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Jeff Gorton And The Two-Year Window Of Assets

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NHL: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Ryan Spooner extension, like many things this offseason, was met with anger and confusion.

I refuse to get into the “why did Spooner get two years when Kevin Hayes got one?” stuff. If you need some more information on the differences between the two situations and deals, Mike and I spent 75 minutes on this week’s podcast talking Spooner, Hayes, and Brady Skjei. Enjoy that here.

What I do want to wade into, though, is the anger that Jeff Gorton felt the need to even give Spooner that second year.

We’ve been focusing very hard in this space on what we’ve called the “two year window,” which is a period of time where the Rangers are rebuilding (not tanking) but not expecting to contend. Again, if you want to be angry about “they’re not bottoming out” there’s logic to support that emotion. That said, they are not bottoming out, so you need to move beyond that when viewing Gorton’s moves and short-term plans.

Spooner represents a safety net for the Rangers this year. He’s an offensive force worth 40-50 points who can help balance out any line in the top nine and can even fill in on the power play. For two years, it doesn’t even matter what the dollars are, but $4-million isn’t unreasonable at all. And to be honest, Spooner might fit in well with David Quinn and his new system, and increase his trade value to boot.

The anger about Spooner being around for two more years doesn’t make all that much sense to me. At worse, Gorton is compiling assets to be moved this year or next to either grab prospects or picks for the future. The Rangers neglected this strategy for so long that it almost makes sense to saturate their future ideals with it. And since there’s no actual expectation to contend, there is no downside.

This goes for everyone, too. Spooner, Vlad Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey, Mats Zuccarello, and now Hayes are all potential trade bait this year, with Spooner, Namestnikov, and Vesey potential next summer or two-years-from-now trade deadline moves. The urgency of the moves depends on how well the prospects in the system do and whether or not guys like Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil force their way into permanent roles on the team.

The market this season, even right now, seems to be saturated with higher end talent that’s holding things up. John Tavares and Ryan O’Reilly around free agency, and Erik Karlsson since, well, last February just to name a few. Yes, Jeff Skinner got moved this week, but he got a middling return from Buffalo. That proves the point I’ve been trying to make: The market just isn’t there for trades right now. I cant imagine it was anyone’s plan for both Spooner and Namestnikov to be back this year, but if nothing else the second year on both of them gives the team more trade flexibility.

As discussed on the podcast, Hayes’ higher than expected AAV seems to be a good faith negotiation from Gorton so that Hayes is more amicable to a sign-and-trade that can happen anytime after or on January 1st. The Rangers, of course, would get significantly more value for Hayes if they ship him off with a long-term deal, rather than as a straight rental. Something to keep an eye on as we get deeper into the season, since it behooves everyone involved to resolve the Hayes’ situation sooner rather than later.

Zuccarello represents another problem for Gorton, or at least another potential headache. I’m sure Zuccarello would be down for staying in New York on another extension, but the Rangers might not be as willing, depending on the asks and long term goals for the team. At 30 — he’ll be 31 in the first year of his next contract — he’s still young enough to be kept around as both a talented player and a mentor to the youth. Perhaps there’s a “we trade you to a contender now and see you again at the negotiating table this summer” in his future. I wouldn’t be against it.

As for Spooner and Namestnikov, they’re the flex plan of this entire thing. If the Rangers move on from Hayes and Zuccarello this year and only one of Chytil and Andersson make the permanent jump then they’re there to help ease that transition. If the Rangers find a market for one or both at the deadline, then they can do that, too. It’s the beauty of not trying to make the playoffs, all outcomes are acceptable.

So as we’ve been saying for months: The next two years are a throwaway as the team tries to build toward contention. Next summer will add more dramatics since Artemi Panarin, Erik Karlsson, Tyler Seguin, and Mark Stone will all be on the UFA market potentially. And as Adam pointed out to me, it will be a lot easier to sell one of those players on the idea of signing if the Rangers have competent NHLers like Spooner and Namestnikov under contract in 2019-2020. But for right now, relax and let the flexibility wash over you.