Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.
Over the past year the New York Rangers have been one of the busiest teams in the league when it comes to roster movement as they’ve kickstarted their rebuild. Since the start of last offseason the Rangers have dealt veteran players Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Nick Holden, Michael Grabner, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, and Rick Nash. Some of them were rentals on expiring contracts (Holden, Grabner, Nash), while others still had term left on their deal (McDonagh, Miller, Stepan).
In return for that group of players they acquired 16 assets, including draft picks (three first-round picks, including a top-10 pick in 2017) and players that have ranged from established NHLers like Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov, to prospects like Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, and Ryan Lindgren.
Given that the Rangers are staring down the barrel at what could be a second consecutive non-playoff season and have an eye on the future, it is possible, if not likely, that the major roster shakeup will continue this season.
There are a couple of players on the roster worth watching when it comes to potential trades.
Let’s take a look at a few of them.
[Rangers Day: Looking back | Breakthrough | Three Questions]
Mats Zuccarello — Zuccarello was the subject of trade rumors this past season but when all was said and done he ended up remaining in New York.
Now that he is entering the final year of his contract it seems likely that he will once again be a player on the trade block. He is almost certainly the Rangers’ best returning forward, and has built a solid career for himself after going undrafted and beginning his professional hockey career in Europe. But he is entering his age 31 season and the Rangers have to figure out if it’s worth investing in a new long-term contract with him because by the time the team is ready to be a contender again, he will almost certainly be on the downside of his career.
He is by no means a superstar, but given that he averages close to 60 points every season and has been extremely durable (he’s missed just 14 games over the past five years) he is a top-line talent and would be one of the most attractive and marketable rentals that could be available at the trade deadline.
Kevin Hayes — This one just seems inevitable.
The Rangers were able to avoid arbitration with Hayes this summer by signing him to a one-year contract, meaning he is now eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. At this point you have to think that if the Rangers were committed to him as a long-term building block they would gone for a longer commitment. At age 26 and with more than 300 games of NHL play under his belt there are probably no secrets as to what Hayes is capable of as a player.
There probably is not much more in the way of development to take place here, and his production has been consistent enough over the past four years that the Rangers know what they have — a 15-to 20-goal, 40-to 45-point winger. He is what he is — a solid, if unspectacular player that is destined to be playing for somebody else by the end of February.
Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov — Two potential wild cards when it comes to potential trades for the Rangers because both are signed for the next two seasons.
Spooner and Namestnikov are two of the more established players the Rangers acquired in their roster purge this past season, with Spooner coming over as part of the Nash trade to Boston while Namestnikov was a piece in the McDonagh/Miller trade to Tampa Bay.
They are not prospects, but they also may not be core players for the next contending team in New York.
They seem like perfect “bridge” players that can give the Rangers enough in the short-term to not completely bottom out in the standings, while also still possessing some value as potential trade chips.
At the time of his acquisition from, Namestnikov, a former first-round pick of the Lightning, was having a monster season while playing alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos on the top line in Tampa Bay. It was absolutely a breakout season for him but you also have to take into account the talent he was playing alongside when looking at it. In his 19 games with the Rangers after the trade he managed just four points.
Spooner’s initial experience with the Rangers was very, very different as he immediately made an impact on the score sheet with 16 points (including 12 assists) in his first 20 games after being acquired for Nash. Given the rest of his career it was probably an outlier performance, but it was still a promising debut.
Given that both players are signed for two more years (both at $4 million per season) the Rangers have some time to get a longer look at both of them and see what they have in them. If one of them emerges into something that could be more than a bridge player they have a full year after this to sign them to a new extension. If not, they could almost certainly be flipped to continue to add to the branches of the trade trees that began last season.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.