Kevin Shattenkirk

Getty Images

Trouba trade highlights Rangers’ brilliant rebuild

Leave a comment

While it’s important to understand the context for why the Jets made the trade, the bottom line is that the Jacob Trouba trade is a slam dunk for the New York Rangers. Scratch that, we need a more pronounced sports metaphor: it was a grand slam.

It also says a lot about the Rangers’ rebuild process that, while the Trouba trade might be management’s best move yet, there are plenty of other fantastic moves to choose from.

Brassard bonanza

If you want a starting point that includes an exclamation point, begin with the monstrously one-sided Mika ZibanejadDerick Brassard trade. The trade seems to get more lopsided with every Zibanejad goal, and after every time Brassard sadly packs his bag after being traded once again. It’s almost cruel that the Rangers received a second-rounder while Ottawa only nabbed a seventh-rounder as part of that deal.

(Really, that trade isn’t that far off from the Rangers’ buddies in New Jersey stealing Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson.)

If you start with the Zibanejad heist and end with trading for Trouba plus the near-certain selection of high-end prospect Kaapo Kakko, you’d see that the Rangers are writing the blueprint for how to run an NHL rebuild. Sure, there’s been luck here and there – particularly in getting 2019’s second pick – but the Rangers have done more to make their own luck than any other rebuilding team.

Turning Pionk and the 20th pick into Trouba

Neal Pionk‘s presence in the Trouba trade stands as one of the testaments to the Rangers’ full rebuild approach.

Where the occasionally rebuild-resistant Red Wings gave opportunities to aging veterans like Mike Green and Thomas Vanek (Vanek had a no-trade clause this past season!), the Rangers pulled a perfect “pump-and-dump” with Pionk. There’s some evidence that Pionk was a fairly substantial part of the package for the Jets, so the Rangers deserve some credit for driving up Pionk’s value. Depending upon whom you ask, the Rangers might have profited from the Jets overlooking dismal underlying numbers for Pionk.

Whatever Winnipeg’s actual opinion of Pionk might be, the bottom line is that Trouba is an enormous addition for the Rangers. You can get into a debate about how good or great Trouba really is, but the bottom line is that he’s immediately the Rangers’ best blueliner, and almost certainly by a wide margin.

(As great as the Pionk pump-and-dump turned out, the Rangers’ paltry defense opened up that scenario by … you know, being really bad.)

Putting on a hard hat for this rebuild

Yes, the Rangers have lucked out here and there (a huge lottery jump to the upcoming No. 2 pick, the Jets being in a bind so they needed to trade Trouba, the hilarity of the Zibanejad heist), but they’ve also made their own luck by making tough decisions.

Lesser teams would have kept all or some of Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta, possibly losing them for nothing via free agency anyway. Instead, the Rangers made those often-painful choices, and are healing faster after pulling off those Band-Aids.

Thanks to that hard work, they’ve added a nice war chest of picks, prospects, players, and assets.

  • Again, Trouba is a top-pairing defenseman, if not a star, and is thus a huge addition.
  • Adam Fox is a hyped defensive prospect in his own right, costing the Rangers a couple draft picks.
  • We’ll see how Lias Andersson develops, but the Rangers wouldn’t have received the seventh pick of the 2017 NHL Draft if they didn’t trade Stepan and Raanta.
  • Maybe the Rangers didn’t get a perfect deal for McDonagh and J.T. Miller, but it was another example of New York loading up on volume in picks and prospects. For example: if K’Andre Miller (22nd overall in 2018) becomes a gem, note that the Rangers used some of their quantity of draft picks to move up a bit and snag him.
  • A Stars’ Game 7 win against the Blues in Round 2 would have turned a 2019 second-rounder into a 2019 first-rounder for New York, but the bottom line is that the Rangers got a nice deal for Zuccarello. Also, if Zuccarello re-signs with the Stars, the Rangers get a first-rounder in 2020, instead of a third-rounder. You simply need to make that call with a 31-year-old winger, even one as beloved as Zuccarello.
  • The 20th pick of the 2019 NHL Draft went from the Jets to the Rangers in the Kevin Hayes deal, and that the Rangers sent it back to Winnipeg in the Trouba trade. So, if the Rangers didn’t trade Hayes, they might not have landed Trouba. Again: load up on picks and assets, and load up on scenarios where you can get better. The Rangers have been masterful at this.
  • If there was hand-wringing over giving up assets for Adam Fox, the Rangers soothed some of them by landing some lesser picks for Adam McQuaid.

Phew, that’s a lot of stuff, and this is the abridged version of that trade book; you can see a fuller list via Cap Friendly’s handy trade history page.

Mix those above moves with some interesting picks like Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov, and the Rangers are making leaps, rather than baby steps, toward being competitive once again.

Kaapo Kakko ranks as the biggest pending prospect addition, yet he could have some nice help thanks to the Rangers’ other moves.

More work to do

Speaking of other moves, the Rangers’ work isn’t done yet.

The most intriguing situation would come down to switching gears if Artemi Panarin really is interested in hitting Broadway.

The Trouba trade, not to mention the influx of talent headlined by Kakko, could make the Rangers a more appealing destination for Panarin. That’s especially true if the Rangers have even more tricks up their sleeves as Cap Friendly projects their cap space at about $19M (though a Trouba contract and Panarin pact would make that dry up fast).

The Rangers don’t have to rush things if they don’t want to, or if Panarin looks elsewhere, though.

For one thing, Mika Zibanejad rules, is just 26, and is a bargain for some time ($5.3M cap hit through 2021-22). A potential trio of DJ Z-Bad, The Bread Man, and (whatever nickname we give) Kakko could be one heck of a start.

Especially since the Rangers boast other interesting forwards at or near their primes.

Chris Kreider (28, $4.625M), Vladislav Namestnikov (26, $4M), and Jimmy Vesey (26, $2.275M) all enter contract years in 2018-19. The Rangers could trade one or more of those three forwards, either before the season or even at the trade deadline, or keep them around if they’re primed for immediate competition. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Sabres have already contacted the Rangers about Vesey, so for all we know, more significant moves could come soon.

(If you ask me, Kreider is the standout of those three, although that might make him even more appealing to trade.)

Money clearing up

The Rangers’ salary structure should look a lot cleaner after 2020-21, too.

Consider three expensive, aging veterans who are all coming off the books after two more seasons: Henrik Lundqvist (37, $8.5M per season), Kevin Shattenkirk (30, $6.65M), and Marc Staal (32, $5.75M).

For some, the Rangers’ rebuild is held back by Lundqvist, as there’s an objective argument that it would be wiser to part ways with the future Hall of Famer. That makes sense in a vacuum, but context matters: trading Lundqvist would be a very difficult thing to spin PR-wise, particularly since the Rangers are already asking fans to be patient. Maybe trading away “King Henrik” would be too extreme for fans paying big bucks at MSG.

It’s probably healthier to look at that situation with a more optimistic outlook.

There’s a scenario where the Rangers do indeed make a quantum leap from rebuilder to contender, giving Lundqvist one or two more chances to chase that coveted first Stanley Cup.

On the other hand, maybe the Rangers strategically stink, and Lundqvist either: a) plays out his contract, thus eventually opening up a ton of space in two years or b) gets antsy and asks for a trade to a contender, likely easing angst from fans if the Rangers did make a trade. Maybe Rangers fans could cheer on Lundqvist somewhere else, as some Bruins fans did when Ray Bourque lifted a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche?

All things considered, it could be worse, right?

You can apply similar logic to Shattenkirk and Staal.

In Shattenkirk’s case, I wouldn’t be shocked if the American-born defenseman rebounded at least to some extent. In 2017-18, he was hampered by a knee injury that eventually prompted surgery. Last season, it was probably tough for any Rangers defenseman to look respectable. (Hey, Shattenkirk’s relative stats are OK.)

It’s not outrageous to picture Shattenkirk’s perception rise if Trouba helps his fellow right-handed defenseman slide into a sheltered, and less prominent role. If that happened, the Rangers could either get more out of Shattenkirk from improved play, or maybe even trading him. This is a league where teams are desperate for defense, so you never know.

Marc Staal seems like more of a lost cause, at least if you look at deeper numbers, yet as we’ve seen frequently in the NHL, plenty of teams either don’t care about analytics, or will value narratives about “sturdy veterans” more than any graphs or stats.

Those teams are more liable to pursue Staal now that his term is down to two years remaining, and the Rangers could also offer to retain salary to make something happen.

Now, it’s possible that none of Lundqvist, Shattenkirk, or Staal would get traded. There may be no takers, and all three have clauses of some kind to make deals more difficult to strike.

But even if they play things out, and so at a disappointing level, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that light isn’t even very far away.

***

After heaping all of this praise on the Rangers, it’s important to reiterate that there’s plenty of work to do, and plenty of ways where things could still go wrong. Maybe the Rangers make Bobby Holik-type free agent mistakes again once they start spending money, or maybe management gets impatient with losing and pulls the plug on the rebuild before the foundation settles?

Overall, though, you can’t ask for much better work than what we’ve seen from the Rangers, especially in the NHL, where teams aren’t always as bold as they should be when it comes to making trades and getting creative.

This could very well be the peak of the rebuild as far as a single week of moves goes, but this isn’t an isolated incident. The Rangers have done a brilliant job of building a brighter future after being in a pretty dark situation not that long ago.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stanley Cup Final: Blues, Bruins built without luxury of top pick

Getty
5 Comments

The St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins have a lot of people to thank for reaching the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, and both organizations can probably start with their scouting and player development staffs.

When looking at the construction of both rosters they share a common trait in how they were built.

That trait is that neither team has a player on their roster that they selected with one of the first three picks in the NHL draft. Not a single one. The highest pick that either team used on a player was the Blues’ selection of defender Alex Pietrangelo with the No. 4 overall pick all the way back in 2008.

Their next highest selection after him: 14th overall.

It is worth pointing out that the Blues did have the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 (13 years ago!), which they used to select defender Erik Johnson. But Johnson was traded after just three seasons with the team for a package of players that included Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart. Neither player from that trade remains on the roster today. If you wanted to follow the trade tree from there, Shattenkirk was eventually traded to the Capitals two years ago as a pending free agent for a collection of assets that included a first-round pick. The Blues then used that pick as part of a larger trade for Brayden Schenn.

But that is really digging deep and they had to give up a lot of other assets to get Schenn.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Bruins, meanwhile, do not have a single player anywhere on their roster that was selected higher than 14th in any draft.

They did select Tyler Seguin No. 2 overall in 2010 (after acquiring that pick as part of the Phil Kessel trade with Toronto Maple Leafs) but he was traded after the 2012-13 season and they literally have nothing remaining in their entire organization to show for that trade. Today, it is as if that trade never even happened.

This is all pretty unheard of in recent NHL history as each of the past 10 Stanley Cup winners has had at least one top-three pick (a pick that they used on the player) playing on their roster.

The most recent one that did not have such a player was the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings.

Here is a quick look at every Stanley Cup winner dating back to the 1994-95 season and how many of them had at least one top-three selection on their roster.

Not only do almost all of them have a top-three pick, those players were among the best, most important, and most valuable players on their rosters.

Couple of things worth noting on the teams that had “none.”

  • The 2006-07 Ducks did not have a top-three pick of their own, but they did eventually acquire the Hall of Fame defense pairing of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, both of whom were top-three picks.
  • The 1997-98, 1998-99, and 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings also had no top-three selections of their own (Steve Yzerman at No. 4 overall was their highest pick) but did have Brendan Shanahan who had previously been a No. 2 overall pick by the New Jersey Devils.

So even though those teams didn’t have the luxury of making such a pick themselves, they still had top-three pick talents on their roster. If the Blues end up winning this series they would fall into this category as they have defender Jay Bouwmeester (No. 3 overall pick by the Florida Panthers in 2002) on their roster.

The only teams during that stretch that won the Stanley Cup without having a single player that was ever selected that high were the aforementioned Red Wings team in 2008, as well as the 1995-96 and 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche teams.

There is a reason why bad teams, and especially fans of bad teams, want to finish near the bottom of the standings and desperately hope for some luck in the draft lottery. You need superstar players to win, and the best and easiest way to get a superstar player is to get them at the top of the draft. That is where you get the true franchise-changing players, and that is especially valuable in the salary cap era where you get them under team control for so many years and so cheaply and below market value in the first few years of their career.

It was a little easier to win without those high picks in the pre-cap era because teams could, in theory, do what Detroit and Colorado did and acquire pretty much anyone they wanted as long as they wanted to spend the money. It is a little tougher to assemble that much talent today from outside your organization.

The Bruins are an especially interesting case because, again, the only top-15 picks on their roster are Charlie McAvoy (No. 14 overall in 2016) and Jake DeBrusk (No. 14 overall in 2015). Some of their best players were selected far later than you would expect franchise players to be drafted. Patrice Bergeron was a second-round pick in 2003. David Krejci was a second-round pick in 2004. Brad Marchand was a third-round pick in 2006. David Pastrnak was picked No. 25 overall in 2014. They also do not have a single player on their roster that was selected higher than 14th by any other team. They simply have zero top picks on their roster.

This probably is not a model that is going to be easily duplicated by anyone else, because not every team is going to be fortunate enough to find that many draft steals in such a short period of time. But the Bruins (and Blues) have made it work and found a way to take a slightly different path to the Stanley Cup Final.

Blues-Bruins Game 2 is Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET from TD Garden on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE BRUINS-BLUES GAME 2:
• 
Robert Thomas sidelined for Blues
• 
Three keys for Game 2 of Stanley Cup Final 
• 
Blues expect to be a lot better
• Unflappable Binnington won’t be affected by Stanley Cup spotlight

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rangers’ Shattenkirk out 2-4 weeks with shoulder injury

Getty Images
1 Comment

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers say defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk will be sidelined two to four weeks with a shoulder injury.

Shattenkirk left in the second period of Monday night’s game in Tampa. He took a check around the left shoulder and had a sling on his arm postgame.

The 29-year-old was checked out on Tuesday. General manager Jeff Gorton announced Wednesday that Shattenkirk had a separated shoulder.

Shattenkirk has one goal, seven assists and zero penalty minutes in 29 games this season. He suffered a knee injury last January that ended his season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Surgery for Shattenkirk after playing with pain for Rangers

Getty
5 Comments

Now we might know why Kevin Shattenkirk‘s had such a disappointing debut season for the New York Rangers.

After playing with pain for months, Shattenkirk decided to undergo knee surgery, sidelining the defenseman indefinitely. To be specific, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton explained that Shattenkirk, 28, was dealing with a meniscus tear.

As you can see in this dour press conference, Shattenkirk said that he’s been dealing with knee issues all season.

While Shattenkirk has his critics even on his best day, it truly seemed like something dynamic was missing for the high-scoring blueliner. That’s been especially true lately; Shattenkirk was mired in a seven-game pointless streak heading into the surgery, and had just one assist in his past 13 contests. Even with those limitations, Shattenkirk managed a point every other game overall this season (23 points in 46 games).

It’s only natural to wonder how much more effective he might have been if not addled by injury. His possession stats took a big hit, and even if some of that might come from the Rangers’ counterpunching system, it’s reasonable to project better numbers if he was healthy.

One could definitely second-guess the Rangers for not pushing Shattenkirk to take care of the problem sooner instead of later, yet knee issues can often be tough to judge. No doubt about it, management likely wanted an immediate return on their considerable investment in Shattenkirk, too.

Shattenkirk’s absence opens the door for another polarizing offensive defenseman in Anthony Deangelo, not to mention other Rangers likely getting more reps on the power play and other situations.

It will be interesting to see if this injury loss represents that extra push for the Rangers to lean more toward being sellers at the trade deadline, as that was already being rumored lately by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, TSN’s Frank Seravalli, and others.

This is a real bummer either way for Shattenkirk, who certainly would have preferred to make a better first impression for a team he dreamed of playing for. Hopefully he’ll be more “himself” when he returns, whether that means late in 2017-18 or in 2018-19.

After holding off the Sabres for a win last night, the Rangers are on a small upward trend and currently hold the first wild-card spot in the East. That said, it’s a skin-tight race with Metropolitan Division rivals nipping at the Rangers’ heels, so they don’t have a lot of room for error.

Maybe the Rangers will be better off playing without a hampered Shattenkirk, but they’ll need to hit the ground running without him. It’s the latest bump in the road for what’s been a challenging season for New York.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Washington Capitals are up to their old tricks again

Getty Images
22 Comments

The Washington Capitals are doing that thing again.

It seems every year they find a way to work themselves into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. They’ve finished first in their division seven times out of the past 10 seasons and second twice. Only once — a fifth-place showing — have they been outside the top two during the past decade.

It’s become as predictable as it is remarkable.

And this year, at first glance, it’s sort of surprising.

Sure, Alex Ovechkin is still scoring, Nicklas Backstrom is still assisting and Braden Holtby is still stopping a lot of pucks.

But the Caps also took, what at least appeared to be at the time, a big hit on the backend over the summer.

Offensively, not much has changed (although they did lose Marcus Johannson’s 24 goals) but losing Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency and Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft left a sizeable hole to be filled on the blueline.

[Alex Ovechkin has never had a goal-scoring run like this]

Statistically speaking, they’ve also regressed from the numbers they put up last season when they amassed 55 wins.

They had the fourth best Corsi rating in the NHL last season, a statistic that made sense giving their winning prowess. Yet this year, with 21 wins, they sit 23rd in the category they dominated last season.

The same story plays out in expected goals, where they sat ninth last season yet are in 26th place now.

Analytically, a lot of their success this season doesn’t seem to add up, and yet they’ve won eight of their last 10 games and are currently on a three-game heater.

So why are they tied for first place in the Metro? There are a few answers to be had.

In the scoring department, several players have stepped up. Jakub Vrana has 10 goals in 33 games after three in 21 games last year and Tom Wilson is just three points shy of the 19 points he put up in 82 games last season. Brett Connolly and Alex Chaisson are also scoring at better rates and Washington sits eighth in five-on-five scoring.

What is also helping is their high shooting percentage.

At 9.22 percent, the Caps sit in fifth in the league, and their PDO, when you combine their shooting percentage and team save percentage, sits at 101.98, good for the third spot in the NHL.

And the Caps have proven they can keep that number high. Only two teams finished with over nine percent last season, and the Caps were one of them.

On defence, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov have picked up the slack. The rookie third pairing of Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey is averaging 14 minutes a game and have been a solid addition.

And Holtby, is well, Holtby, which has been especially helpful given Philipp Grubauer‘s struggles to return to last year’s form so far.

So the Caps, for the most part, are in a good spot.

The biggest question that will surround the Caps, assuming they hold serve, is if they can replicate it in the playoffs.

Despite winning a slew of regular season games, the Capitals just can’t figure out how to do the same in April and May.

In nine of the past ten seasons they’ve made the playoffs, they’ve failed to even sniff the Eastern Conference Final, never mind a Stanley Cup final berth.

But that’s another story for another day, as it were.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck