Before the trade deadline, we did a mailbag article featuring questions from Blueshirt Banter readers submitted via Twitter. The trade deadline has come and gone, and there have been a lot of changes for the New York Rangers — so we figured it was time for another one! Fortunately our Twitter-savvy readers supplied us with some great, thought-provoking questions. So without any further adieu, let’s dig into the second installment of Shayna and Mike’s Blueshirt Banter Mailbag!
Regardless of competition: How the heck has this team won 3 games in a row? Do you think AV still getting fired after the season?
This team has won three in a row because of their goaltenders. Henrik Lundqvist had to stop 100 (!!) shots in two games – against teams that probably shouldn’t have even generated that much offense against the Rangers in the first place. In Edmonton, Alexandar Georgievneeded to have a strong third period to maintain the lead after the Rangers were outshot.
I think Alain Vigneault has to be on his way out if the Rangers are serious about rebuilding. Player development hasn’t been one of his strengths throughout his coaching career, and that’s not going to change now.
Had the Rangers had one disappointing season with him behind the bench, it may be a different story. But his player deployment and systems have been problematic before this season, and he hasn’t shown a proclivity for adaptation over the years.
Three assistant coaches later for the defense, the same problems persist — and really, they’re far more glaring this year. Plus, there have been countless player changes and drastic changes to the core, yet the problems remain the same. I can’t imagine the front office believing that things will be any different with him at the helm next year.
Alain Vigneault found a way to wiggle off of the hot seat leading up to the Winter Classic this year, but all of the illusions that veiled what this team really was in the first half of the season have evaporated. What we are left with is the conspicuous truth Vigneault is no longer the right head coach for the Rangers. He lasted longer than his predecessor John Tortorella, but it has been all downhill since the Rangers won the 2015 Presidents’ Trophy.
Vigneault is a lot of things — including a successful head coach — but he does not have a reputation for working well with young players. And in the next few years the Rangers will be a team defined by its young players. If the Jeff Gorton and company are serious about this rebuild, they need to expand that shift in philosophy to the current coaching staff.
And how much is it due to the addition of Spooner and Namestnikov?
I think what we are seeing is a team defined by hungry players that are no longer burdened with rumors and questions. There’s no more pressure for success. The only pressure now is for players to prove they belong; to prove that they can be a part of the solution moving forward. In other words, we are seeing a lot of guys who are playing for their next contracts and for their future with the team. This is a massive opportunity for guys like Paul Carey, John Gilmour, Neal Pionk, and Tony DeAngelo.
Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov have been excellent in their first handful of games. There’s really no other word for it. It’s hard to overstate just how influential and important they’ve been to the team’s unexpected success in the aftermath of Deadline Day. They’ve injected new energy into the lineup.
There’s still pressure, but it’s certainly much different than the pressure surrounding the Rangers at the trade deadline. There was so much uncertainty, not just for the pending free agents, but for veterans with term left on their contracts. Jeff Gorton has noted that there’s more changes to come, but they aren’t necessarily as rash as those that happened at the trade deadline. Teams have the chance to reflect and refresh after the season and before the draft; they aren’t just focused on the immediate future.
But from now until the end of the season, like Mike said, players have the chance to prove why they should be a part of this team now and in the future — whether it’s for a new contract, or just in general.
Both Spooner and Namestnikov have made an impact in their first few games, as have some of the defensemen the Rangers have called up. Not only are they talented players in their own right, but they’ve complimented the players who remained with the team after Gorton cleaned house on deadline day. Some of these players have added another dimension — like their transitional play — that limits the Rangers playing dump-and-chase hockey.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
If the Rangers, against all odds, reach the playoffs, then there’s a pretty good chance that AV and the front office will fool themselves into believing they don’t need to rebuild after all?
The odds are not in the Rangers favor to make the playoffs. Not only do they need to continue to win, but they need too many teams in the division/conference to lose. If they do somehow make the playoffs, they likely aren’t going to make that much of an impact so it shouldn’t change the front office’s line of thinking. They already are rebuilding and have made it clear that they’re invested in seeing it through.
If the Rangers stumble into the playoffs — which is not likely to happen — they would almost certainly unravel in spectacular fashion which would only further cement the case that the rebuild must happen. If you’re Gorton and Sather, you don’t release that open letter to fans without understanding that there is no room to backtrack. They are all in. This is going to happen.
If AV is fired, who would be an ideal, available coaching candidate to lead through the rebuild? Firing AV is half the plan, but I’ve heard little to nothing when it comes to the other half of the plan.
Current Toronto Marlies’ head coach Sheldon Keefe strikes me as an interesting option. He’s only 37-years-old, but Keefe has already turned around the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds and established himself as a top coach in the AHL. His experience working with young players is a big plus.
Plenty of armchair general managers have mentioned former Kings’ bench boss Darryl Sutter as a leading candidate. He’ll be 60 next season and his contract with the Kings expires at the end of the year. If the Rangers are planning an accelerated rebuild, a two-time Stanley Cup winning coach is certainly worth a look. With that being said, one gets the impression that the Rangers should echo what they did with their AHL coaching staff last offseason and go with new faces and fresh blood.
Someone like Joel Quenneville could become available, or like Mike said Sutter is available. Both have undoubtedly had their success at the NHL level, but there’s something to be said about having a fresh face behind the bench, especially for a young team.
I also like the idea of Sheldon Keefe. Jim Montgomery from Denver University is another option who did receive NHL interest last offseason from the Panthers and Kings, as is David Quinn from Boston University. These coaches are from the junior and NCAA level, which is encouraging for a team focused building a young, skilled contender that hinges on player development. Another intriguing option, I think, is Ralph Krueger, if he’d be willing to return to the NHL. (note: Mike also likes the idea of Krueger)
Overall, I think the Rangers should be searching for an up-and-coming rather than an established veteran; one that will be willing to experiment with more innovative concepts, instead of the same traditional approach.
Should we move Spooner at the draft for a second and a prospect a la Michael Grabner?
Possibly — depending on how he performs the rest of the season, if there’s a place in the lineup, and what his ask is for his next contract. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the move though, especially if they’re in need of depth at another position (defense, maybe) and don’t want to move some players like Kreider, Zuccarello, Namestnikov, and so on to acquire that.
According to Matt Cane’s free agent prediction model, if he signs a one-year contract it’ll have an average annual value of $2,014,532; a two-year contract would bring that up to $2,465,264, and three-year deal’s AAV would be $3,355,049. Any of those are not only reasonable costs for the Rangers, but would make him a valuable trade piece as well. If he’s asking for a more significant raise though, he may be on the move sooner rather than later since he isn’t the team’s only pending free agent to consider, and he’s the oldest of their RFAs on offense (ahead of Hayes, Vesey, and Namestnikov).
Then again, the Rangers may feel Spooner is more valuable in their lineup. He’s versatile enough to play both wing and center, plus he’s been productive so far (although it’s unlikely that he keeps up at this pace).
It all depends on what kind of contract Spooner wants and what the front office thinks he is capable of. He’d be a fantastic option as a middle-six winger who can play on the power play, but it will be very hard for him to find a spot on this team at center with Zibanejad, Hayes, Namestnikov, Andersson, and Chytil in the organization’s plans.
If Gorton can find a way to sign him for three years with an AAV below $4 million, he should probably bite. But if there’s too much of a gap between Spooner’s camp and the Rangers on the RFA’s next contract Gorton should look into flipping him for picks or using him to move up the draft board. I’m not sure what kind of prospect he’d command in a trade on draft day, but there should be plenty of teams willing to give him a chance as a second or third line center. He has value.
What are some draft day trades that you could see the Rangers making, and on that note, what do you think an appropriate return for Mats Zuccarello would be?
Will he be dealt or won’t he? Personally I believe that Zuccarello is a natural fit for the next captain of this team, but the haul he could bring back in a trade to a Cup contender (or a team that believes it’s a Cup contender) is hard to pass up.
I think what this comes down to is Zuccarello’s contract. He can be moved as a rental at next year’s deadline, so unless there is an irresistible package on draft day this isn’t something the Rangers have to rush. Of course, not pulling the trigger this summer could mean missing an opportunity to trade the Norwegian if he gets injured. It’s a tough call to make.
If the Rangers do move Zuccarello it would have to be for something special. Something like a pick in the first half of the first round plus a prospect. Zuccarello is a fascinating option for other teams because of his reasonable cap hit and his skill set. It’s also worth mentioning that there will be much fewer right wingers of note available on July 1 than left wingers.
I think a lot depends on what the Rangers need at that point in the offseason and if Zuccarello can bring it in a trade. If the Rangers are desperate for defensive depth, they may not have a choice but to move some of their forwards. However, I believe that they’ve seen the consequences of moving such integral pieces of their team without finding a clear replacement.
Think back to the Derek Stepan trade. Even though the Rangers had a player ready for a promotion up to that position in Mika Zibanejad, they didn’t have that depth down their lineup. And they also lost one of their more vocal leaders in the room, which has been a topic of conversation surrounding the Ryan McDonagh trade. Trading Zuccarello not only takes away from their depth on the wing, but removes yet another leader from the locker room. If he is going to be moved, it has to be at the right price because he is so valuable to the team.
Also, it depends on the other wingers available on the market — will Mike Hoffman be on the move? Max Pacioretty? What about free agents, since they won’t cost teams anything to acquire them? If the market is full of wingers, there may not be as much of a demand, and the return may not meet their expectations. On the other hand, if few skilled wingers are up for trade, more teams may be willing to meet the Rangers’ ask.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
With all the draft picks and prospects the rangers have going into 2018, is ther any scenario that suggests they will look to move up and select first overall to get Rasmussen Dahlin? And if so, what would it take I get that pick?
Shayna and I had a lot of fun researching this one. It’s incredibly rare — especially in recent history — for teams to trade up for the first overall pick. And when they do, it always comes at a hefty price.
Right now we simply don’t know enough. We don’t even know which team has the top pick and what kind of package could convince them to give up a chance to take a player like Dahlin. There are just too many unknowns. With that being said, the Blueshirts should absolutely consider taking a swing at landing him when the picture becomes a little more clear.
Speaking of that recent history that Mike spoke of… the only times the first overall pick was traded this century were in 2002 and 2003.
In 2002, the Florida Panthers traded the first overall pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets traded the third overall pick and gave the Panthers the right to swap picks with them in 2003 if they were slotted to draft higher. With the first overall pick, Rick Nash was drafted.
Yet again, in 2003 the Panthers traded the first overall pick (along with a third-round pick this time). The Pittsburgh Penguins subsequently moved up to draft Marc-Andre Fleury. In exchange, the Penguins dealt the third overall pick, a second-round pick, and Mikael Samuelsson.
But it hasn’t happened since. Alex Ovechkin went first overall in 2004, Sidney Crosby in 2005, Patrick Kane in 2007, Steven Stamkos in 2008, John Tavares in 2009, and Taylor Hall in 2010. Fast forward a few years, Connor McDavid was drafted first overall in 2015 and Auston Matthews in 2016. There’s a reason teams weren’t willing to deal their first overall picks when these players were available: these are franchise players.
Rasmus Dahlin is so highly touted that it’ll be a challenge to pry that first overall pick from anyone — whether or not that drafting team has a need for a defenseman. A player of that caliber is going first overall and it’s so unlikely that he isn’t selected by the team that wins the lottery.
The Rangers could try to move up to the second or third overall picks, to draft someone like Andrei Svechnikov or Filip Kadina. It would still be costly because they’re such skilled forwards, but it’s definitely more plausible for a team to be willing to trade those picks, rather than first overall.
Filip Chytil has been playing on Lias Andersson’s wing in Hartford, is that something that should be in JG’s future plans with the big club? (Sorry if that’s already been covered)
— (((Friendly Neighborhood Tubist))) (@andrew_weiss34) March 4, 2018
At surface level Chytil and Andersson don’t appear to be natural fits as linemates. They play very different games. But, you never know, something could develop the more that they play together. One would imagine that Andersson should be able to create time and space for Chytil to work with.
I see Chytil making the NHL as a winger who could transition into playing center. I’ve felt this way all year long. We tend to forget just how young he is and how raw some aspects of his game are. Make no mistake: Chytil is sensationally talented, but he needs to work on his 200 foot game and his decision making (just like every other young forward prospect).
It’s also important to note that if Chytil fails to establish himself as a center in the professional ranks it does not make him any less exciting.
I would think Gorton’s more concerned with whether Andersson or Chytil could actually make this team next season and if it would facilitate their development. I think knowing two players have chemistry is important, but it’s more important to see if either can handle playing at the NHL level on their own before considering whether or not they should play together.
Also, I think it depends how Gorton wants them deployed and where there are openings. Gorton may prefer both of them to play at center at the NHL level before transitioning either to wing, or may feel that one should be at wing and another at center. It also depends on what positions are available.
For a team that announced they were starting over, you probably wouldn’t expect guys like Spooner and Namestnikov (ages 26 and 25 respectively) to be brought into the fold. In fact, I even went so far as to wonder if Spooner was acquired simply to be used as more selloff material to bring back future assets:
Add Spooner here, too. I wouldn’t be shocked to see teams who didn’t get Nash/Grabner/Brassard and who don’t want to pay for Kane going after him. https://t.co/WecaY92AFQ
Since then (as of this writing), Spooner has a ridiculous five assists in his first two games on Broadway and Namestnikov had a goal and an assist in his debut. The two couldn’t have had better starts to their Rangers’ tenure — but it also sparks the question: what should Gorton do with them after this season?
Based on their ages, they’re not old enough to be close to ageing out of their prime, but not young enough to be considered kids. On the podcast this week, I spoke about how these days there’s this conception that anyone over the age of 26 is trending downward, even though that’s not really true. Players like Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash have been some of the Rangers’ best players despite being in their early-to-mid 30’s. It’s not about the age of the player, so much as it is the role and the money.
Gorton, very smartly, realized that in Spooner, Miller, and Kevin Hayes; the Rangers had three similar players, all playing the same position, and all putting up similar production. Hayes’ value was diminished thanks to the reasons I outlined here, and Miller was valued highly by the league.
Since then, Larry Brooks reported the Rangers weren’t enamored with Miller’s off ice work ethic, and the team thought he had issues with coaching that didn’t stem from Alain Vigneault.
3. The Rangers had become convinced J.T. Miller’s coachability issues were not linked to Vigneault and they were concerned he had regressed in his work habits and off-ice preparation, according to individuals familiar with the inner dynamic.
Knowing all of this, it puts a hell of a lot more color on the picture than we had previously. Elliotte Friedman said the Rangers’ deal with Tampa was a “two-week-long grind,” and that leads me to believe the Rangers knew they were moving on from Miller (or trying to) in this particular deal. That they got back Namestnikov feels like a coup — the same way prying Spooner for Nash does.
Which brings us back to the new faces. There is something to be said for being concerned about the future production of both players. However, these concerns are drastically reduced with Namestnikov — who has some of the most elite underlying possession numbers in the league. Despite him playing with a fantastic support group in Tampa, the previously linked story actually shows that the Lightning are worse off when he’s not on the ice despite those elite linemates. Adam went into some details about the pitfalls for expecting a slew of offense from him:
Namestnikov, at his current pace, extrapolates to 26 goals and 58 points over a full season. Should the Rangers count on getting that kind of production from him going forward? No. He won’t be playing with Stamkos and Kucherov in New York. However, his shooting percentage last season, when he scored just 10, was unsustainably low. Namestnikov will do a decent job of producing on the scoresheet, and he is the kind of center you can deploy in tough assignments.
Depending on who the Rangers have next year, and where he plays, I do see Namestnikov capable of being a 50-point player. If Nash returns or Ilya Kovalchuk signs as a free agent, and he’s playing with decent talent, I think he can be in that range. If the Rangers continue to burn things to the ground, well, that’s a different story.
Spooner is more interesting case. This year he has 32 points in 43 games, and his 82-game projection would be an 19-42-61 split. Last year Spooner had 39 points in 78 games, and the year before that he had 49 in 80. I think it’s safe to say Spooner is a 40-point guy, but the jump from expecting 40 points or 55+ is a big one. Is the support system he got in Boston a big part of why he’s had so much success in the NHL? He does have 149 points in 257 NHL games (a 0.58 PPG average), so there is some historical evidence that he’s capable of doing this longer term.
As always, the first issue is the money. “But Joe,” you cry, “the Rangers are flush with cap space!”
They are, but giving term to players who don’t deserve it is a big reason why we’re here in the first place. The Rangers, despite their current liberation from the salary cap ceiling, can’t just spend money long term like it’s nothing. You want to give Kovalchuk $10-million for next year? Fine, whatever, because the Rangers won’t be competitive next year. But when you look down the road you need to make smarter decisions to avoid all this.
According to Matt Cane’s free agency model, a four-year deal for Namestnikov would carry a $4.99-million cap hit, while a five-year deal would be in the $5.1-million range. For Spooner, a three-year deal would cost $2.8-million, a four-year deal would come in at $4.28-million, and a five-year deal would be $4.20-million (if you’re curious why the numbers jump so rapidly at seemingly arbitrary year marks — in Spooner’s case year two to year three — it’s because that’s when the signing team is beginning to sign a player through their UFA years).
Could the Rangers land Namestnikov for a five-year deal worth $4.75-million? What about Spooner for four-years $4.25-million? Those are more conservative figures, but let’s run with them for a minute.
Now what about Kevin Hayes? According to the Cane’s model, Hayes will cost between $4.5-$4.8-million for a four-or five-year deal. Let’s play the conservative game again and say the Rangers lock him up for five years at $4.5-million.
This is the next, and maybe bigger problem:
That would leave the Rangers with long-term deals for Mika Zibanejad, Spooner, Hayes, and Namestnikov — all of which are centers. You could move Spooner to the wing, as the Rangers have, but that still locks up your three top center positions for the foreseeable future — an issue Adam mentioned in his mailbag.
Do the Rangers really want to commit $15 million long-term to three centers; none of whom pass as an unequivocal first-line center? That is particularly undesirable given that it would block Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Yes, one or both could play the wing, but they are both most valuable at center. It would be a poor idea to force them onto the wing during the most important years of their development.
Is it possible the Rangers move another of the above to the wing? You’re not hurting Hayes’ or Namestnikov’s development by putting them there, but you might be hurting their overall production.
One would have to assume Gorton and company are monitoring all the restricted free agents very closely for the rest of the year, specifically the new faces. Do the Rangers move on from one of them at the draft to get more assets and make space for the future? It feels like that could be possible, especially if Spooner’s total production for the year inches toward 60 points (82-game rated since he’s missed time with injuries).
Then again, if the Rangers are moving on from guys like Mats Zuccarello at the deadline, the forward group might be depleted enough that they need to keep everyone around. As much as you might want to get behind the tank again in 2019, you have to have some people around that can teach the youth the ropes.
As things stand now, I don’t think both Namestnikov and Spooner can be part of the long term plans. If one or both would be willing to take two-year deals, the Rangers can extend this decision until they know more. And they might just try to do that.
I personally see Namestnikov as a more beneficial long term options. The defensive side of the play is there, his underlying numbers are awesome, and I do expect a nice jolt of offense out of him.
Regardless, Gorton has decisions to make at center — and they’re critical.
Spooner recorded a goal, an assist, five shots and a plus-2 rating during Friday’s 3-1 win over Calgary.
Spooner has now recorded a multi-point showing in each of his first three games with the Rangers to improve to 10 goals and 22 assists through 42 games for the campaign. He should remain a key cog for the Rangers, and there’s no questioning the 26-year-old winger’s offensive upside. His scoring pace is going to slow, but there’s potential for Spooner to continue providing serviceable numbers in the majority of settings through the end of the season.
After collecting two assists in his Rangers debut (being involved in both goals in a 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit), Spooner topped himself last night, generating three more assists as the Rangers managed a 6-5 overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks.
Vladislav Namestnikov made a great first impression with the Rangers, scoring a goal and an assist during last night’s debut.
It almost makes you wonder if the Rangers might embrace this new, post-trade deadline reality and just be … messy fun?
Naturally, it’s not reasonable to expect Spooner, 26, to generate 2.5 assists per game during his stay with the Rangers – however long that is.
Still, plenty of people must feel vindicated that they pointed out that, despite some bumpy times with the Boston Bruins, he’s quietly carved out some nice numbers. In 39 games this season, Spooner managed a solid 25 points for the B’s. Rick Nash, meanwhile, generated 28 points (though with 18 goals) in his final 60 games with the Rangers.
Spooner’s showing remarkable chemistry so far with Jesper Fast and Kevin Hayes, which might provide some precious relief for Rangers fans. Actually, for a team that unloaded some significant names, the Rangers’ top nine still looks dangerous enough to make them a “spoiler” headache down the stretch:
Not half-bad, right? Of course, the defense is the real problem here, but the Rangers might actually be entertaining, combining some solid offense with Henrik Lundqvist stubbornly trying to make 50 saves per night.
The other interesting facet of the NHL-ready players the Rangers received in their slew of trades is that they, too, received rentals in Spooner and Namestnikov. Mike Murphy of Blueshirt Banter ponders Spooner’s future with the team, wondering if he might get lost in the free-agent shuffle and noting that Namestnikov is likely a higher priority to re-sign:
Spooner is coming off of a one-year, $2,825,000 contract. If the Rangers want him around for more than next season his AAV is going to approach $4 million a year, depending on the term. There’s a good chance that a contract like that won’t fit into Gorton’s vision of what this team needs to be. If that’s the case, moving him on draft day would be the best way forward.
With a pile of picks and some new players to ponder, the Rangers gave themselves a ton of flexibility this summer. The challenge, then, is to make the most of these opportunities and avoid boxing themselves in with mistakes.
Figuring out what to do with Spooner may very well be filed with making the most of those later first-rounders under “easier said than done.”
NEW YORK — The Rangers face an unfamiliar challenge after stockpiling picks for the June draft: maximizing a franchise-record 10 selections, including three in the first round.
Rebuilding means keeping options open for trades while also targeting players who best fit the team’s goals.
Assistant general manager Chris Drury says the team’s priorities are adding young, competitive players with speed and skill and “a premium on high character.”
“It’s one thing to have all these great picks … you have to be ready and be prepared to make the right picks,” Drury said.
The 10 picks are a high for the Rangers under the draft’s current format of seven rounds. The team also has nine picks in the 2019 draft, including a conditional first-round selection from Tampa Bay it received in a trade-deadline blockbuster for defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
General manager Jeff Gorton said the picks give the Rangers flexibility and currency.
“We have to look at both scenarios,” he said when asked if he would be willing to trade picks for current NHL players.
“We’ll look at different positions and see what’s available. When you have three first-round picks and you’re on the draft floor, opportunity will be there,” Gorton said.
The playoffs and draft lottery will shape the value of the first-round selections. Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus pick among experts as the top overall draft pick this year, and New York’s other first-round picks will depend on how Boston and Tampa Bay perform in the playoffs. Both could be serious Stanley Cup contenders.
Team officials like the early returns, even for an organization that has been known to sacrifice its future for the present.
“Certainly a lot of energy moving forward to prep between now and getting to the stage in Dallas,” Drury said of the site of June’s draft.
Before the New York Rangers made drastic changes at the trade deadline, before they announced to their fans their intentions to rebuild, and when there was still a sense that they might not do it at all, I wrote the following about our own speculation that Ryan McDonagh might get moved:
This has the feeling of a true turning point for the trajectory of the franchise, and a watershed opportunity and moment for general manager Jeff Gorton. This is without a doubt, the most important situation Gorton has (and perhaps ever may) navigate the organization through. A success here could be a masterstroke that turns the tide of the Rangers’ lack of elite forwards and prospects, setting the team up for competitive hockey for years to come (even if you need to be a little patient for it). A mistake could plunge the Rangers into the lingering darkness that comes from losing their best defenseman without getting a proper return for him. There really is no gray here, it’s all black and white.
That was just in regards to a McDonagh trade, but knowing what we do now, it could easily fit as a preview of what was to come for the Rangers as a whole. The Rangers did a lot of work at the deadline, and it’s hard to view it all in one big picture, but I’m going to try to do it anyway because I’m that kind of guy.
Here we go!
Blowing the whole damn thing to the moon
The Rangers brought the house down. They took the core that propelled this team to a 2014 Stanley Cup run and tossed most of it out the window. This is not some re-tool on the fly, or a change of scenery, this is Jeff Gorton bringing flaming balls of reckoning from the sky.
And you might laugh at that comparison, but in a way it’s very fitting. The charred remains of the Rangers’ 2014 Cup run and an era of success we haven’t seen in decades is the bill for all the failed risks, asset mismanagement, and refusal to see what the team really was. If you’re sitting in the remains of the past, with soot on your face and burns on your hands as you sift through the rubble, remember that this could have been avoided. If even two years ago the Rangers realized they were walking down a very dangerous path, some of this — if not most of this — could have been avoided.
But it took physically hitting the iceberg to course-correct, and now we’re left with a sinking ship. Unlike the Titanic, though, Gorton got a lot of lifeboats (assets) back to work with. The Rangers are very much so a blank slate right now, which brings me to my next review:
The Rangers have a grand total of seven players on their roster with contracts that don’t expire this summer or next summer (eight if we count Matt Belesky). Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey, and Brady Skjei highlight the group of pending restricted free agents that the team will likely want to negotiate with. Pavel Buchnevich, Anthony DeAngelo and Neal Pionk are RFAs whose contracts expire next summer. Mats Zuccarello is an unrestricted free agent next summer, although I have a feeling his fate will be decided before then.
The Rangers, in the past, have prioritized size and toughness when it comes to draft picks — with Dylan McIlrath’s selection being the biggest example of that kind of mistake. In the past few years, the Rangers have deviated from this strategy and put a focus on the ability for prospects to skate. Even Ryan Lindgren — who is one big, tough defenseman — can skate and has hockey smarts. It’s no longer the priority for guys to be just big and strong, and that’s a welcomed change.
The other reason for optimism is Lindgren’s skating ability. Typically, “shutdown defensemen” who don’t produce points are the usual slow, clumsy players who belong in 1988. They become exposed as glorified tree stumps in the NHL. Lindgren, though, is a great skater. He seals gaps quickly and can keep up with the fastest wingers. In theory, the right coaches could work with him on joining the rush.
Every prospect the Rangers received during this selloff prospect is, at the very least, a capable skater. That goes a long way toward the style of play the Rangers emulate right now, and will probably continue to embody with a new head coach. In today’s NHL being able to skate is a big part of the game, especially on defense. And since the Rangers added all but one defensive prospects, they’re…
Re-stocking the defensive pipeline
I think it was something of a wake up call when Ryan Graves never even got a sniff of the Rangers’ lineup, even when they were burning things to the ground. Graves may have been a classic case of player being overvalued by fans, which isn’t unusual, but his lack of selection was interesting since he’s only a year removed from an AHL All-Star Game showing. Yesterday, the Rangers moved him in a classic “change of scenery” move with Colorado.
Even though the Rangers helped replenish their pipeline by bringing in Neal Pionk this past summer from the NCAA ranks as a free agent, if Graves was viewed poorly by management, then its clear why they wanted to step things up.
So it makes sense that the Rangers acquired three defensive prospects in Lindgren, Yegor Rykov, and Libor Hajek. Of the three, Hajek seems to have the highest ceiling, but Rykov one to watch; he’s playing steady minutes for the best team in the KHL as a 20-year-old, and hasn’t been given any real power play or top-tier offensive opportunities. The MO on all of them is the same: very good in their own zone, with skating abilities (as seen above).
None of the players are elite-level prospects, and the order I named them above seems to be the order they’re valued around the league (from worst to best). Some believe Hajek belongs in the second tier of prospects (i.e. not elite but very good), and Rykov is a solid prospect himself. Lindgren had more pedigree than either at the time of his draft, but has kind of fell off the map since then. That said, he’s not a bad prospect at all, and all of these prospects are better than what the Rangers had in their system (not counting DeAngelo).
The re-stocked defensive corps now makes this June very interesting. The Rangers have three first round picks, two second round picks, and two third round picks. Will they focus on wingers because they scouted the draft and don’t like many defenseman? Was this just a coincidence with Gorton getting back the best prospect he could from each team? That remains to be seen.
The Rangers have to swing for the fences in June
Like I said above, the Rangers have seven draft picks the first three rounds. Seven. That’s a lot! A conservative breakdown on where the picks will fall is as follows:
Last year was the first time the Rangers held a first round pick since 2012 (where they drafted Skjei), so it made sense for the Rangers to go conservative with one of the picks — which they did when they took Lias Andersson 7th overall. You can make the argument they should have went safe with the 21st overall pick (where they took Filip Chytil), as I did this summer here:
Now, it’s not the biggest deal in the world to reach a few picks for a guy you really like. But in a draft where it seemed like moving down was preferable to moving up, and with the Rangers being devoid of a second and third round pick this year? Yeah, moving from 7th to 14th or 15th in order to earn an extra second round pick might have been smarter.
Right after his selection, however, it was rumored the Los Angeles Kings (sitting at 11) were hot and heavy for Andersson, and the Rangers obviously weren’t sure they’d be able to fall back and still have him around, so they grabbed him at 7th.
I can tell you with relative certainty that the first round played out in a way that led to this move. The Rangers were very interested in Elias Pettersson, but he was taken 6th by Vancouver. Cale Makar was one of their highest rated defenseman and he was taken 4th overall. When your top of the card players are being selected, it changes the strategy a little.
All that said, Andersson is not an elite-level prospect — even though he’s putting up an unexpected amount of points in the AHL this year. Chytil has the potential to be an elite-level player, but not generational (as Adam said, not a Sidney Crosy, but if everything breaks right maybe a Claude Giroux).
Defensible as last year was, that cannot be the strategy this year. The Rangers will most likely drop into the top-five in the draft this summer, but even if they don’t, there’s elite talent through the first six or seven names on the board; they need to draft one with their first-round pick.
From there, the Rangers need to be targeting best player available, even if that means a boom-or-bust selection. There is high-end talent available late in the first, of course, but it’s also there to be had in the second and third rounds. There are players who drop because of their (lack of) size, or the Russia Factor, or attitude, or whatever; clear red flags should obviously be avoided, but outside of those, they need to swing for the fences.
With five picks in the first two rounds, you need to get back at least one impact player (with the top-seven pick). You also need to walk away with at least two “B-level” prospects. This is all subjective to the time, of course, since drafting isn’t an exact science, but the Rangers nevertheless need to be grabbing the best players possible. If they prefer to play it safe, they need to do that after their first-round pick. Again, there’s no way to see if this strategy works until a few years down the road, but at the time of the selection, the moves have to be big swinging moves. You can at the very least make that call at the time of the draft.
Gorton sold at the right time
There’s something to be said for the way Gorton handled himself this deadline. He moved Holden, Nash, and Grabner all before the final day, which netted the Rangers better returns than they would have gotten otherwise. He navigated through the near-impossible waters of moving Ryan McDonagh while the same teams were looking at Erik Karlsson. A lot of people lamented that Gorton could have gotten more if he would have just waited — something I combated on twitter — but the proof ended up being in the pudding.
Yes, there are years where the final hours of the deadline are crazy. When there are way more buyers than sellers, prices are being driven through the roof, and teams overpay so they don’t miss out. But this wasn’t one of those years, nor did it forecast to be.
As a perfect example, Evander Kane, who is just 26, got back a 1st round pick and a prospect. Compare that to Nash getting a 1st, a prospect, Ryan Spooner, Matt Belesky (50% retained), and a 2019 7th round pick. Sure, there were salary ramifications to Nash’s deal, but the apples to apples shows the Rangers walking away with much more.
That’s timing. Gorton knew the market was likely collapsing, and he hit it when he had the shot and got the best returns possible. Yes, the Rangers sold more than any other team did, but they got back significant value on every trade made (compared to who they were giving up). If you want to be underwhelmed by the McDonagh/J.T. Miller return, fine, but the whole package of work from Gorton this week was fantastic.
Alain Vigneault’s expiration date is nigh
This is the end of the Vigneault saga, or at least it needs to be. The Rangers have seen enough from him to know that developing youth isn’t one of his strengths, and that’s the direction the Rangers have now aligned the ship.
Vigneault succeeded in New York (and Vancouver) with veteran-filled teams that had defined roles, limited youth, and a room that was already aligned with the veterans who were in it. In 2014 the leaders were Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash, Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle, Dom Moore, and eventually Dan Carcillo. From that summer on, though, the team started turning over to players Vigneault had favor for, and they removed key pieces of the 2014 core to fit them in. Accountability only factored in to players who hadn’t earned Vigneault’s trust; youthful players who were offense-first were buried or put in roles that didn’t suit them, all while ageing veterans held positions on the wall they could no longer defend.
It cost the Rangers with a 2016 first round blowout in Pittsburgh, then again last year when the team had a golden road to the Eastern Conference Final. Vigneault is a man who simply adjusts back and forth from his own ideals, never blames himself, and hasn’t made a major adjustment to his thinking since he came to the team in 2014. That’s not a guy the Rangers want, need, or should have behind the bench as they go through this transition.
We’ll review options for his replacement once he’s fired or as the season dies, but the Rangers need to know this is the end.
There’s more to come in June
This post is already over 2,400 words, but I’m going to add a few more. Maybe a lot more.
The Rangers aren’t done. In his press conference Monday afternoon, Gorton joked how the Rangers’ phone rang a lot more on draft night last year because they had two first round picks. Now they have three. I would be shocked if the Rangers didn’t make a move on the floor, especially since they have seven picks the first three rounds.
Do they prioritize getting a pick or two for 2019 — which is supposed to be a loaded draft? Do they want to move a top pick for a young roster player who can help them right now? Are one (or both) of those things going to get taken care of with a Zuccarello/Ryan Spooner/Vladislav Namestnikov move? I’m not sure. I expect Zuccarello to be moved draft day, and I do think the Rangers are going to entertain talks on the high-end picks they do have.
What materializes from any of that remains to be seen. The forward group could get additions of Nash/Ilya Kovalchuk and be relatively decent next year, but the defense is an abomination that’s not going to get any better unless the Rangers get some help there. They might be okay with that — with the plan being to tank again in 2019 for another top-pick — but that also remains to be seen.
After this trade deadline, there are still a number of options for the Rangers moving forward. We’ll have a better idea of what that direction is in June. But there are certainly moves to come, and probably a lot of them.