This was one of the craziest weeks for the New York Rangers in recent memory.
The team made no trades before the 2017 NHL expansion draft (including trying to cut a deal with Vegas), they lost Oscar Lindberg to expansion, traded Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona, were rumored to have been trying to move up again in the draft, selected Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil in the 1st round, re-assigned Jeff Beukeboom within the organization and hired Lindy Ruff as an assistant coach, all while Jeff Gorton admitted the team was “re-building on the fly.”
Right as things were quieting down from the Stepan trade I wrote the following about the holes the Rangers had created in the lineup:
That doesn’t exactly mean there’s another trade on the horizon, but it does mean the Rangers have to have something else up their sleeves.
As Adam said on Twitter: The Rangers didn’t just open up about $20-million in cap space because they’re bored. Jeff Gorton has effectively given himself about as blank a slate as possible to put his true mark on this team, whether through free agency or trade.
More on what the Rangers have brought back in later in this story, but what they’ve now created is a big hole at center. Is there a move out there for Alex Galchenyuk? Now that Gorton holds the 7th and 21st overall picks in the draft maybe there is. Or perhaps there’s another player out there who tickles Gorton’s interest that hasn’t been named yet.
Now that the dust has settled, though, the Rangers aren’t much further along than they were the minute Stepan and Raanta were on their way to Arizona -- which, I need to stress, isn’t a terrible thing.
As much as the draft floor basically breeds trades (all 31 general managers next to each other does wonders for that), it also drives up the prices. Guys can pick up the phone and try to leverage deals for players who are on the block, or get false intentions of how much interest there is in a player because guys are simply kicking tires. Akin to the days leading up to the trade deadline, prices go up as you get in those situations, not down.
What you can question is whether or not there was a plan for the Rangers to utilize their two first round picks to create a trade that worked for them. Galchenyuk is still rumored to be on the market, and there was a thought the Rangers could have made a deal using one of them. Obviously — if those talks even happened -- Gorton wanted to keep what he had.
This doesn’t mean the Rangers are done, it just means we’re a little lost at the direction they’re heading in. I was all for moving Stepan and Raanta for futures, assuming the Rangers utilized their newly found space to cut some deals. Is Joe Thornton an option? It’s rumored he wants a three-year deal (which I would not do, unless ridiculously cheap) but who doesn’t start high when negotiating? Maybe a shot at living in New York and going for the Cup lowers his demands in New York. Despite Larry Brook’s claims the Rangers aren’t going hard for Kevin Shattenkirk, I would be very surprised if the Rangers don’t make a major play for him. Brendan Smith remains unsigned, which is a concern there, but perhaps the team has an idea for that, too?
It’s clear not everything is going to come from free agency though. Gorton as much as admitted his phone is ringing now that the team has cap space:
“Sometimes your phone doesn’t ring when you’re capped out, and now when you have a lot of cap room, your phone rings,” Gorton said after Day 2 of the draft Saturday afternoon in Chicago’s United Center. “It’s flexibility that we have, it’s opportunities that we have to make our team better. We can listen to some things that maybe we couldn’t have listened to a few days ago.”
Trades aside, the free agency market doesn’t excite me all that much at forward. Martin Hanzal is injury-prone and will be expensive. Brian Boyle or Nick Bonino would both be fantastic third-line options, but they’re also going to be overpaid and expensive. Sam Gagner is only 27, but can he be trusted to handle such an important role on a team gunning to be contenders?
There really are no “safe” options. Shattenkirk immediately helps the team get better all around on defense, gives them an actual top pair to work with, and the inclusion of Anthony DeAngelo should allow the Rangers to run a formidable two-defenseman point system on the power play. But that only solves some of the issues. The Brendan Smith situation remains unsolved, and the forward holes are now relatively enormous.
That’s not to say it’s time to panic yet. Gorton obviously has a plan.
We just have yet to see it come into focus.