March 19, 2018 | 4:03pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period
RANGERS SET ON MORE OFF-SEASON MOVEMENT
Mats Zuccarello, right wing
New York, the city that never sleeps – a moniker that also applies to the hockey team in downtown Manhattan. The team representing the Big Apple in the NHL since the inauguration of the “original six” always seems to be relentless to take a rest and put down the phone.
Since Glen Sather took over as team President and General Manager of the New York Rangers in 2000, the team’s persistent pursuit of the Stanley Cup has not stopped. From former Olympic defenseman Wade Redden, to former two-time Stanley Cup Champion and former Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards, Sather and the Rangers always aimed for the big fish when looking to add to their team.
By the time 2017-18 came around, the Rangers had completely mortgaged their future, and had no more assets to use as collateral to keep the loan sharks away. The Rangers’ debts caught up to them, and at long last, Scott Gorton and Sather acknowledged that the dream was over. In early February, the front office wrote a letter to their fans, warning them that changes were on the way, and after that, the Rangers sprung into action.
The Rangers effectively hung an “open for business” sign on the door of Madison Square Garden. Teams did not hesitate to come calling, as the Rangers became the hot-spot for available players when the deadline came fast approaching.
When the dust settled Monday after the 3pm ET deadline had come and gone, the Rangers had parted ways with forwards J.T. Miller, Rick Nash and Michael Grabner, while also shipping out defensemen Nick Holden and team captain Ryan McDonagh. The face lift in New York took less than a month to take full effect.
In unloading 25% of its starting lineup, the Rangers stockpiled draft picks, prospects and young NHL proven players like Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Spooner, who are both RFAs at season’s end. As of right now, the Rangers have seven picks in the first three rounds of the upcoming NHL Draft (three 1sts, two 2nds and two 3rds), as well as blue-chip prospects in Ryan Lindgren, Brett Howden and Libor Hajek.
In Namestnikov and Spooner, the Rangers add two young, natural centremen (25 and 26 years old, respectively) to a roster that was in desperate need of help in that particular position. After dealing Derek Stepan, the long-time top line centre in New York, to Arizona last summer, it left the team with Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and David Desharnais as the top three down the middle. It was a clear point of weakness all season for the Rangers, as all three have failed to hit at least 40 points on the season. Spooner in particular has gotten off to a torrid start as a Ranger, having notched two goals and 11 assists in his first 10 games in New York.
Lindgren and Hajek, who play for the University of Minnesota and Regina Pats, respectively, will join fellow rearguards Sean Day (Kingston Frontenacs) and Tyler Nanne (University of Minnesota) as the top defensive prospects in the organization. With the departures of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi in the last calendar year (along with the possibility of veteran Marc Staal getting dealt or bought out this summer), the need to develop defensemen to join Brady Skjei for the future has now become a priority, along with 24-year-old defender Rob O’Gara, who was acquired along with Spooner from Boston.
In Howden, the 27th overall pick in 2016 NHL Draft, the Rangers acquire an 18-year-old centre with great potential. Howden is in the midst of a remarkable season, in which he’s currently tallied 75 points in 49 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, while having also won gold with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship. He will be a welcomed addition to a forward prospect pool that is headlined by 2017 1st round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil (who are both currently playing for the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL), while the latter already has two NHL games under his belt. With Howden, Andersson and Chytil now all in the pipeline, the Rangers now have three centremen who are all former first round picks, which shines a light at the end of the tunnel for a position of weakness in New York.
Although draft picks are only valuable if you make good on the choices, Gorton gave himself pretty good odds for the upcoming draft. The Rangers, who did not have first round picks in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, the seven picks inside the top 93 that the Rangers possess will give them a good shot of capitalizing on the highly doubted draft class. Not a bad position to be in.
Now that the season is winding down, it will be interesting to see if the Rangers’ management will look to continue this trend in the summer.
After seeing what kind of return Nash and Grabner brought in, will lifelong Rangers Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello (who have contracts that expire in 2020 and 2019, respectively) still be shopped to further the rebuild? Will the aging Staal go down the same path as Girardi and be bought out? Will the King of New York himself, Henrik Lundqvist, be onboard with spending his last few years in the NHL with an organization in the midst of said rebuild? Despite publicly saying he’d be with the team for better or worse, one would have to think the Lundqvist would want one last chance to chase the Stanley Cup.
The dominoes are poised to keep falling once the summer rolls around in New York, and it seems like everyone is up for grabs. The process is well underway, but may very well be far from over. New York did not take long to spring their plan into action and that trend continuing is very much possible.
This Broadway show is over for the time being, but after a massive bite being taking out of the Big Apple’s roster, and a plethora of assets being added into the mix, the city that never sleeps may have reason to celebrate again in the not so distant future.