Just a few weeks before the NHL trade deadline the New York Rangers told their fans that changes were coming.
Even though the team was still very much in the playoff race, it was becoming clear that it was not a Stanley Cup contender and with several veteran players nearing the end of their contracts it was probably a good opportunity to start selling off those players and trying to restock the cupboards.
Honestly, though, that restocking probably began long before that letter was sent out when the team traded Derek Stepan, a top-six center, and Antti Raanta, a very solid goalie, to the Arizona Coyotes for the No. 7 overall pick in the draft and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.
It was a ton of movement.
In return for those seven players (including Stepan and Raanta) the Rangers have picked up 16 assets in return.
Here is the complete list:
- 2017 first-round pick (from Arizona — used to select Lias Andersson)
- 2018 first-round pick (Boston)
- 2018 first-round pick (Tampa Bay)
- 2018 second-round pick (New Jersey)
- 2018 third-round pick (Boston)
- 2019 conditional second-round pick (Tampa Bay — would become another first-round pick if Tampa Bay wins the Stanley Cup this season or next season)
- 2019 seventh-round pick
- Vladislav Namestnikov
- Ryan Spooner
- Matt Beleskey
- Anthony DeAngelo
- Ryan Lindgren
- Libor Hajek
- Brett Howden
- Ygor Rykov
- Rob O'Gara
That is a lot of future assets and a lot of players coming back in return. That bounty gives the Rangers seven picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft, including three in the first round.
So what do we make of this return and where the Rangers ultimately go from here?
First, there is a lot of quantity over quality here.
Other than the pick they received for Stepan and Raanta none of the draft picks are going to be prime picks. All of those teams are headed to the playoffs and when it comes to the Boston and Tampa Bay firsts those could be in the mid-20s and perhaps even later. The other picks (second, third, seventh) are basically lottery tickets. When you’re dealing with draft picks outside of the top-10 one of the best ways to find talent is to have as many picks as possible to increase your odds. Not all of those draft picks are going to land the Rangers a future NHL player. But they have at least increased their odds of finding one by giving themselves more chances.
They did not get back any organization’s top prospect, but there are still a couple of interesting players in those deals.
So, about this retooling/rebuilding. Is this it? Or do they do more in the offseason and unload players like Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider or Mika Zibanejad and really go all in on an all-out, full-blown rebuild?
That might be a tough sell with Henrik Lundqvist still hanging around — and not really seeming to have much interest in playing elsewhere — and still playing at a pretty high level. As long as he is on the roster there is going to be an incentive to want to win, and he is probably going to give them a chance simply because he might keep them in some games they may not otherwise be in.
Or, with that latter point in mind, is this more of a retooling that allows the Rangers to stockpile a lot of future assets while still trying to compete? That can be a dangerous game because you don’t want to get stuck in the NHL’s middle ground where you are not quite a contender, but you are also not quite bad enough to increase your chances of a top pick and a true franchise-changing talent in the lottery.
Plus, it’s not like they traded a bunch of players that have long-term contracts. Dealing Nash, Grabner and Holden made sense because all three were unrestricted free agents after this season. Raanta was never going to be more than a backup in New York. Miller was a restricted free agent after this season and in line for a raise, while McDonagh would have been an unrestricted free agent after next season.
The only player throughout this entire roster purge that still had several years of term left on his contract was Stepan.
Even after all of that they still have some good players on the roster, especially at forward where they could still potentially put a formidable group on the ice next season, especially with a healthy Kreider and what would hopefully be a further developed Pavel Buchnevich.
What’s interesting about the forwards is two of the bigger pieces they received in the Nash and McDonagh/Miller trades — Namestnikov and Spooner — are established NHLers, and pretty good ones.
Namestnikov may never duplicate the production he has put on the board this season while playing alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos for an extended period of time, but he has talent and has shown flashes of being a top-six player. Spooner has shown he can be a 40-50 point forward in the NHL the past couple of years. Both are RFA’s after this season and in line for raises, and even though they still have to fill out a roster next season those do not really seem like the type of forwards a team that is going to tear it all down would look to acquire.
They clearly reset things, but they haven’t totally torn it to the ground. A lot of the players traded were probably going to be gone in a few months anyway for no return if they had just simply held on to them. They still have some useful pieces in place and by shedding the salaries of Stepan and McDonagh they have a little more salary cap flexibility.
There are certainly some different directions the Rangers could go from here, and it’s not really clear which way they will take it.
They have a lot of lottery tickets and assets in their hands for the future. But they still have some interesting pieces for the present.