Late Monday night Vladislav Namestnikov’s agent announced a trade of the current bottom-six pivot to Ottawa. There was mild shock and surprise.
Then a little more.
Then the normal post haze trade I’ll attempt to work through now. You’re welcome, America. Let’s break it all down!
The Timing Is Weird
Ah yes, the timing. It was rumored the Rangers sniffed around potential suitors as far back as last year’s trade deadline — with Colorado and the Rangers feeling out a deal for Namestnikov at the time. Obviously that didn’t materialize, and despite more rumbles on the draft floor, nothing happened there, either.
Namestnikov was always going to be moved, but being moved a week into the season doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense on the surface. If this move was cap oriented — and it was — then wouldn’t it have been a better decision to have done this over the summer and not have to eat a $6-million buyout penalty next year? Furthermore, the return wasn’t stellar — again, this was a cap/roster space move — so it’s not like Gorton held out for a bigger return. It’s hard to imagine a deal like this wouldn’t have been available elsewhere this summer, and it could have saved the Rangers serious cash on the back end. (The reality is, the team was resigned to buying out Kevin Shattenkirk regardless, and they weren’t going to do anything to change that.)
Knowing the team was going to buyout Shattenkirk anyway, and seeing the less than stellar return, the timing does come into question. Which means one of two things can be speculated: 1) Namestnikov quietly asked for a trade, or 2) the Rangers needed to make space on their roster. Since we’re here:
The Roster Space AND The Cap Space
Before the trade the Rangers were carrying an extra defenseman (Brendan Smith) and two extra forwards (Micheal Haley and Greg McKegg). Naturally David Quinn was using the extra defenseman as a fourth line forward, relegating McKegg and Haley to the press box for the first two games of the season.
I have no idea what the long-term, realistic hope is for Haley — but it’s clear Quinn liked McKegg’s game and wants him in the lineup... but not enough to not have Smith play forward. This Namestnikov trade solves that for now, but I really don’t think it’s much deeper than that from a lineup perspective. Vitali Kravtsov being a healthy scratch for Hartford’s game last week seems to be a coincidence, and despite Filip Chytil’s dominance down there already I don’t think he’s on the way up before November at the earliest. And even that’s wildly optimistic from what I can gather from this current staff’s mindset.
Is it possible there’s another move out there? I suppose so, but it really doesn’t feel like it. The Rangers retained $750K, freeing up an extra $3.25-million from their books, which will allow them to be more flexible moving forward if they want to be. Then again, they could have just not signed Haley in the first place, but that’s also already spilled milk. That said, all the people who are complaining that this trade is being linked to potentially being able to avoid a Shattenkirk buyout this past summer are both advocating for the trade now because it saves cap space while also questioning why someone would link this back to avoiding a Shattenkirk buyout that ... was needed to save cap space. I don’t know when it became cool to not have an opinion on NYR moves, but I enjoy the sound of my own voice so I wouldn’t worry about that happening here.
My bet? This move was made because Namestnikov wanted out — even if he didn’t request a trade the team knew he wasn’t sticking round — and that they wanted to free up both cap space and a slot for McKegg, simple as that.
Aside from all that glorious cap space, and a now wide-open hole for Greg McKegg? Well, the Rangers got a 2021 4th round pick for their troubles, and Nick Ebert. Ebert is a 25-year-old AHL defenseman who spent the past two years in the SHL and really has no NHL aspirations. He’ll ply his trade for the Wolf Pack, and maybe serve as a more veteran presence if the Rangers poach from down there during the year.
Ottawa was at the contract limit, so his inclusion allowed Namestnikov to be traded for. He’s not included because of who he is/what he brings to the table. So in truth, the real return if a 2021 4th round pick — now giving the Rangers nine selections in 2021.
Is it a meager return? Yes. Is it something to get fired up about? Not realllllly. You never know how a market is going to play out as the year goes on, and it’s hard to imagine Namestnikov himself won’t be flipped again from Ottawa to a contender. It wouldn’t shock me — especially if he’s getting top-six minutes with the Senators — for Namestnikov to bring Ottawa back more than they gave for him.
The Rangers now have cap flexibility to work with if they want to, they can now get McKegg into the lineup every night if they want to, and they have a fourth round pick in 2021 they can use ... if they want to.
What would you have done if you were Jeff Gorton, you ask? Fantastic question! I’d have moved Namestnikov up to the second line to see if he couldn’t unlock more out of Chris Kreider and Kaapo Kakko and then traded him in February. At least in that case you’re maximizing his value or getting the most you can squeeze out of him. I’d be far more concerned with losing a guy like Namestnikov right now with a lineup that already has defensive issues.
But that’s me.