It appears as if the Rangers will have a decision to reach on Lias Andersson sooner rather than later.
Because as the NHL lays out plans for a summer revival of the 2019-20 season, 30-man rosters would be one of the features of the nascent blueprint. That means, of course, multiple promotions from the minor league system and those on loan to European clubs.
The latter category of course includes Andersson, who recorded 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists) in 15 games for HV-71 in Sweden following his reconciliation with the Rangers organization a month after his messy departure from the AHL Wolf Pack.
It is not clear whether all promoted players would immediately be added to NHL rosters or onto “taxi squads”— remember, under normal conditions there is no roster limit following the trade deadline — and it is unknown how these players would be paid and whether this would have an impact on escrow, but additional athletes will be needed to protect against injuries and positive tests for COVID-19.
But let’s put the variables and unknowns aside for this exercise under which we consider what the Rangers might do to fill out their 30-man roster. Entering the hiatus, the team had a 22-man roster that included Chris Kreider, who was rehabbing from the broken foot he’d sustained at the end of February but is now good to go.
The Blueshirts currently have six defensemen, 13 forwards and three goaltenders on the NHL roster. That leaves room for eight promotions from the minor league system. As of now, at least, NHL regulations prohibit teams from signing players to contracts for 2019-20. In other words, Nils Lundqvist and Morgan Barron would not be eligible to be added to the roster.
Figure lefty defensemen Libor Hajek and Yegor Rykov as automatic recalls with righty Darren Raddysh a strong candidate. Up front, figure on Steven Fogarty (who filled in for the injured Filip Chytil in Colorado on March 11 in the final game before the break), Vinni Lettieri (who led the Wolf Pack in scoring with a 25-22-47 stat line) and Vitali Kravtsov the most likely suspects.
The Blueshirts would have to decide whether to add a fourth goaltender in either Adam Huska or Jean-Francois Berube. If the team does add a goalie and recalls the aforementioned three defensemen and three forwards, there would be room for one more promotion under the 30-man limit.
Winger Ryan Gropp would be a candidate. So would center Boo Nieves and winger Tim Gettinger. Maybe even Matt Beleskey.
And so would Andersson, the seventh-overall selection in the 2017 entry draft whose difficulties on and off the ice — and with the organization — have been painstakingly chronicled.
If the league picks up where it left off on March 11, and that seems to be the idea, the Rangers would be in 10th place, one point behind the ninth-place Islanders and two points behind both the second wild-card Blue Jackets and first wild-card Hurricanes while one point ahead of the 11th-place Panthers.
But while the Blueshirts and Columbus would each have 12 games remaining, the Islanders and Carolina would each have 14 to go while Florida would have 13 to play. In other words, the Rangers would have little margin for error.
Under this scenario, incumbency would have less meaning in a projected training camp than it does in the normal September camp. Players are likely to report in wildly divergent shape, both from a physical and mental standpoint. Some will be all-in while others are likely to be there grudgingly.
It will be on David Quinn (in conjunction with management hierarchy John Davidson, Jeff Gorton, Chris Drury) to come out of the gate with the lineup best prepared to win immediately. Andersson, off his positive experience with HV-71 and who is believed to be skating in Sweden, might fit into that equation in a wide-open camp.
A week ago, the 21-year-old gave an interview to Gothenburg Post reporter Johan Rylander in which, among other topics, he acknowledged a thawing between himself and the organization, specifically crediting club president Davidson. While the prospect of rejoining the Rangers this season was not discussed, he did not rule out the possibility of attending a traditional camp — if invited — preceding 2020-21.
But the need for a decision has almost certainly been accelerated, both on his side and on the team side. There is likely much repair work still to be done and with relatively little time in which to do it.
At one point, the prospect of Andersson skating for the Rangers again in 2019-20 seemed impossible. But so did everything we are experiencing. But if he is of healthy mind and body, the Blueshirts might need him.
Never say never.