The New York Rangers were prepared for any which direction the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline could have played out.
Instead of selling off expiring contracts such as Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo, the Blueshirts re-signed Chris Kreider to a seven-year deal and shipped Brady Skjei to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2020 first-round draft pick.
“You have to keep your eye on what the big picture is,” Rangers president John Davidson said shortly after the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. “You have to make decisions with that in mind. We have a plan, and that’s what we are trying to implement.”
New York has won seven of its past eight games and currently sits six points outside the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the 2020 postseason seems unlikely, the Rangers are looking to build a winning culture and did not want to trade influential players for the third straight season.
“He is a unique player and very hard to replace,” Henrik Lundqvist said of the Rangers alternate captain. “It’s definitely the right decision to lock him up. I think he is developing to an even better player, more consistent, the type of leader that you need in the locker room.”
From the moment Davidson came aboard last summer, he wanted to prioritize a winning locker room that would help young players mature at an optimal rate.
“We are young and getting younger, we need people that can lead the way,” Davidson said in reference to Kreider. “If it didn’t make sense to us (the dollars), we would have had to move in a different direction.”
The Rangers considered trade offers for Kreider over the last few weeks and NHL insider Bob McKenzie reported he was the No. 1 target for as many as eight teams.
“When you weigh all the options of having him leave vs. keeping him, it became more evident that we wanted to keep him,” general manager Jeff Gorton said.
In order to keep options open, the Rangers moved Skjei’s $5.25 million cap hit to the Carolina Hurricanes. In the short term, Brendan Smith will slide back to his natural position on the blue line, but the organization has several internal options that are almost ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Where do the Rangers go from here?
The Blueshirts will try to compete for a playoff spot but more importantly, they are looking to cultivate a winning identity. That change does not happen overnight and trading significant pieces this time of year over and over again has a cumulative effect.
Losing is infectious and the front office felt this was the time to start turning the ship around.
Kreider has developed chemistry with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. Over the past 14 games, that line has recorded 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists).
While that combination has blossomed into a top unit, Artemi Panarin and Strome have created a strong secondary punch. New York has not reached its final destination, but the front office is installing their plan which will take them on the most direct route to sustained success.
Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.