In what ended up being the worst kept secret in hockey, the New York Rangers officially acquired Eric Staal in a deal for two second round picks and prospect Aleksi Saarela.
This is a deal of two sides: There's what the Rangers got and what it cost them to get it. We're going to break these two things down separately because they contrast pretty drastically.
What the Rangers got:
Of all the players on the trade market, there weren't many that made as much of an impact as Staal. This isn't your usual run of the mill "Rangers are in on another expensive, big fish regardless of the cost" trade, this is a move that makes sense from almost every angle. Staal is a center who can also play left wing -- and although I doubt he gets used as a center with Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan holding down the top two spots, center depth might be the most important thing to have in the playoffs.
People will look at Staal's numbers and talk about how he's washed up or over the hill. On NHL on NBC they actually commented that Marc was the most important Staal on Broadway, so you see where some of this stems from. As always, these ignore the bigger picture. Staal has some of the best underlying numbers around, and might be atop the list of players who are moved this deadline. He's a 56.5% possession player with a 98.1 PDO%, shooting at a 6.3% clip this year despite being a career 10.6% shooter. That tells you he's a player who can drive possession and hasn't been scoring at the clip he should be -- maybe due to luck or maybe due to not being surrounded by quality players. Him going on a shooting percentage regression (the good kind) binge the rest of the way and through the playoffs isn't just on the table it's likely.
There's another aspect to this, too. Assuming Rick Nash is fully healthy -- and the Rangers making this move sort of hints they think he will be -- Staal will no longer have to be the main source of offense on his team. You'd have to put him in the "primary offense" category, but he's not the only guy shouldering the load, which should help. He makes the Rangers top six just that much more dangerous, and because he didn't come at the expense of a roster player (we'll get to why in the other section) he will push Marek Hrivik (who has already been sent down) out of the lineup and then Nash will push Tanner Glass out of the lineup (at least he better).
That would give the Rangers a real fourth line (figure something like Jesper Fast - Dominic Moore - Viktor Stalberg or something) to help mitigate the problems they have on defense. It also allows Alain Vigneault to flex his wings a little on offense, give the fourth line true defensive roles and assignments, and allow guys like Nash and Staal to see more offensive sheltered roles (not that either of them need it).
What the Rangers gave up:
The original reports pointed towards the Carolina Hurricanes making a first round pick a sticking point. Jeff Gorton got around that by including two second round picks and holding his ground. The expectation, then, would be the prospect that was rumored to be included wouldn't be any of the Rangers top five. This was incorrect, as Aleksi Saarea ended up being the guy moved.
You have to understand where my frustration comes from. Staal -- like Martin St. Louis two years ago -- had a full no movement clause he needed to waive in order to be traded. New York was his one and only target. On top of that the pending unrestricted free agent is the face of Carolina's franchise and they were risking losing him for nothing over the summer. Gorton didn't have to blink -- and he didn't on the first round pick -- but it's a pretty big blow to an already depleted prospect pool. You have to give to get, but the Rangers didn't have to get, and Carolina had to move. I truly believe that.
I hate the terminology "well it could have been worse so it's fine." I agree it could have been worse (much worse, actually), but the past regime's mistakes and tenancies to risk it all on square pegs into a round hole (not that Staal is one of these) is not something that should excuse the risk being losing another quality prospect.
To me Saarela ranked just behind Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and Robin Kovacs in terms of non-goalie prospects. He's an enormous price to pay for a pure rental the Rangers will not be able to hold onto this summer. Which means the Rangers are sacrificing their safety net (again) for another run at the Cup. So they better win it. Does this sound familiar? This is what I wrote after the Rangers traded for Keith Yandle -- who they informed they would not move at the deadline:
The Duclair cost is an enormous one, and while we don't know what he'll truly become until tomorrow (which could be a year from now or even more) it's still fair to say the Rangers paid a big price to bring Yandle in. It also means the Rangers are fully entrenched in a "win now" mode, which is risky business.The risk is the playoffs are not an exact science, and the Rangers are just as likely to lose in the first round as they are to win the Stanley Cup.
I will say this: If the Rangers win a Stanley Cup this year (or next) then the deal is brilliant. And even if Duclair goes on to become a hall of famer the deal is worth it. Nobody cares about the names move in 1994 because the Rangers got their names etched on the Cup, but if the Rangers would have lost Game 7 the story would be different. That's the razors edge the Rangers are playing on right now.
The Rangers are playing the same game now. Just with another highly touted prospect, less draft picks and more pressure. This is, most likely, the last year this group can go for it -- especially with all the cap problems incoming this summer. That's not to claim the Rangers can't organically open the window, but it would require them to move veterans with enormous contracts. Maybe Gorton is going to look into these situations in the summer, but for now this is what it is.
I will admit, though, that if the Rangers were going to go for it this wasn't the worst move in the world and the piece was a nice fit that makes the Rangers better. Buchnevich and Skjei are the prized jewels of the Rangers' progressively more barren farm system and Kovacs is inching his way to that level as well. Keeping them around is important in this, and the Rangers didn't have to give up a roster spot to do it.
Overall I think this is a good trade that's also a great fit for the Rangers that makes them much better. I'm not so sure they've made up all that much ground on the Washington and Chicago machines that are out there, and the playoffs really is a crap shoot, but the Rangers are better today than they were yesterday.
At what cost, though? Eventually the Rangers can't keep mortgaging and re-mortgaging their future. And if they don't walk away from this with a ring then it's another disaster piled onto an already dangerous three years.
And unless Gorton pulls a rabbit out of his hat over the summer, I don't think the Rangers are going to enjoy their high-flying act without a safety net.
If it comes crashing down, of course.