s bad luck,” Kravtsov said. “No one wants to be injured, and three times in a season, it’s a lot. Hard to go through that. After that, I feel it’s going to be much better.”
Not only do the Rangers have a viable top-six option sitting in the press box, but Ryan Reaves and his $1.75 million cap hit is up there, too. Reaves has been a healthy scratch in six of the past seven games — and it’s looking like it’ll be seven of the past eight after the Rangers face the Kings on Tuesday. The Rangers would save a prorated $1.125 million under the cap by assigning Reaves to Hartford, freeing up something in the range of $3.75 million in space by the trade deadline. If Reaves is claimed on waivers or traded, the Rangers would save the entire amount.
It would be folly for the Rangers to demote Gauthier, who will now have to pass through waivers in order to be assigned to AHL Hartford. And after making an impression in the 11 games he has played, the Rangers probably don’t want to risk losing another depth player. The other option would be Ryan Carpenter, whose contributions on faceoffs have been the lone standout in his 16 games. But as a center, Carpenter may appear more valuable to the Rangers, who are thin at that position.
Time is of the essence where the Rangers and their cap situation are concerned. Tick, tick, tick.