The best thing the Rangers could have done this summer is overhaul the defense to the point that it was virtually unrecognizable; by now we all know what this implies. This hasn't happened yet. Maybe it will, but in all likelihood probably won't. The second-best plan was for General Manager Jeff Gorton to recognize that, as constructed, the team is not a contender in 2017, and that it was best to make decisions that prioritized 2018 and beyond.
Operating under the assumption that 2016-2017 will be a nondescript season for the Rangers, Derick Brassard would be entering the 2017-2018 season as a 30-year-old with two years left on his contract. Would that be bad? Well, no. Surely many teams would be happy to have him at that point in time. For the Rangers, though, there are no guarantees about even 2018. It may very well be the case that, by the time the team is a healthy contender again, Brassard will be going the way of Brad Richards and Eric Staal. In terms of value, the difference between a 29-year-old center with three years left on his contract versus a 30- or 31-year-old with just one or two years left is absolutely massive.
On the other hand, Mika Zibanejad will, in theory, be a much better asset in 2018 (and 2019, and 2020, and so on). He's not very far off from Brassard now, coming off a 21-goal, 30-assist season with similar possession numbers, but is also five-and-a-half years younger. In a couple of years, when Brassard is likely on the decline, there's plenty of reason to believe Zibanejad will be just as good, if not better, than Brassard was in his prime. And, at 25, capable of providing that caliber of play for a number of years ahead. The second-round pick acquired along with Zibanejad doesn't hurt.
The other aspect is that Brassard is coming off the best season of his career. Counter-intuitively, this makes trading him all the better. It's human nature to commit to rising assets without consideration of a potential bubble bursting. It's why so many people invested in the stock market at insane rates during the 1920s and why, eventually, so many of them ended up in poverty. They were so drunk off of the recent financial boom that they ignored the signs of an impending crash.
In regards to Derick Brassard, his 27 goals last season is, by far, a career high. He had never broken 20 goals prior. His 14.8% shooting percentage was well above his career average of 11.1% entering 2015-2016. And while it's fair to attribute a small part of that rise to elite playmakers like Mats Zuccarello and Keith Yandle setting him up, in all likelihood this is just a matter of temporary shooting fortune.
All of these aspects - his age, his contract, and his likely unrepeatable production in 2015-2016 - meant that Derick Brassard will never again be worth more as an asset than he was this summer. Gorton cashed in and got the maximum return on investment. It's the kind of trade I wish the Rangers would make more often. It doesn't address a particular area need. It's not a move for contention nor trading a rental to another team for draft picks. It's not a move to change team culture. It's not even a major salary cap move, with Zibanejad a restricted free agent in 2017 and due for a major raise. The Rangers made a trade simply because it was an exploitation of the market.
Of course, these aren't stocks. Players are people with friends and families and emotions. The human aspect must be considered as well. But with a handful of regrettable moves in the recent past that were based in emotional investment, a trade like this is the kind of cold calculation that Rangers fans should praise the team for executing.