Latest posts by Phil Kocher (see all)
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There are 22 days before the NHL’s February 26th trading deadline – a date that will be remembered as an integral moment for future renditions of the New York Rangers. Through an unfortunate combination of seemingly never-ending injuries and a roster ill-equipped for a viable run at the Stanley Cup, this version will unequivocally be sellers, possibly of a great magnitude.
This can no longer be a matter for debate. With three regulation wins in their last 18 games, a minus-five goal differential, and a parade of players finding themselves on a growing Injured Reserve (IR) list, the cost-benefit analysis to keeping valuable deadline commodities like Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, and even Ryan McDonagh, is well in the red. Their collective market appraisals and the pending trades they necessitate will surely benefit the Rangers’ long-term goal of building another Cup-contending squad. Certainly more so than any fool-hearted attempt—no matter how emotionally satisfying—to salvage this particular sinking ship. It’s a lesson they probably should have learned last summer, but one they should be thoroughly convinced of by now.
The only debate from this point on should be over what the returns for each expendable player ought to look like and what their potential returns to Broadway this July as Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) might cost. Because, in the case of Grabner and Nash, that’s a factor to all of this that the Rangers need to be accounting for right now as revealed by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:
Interesting. Friedman just said a lot of teams think that even if they acquire Nash or Grabner as a rental, both players are headed back to the Rangers this offseason.
— Evan Sporer (@ev_sporer) February 4, 2018
If both Grabner and Nash truly have aspirations for a second act on Broadway next season, then Jeff Gorton would be wise to strategize with both parties now, instructing them of his plans to trade them for assets before offering them both return tickets this summer.
This Rangers team is going nowhere fast. If anything, as of today, they are arguably closer to a lottery team than they are to being a Cup contender. But that can be a good thing. A very good thing. The pieces Gorton could receive in exchange for briefly renting both men to contenders would undoubtedly benefit the Rangers’ chances of drafting an impact prospect this June. Whether by making opening-round selections with them, even if they’re late in the order, or by packaging them in a draft day deal to move up into the top-five – both of which would go a long way in advancing his “rebuild on the fly”. Not to mention the ancillary benefit of making an already poorly performing Rangers team even worse, thereby increasing the odds their own pick might be a lottery selection itself. Odd though it may be, the net effect of making the Rangers a weaker team would actually help them in their quest to reset.
Moreover, re-adding Grabner and Nash—who have largely lead the Blueshirts’ offense with a combined 86 goals between them over the last two seasons—to a presumably younger Rangers roster next season would be a major boon. That roster could be home to a top-five pick from the coming draft as well as Filip Chytil and/or Lias Andersson. Perhaps more. Not only would the returning veteran duo benefit the Blueshirts’ chances of earning another playoff berth but they might also serve as mentors to whatever mixture of inexperienced youngsters make the team. Someone’s gotta teach them the ropes. Who better than ultra-responsible, 200-foot players like number 40 and number 61?
Friedman’s report did also carry with it an implication, though. That sense—of, let’s call it fear—implying that both Nash and Grabner would be rentals in the purest sense of the word. That the acquisition of either player would come with a firm expiration date, seeing both men rush home. Because of this, one might argue that that fear would detract from the pure market value of both players. That may or may not be true—I’d argue probably not—but there’s no concrete evidence to strongly support either scenario.
I am naive as ever, but at this point I have to imagine that any lack of absolutism from insiders regarding the selling off of Grabner and Nash is purely posturing on #NYR's part for the sake of negotiation leverage.
— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) February 4, 2018
The fact of the matter is star players have routinely been traded at the deadline for years. Some were re-signed by their acquiring clubs, others weren’t. But what evidence-based argument can be made that any of the deals earned the team dealing the star player more or less based on that player re-signing or not with the team they were dealt to? From Ilya Kovalchuk to Andrej Sekera to Ryan Miller to Marian Gaborik – the results are all over the place. At least in more recent years.
I’m much more likely to buy the argument that players with term left—like Martin St. Louis to the Rangers in 2014, for example—are worth more than ones who are in the final year of their deal – especially those destined for UFA. It’s precisely the reason there’s talk of trading Ryan McDonagh right now. But even that argument could be specious. There just isn’t a great wealth of examples in the pool to draw a strong conclusion from.
But what we do know is this: that whether they’re re-signed by the acquiring club or not, most of the impact players moved at the deadline—with or without term—go for a premium.
The aforementioned St. Louis, who had a year remaining on his deal at the time of the trade, landed the Tampa Bay Lightning Ryan Callahan, himself a pending UFA, and two first-round picks. Keith Yandle, also dealt to the Rangers with another year left on his contract, got the Arizona Coyotes John Moore, top forward prospect Anthony Duclair, a lottery-protected first-round draft pick in 2016 and a 2015 second-round pick. I have a hard time buying the idea that either would have gotten the same return a year later, with a UFA-eligible summer looming, though the return would still have been sizable.
Perhaps without the extra year on their deals, their year-after trades might have looked like the one Kevin Shattenkirk commanded last year. Shattenkirk, then a pending UFA, was traded to the Washington Capitals for a 2017 first-round pick, a conditional 2018 second-round pick, forward Zach Sanford, and Brad Malone. In fact, that same season even role players returned a serious quality, if not quantity, of draft picks with players like Martin Hanzal and Jannik Hansen both netting first-rounders. In Hansen’s case, his return was equivalent in scoring the Vancouver Canucks a former first-round selection in Nikolay Goldobin.
Suffice it to say, there’s no reason the Rangers can’t expect a similar baseline return for both Rick Nash and Michael Grabner, even if both have every intention to return to New York this summer. And should they do so, the Rangers would be exponentially better for it, having been triple-served by both men. Not only would their return to the Big Apple bring their scoring acumen back to New York, but their exits from Manhattan at the trading deadline would summarily both increase the Blueshirts’ shot at a lottery pick while simultaneously giving the Rangers the option of selecting upward of three first-round picks this June, or taking a third swing at a go-for-broke draft day blockbuster.
Either way, the path is clear. For the Rangers to get a lot better, they’re best off getting a lot worse. For now.