For several years it was clear the Rangers front office was preparing Chris Drury for a larger management role, the organization even denied other teams the chance to interview him for their own GM opening. While it’s always a good strategy to have a plan in place for internal candidates and promotions, no one on this plane of existence could have guessed what would happen at the end of last year’s season and just how quickly Drury would be given the reins to the most valuable franchise in the NHL.
The Rangers were still in the midst of their rebuild, and expectations were that small steps would be taken with pieces added externally as both Gorton and Davidson saw fit. Upon their sudden dismissal from the Rangers’ organization, it became apparent that their strategy did not quite align with James Dolan’s expectations. Chris Drury was suddenly the man of the hour and under him, the team was expected to take that proverbial step forward by at the very least qualifying for the playoffs and competing.
2021-22 NYR Stats 52-24-6, 250 GF, 204 GA, 25.23 PP%, 82.3 PK%
Where do we begin? Let’s start with the offseason leading up to the 21-22 year, it’s here we begin to see the direction he wanted to take the Rangers. His first big move came on the day of the 2021 NHL Draft where he objectively made the team worse with the Pavel Buchnevich trade.
With the flat cap era here to stay, the team had their back against the wall with skilled RFA Pavel Buchnevich in need of a contract. It’s 100% understood that in prior years they had made some questionable decisions that put them in this position, and even so, trading Buchnevich was not mandatory, there were several tentative ways out of the situation, but they all led to the team facing a severe cap crunch in the coming years and with the kids on the team needing room to grow, the writing was on the wall.
Drury bit the bullet and made a deal. We all have opinions about this trade, and to be frank thinking about it still hurts me in some ways. The value we got back for Buchnevich was underwhelming, and it didn’t help that Sammy Blais, the main piece of the Rangers’ return, went down with a season-ending injury after having only played fourteen games. If you want to believe Drury took the best deal available, that’s fine but arguably, the better move would have been to hold on to Buchnevich for the time being.
As the offseason continued Drury made several other moves to supplement the roster, most of which were perplexing. One of his better moves was trading away Brett Howden shortly before the expansion draft. With the team’s full intention of exposing Howden, they were able to recoup draft assets instead of potentially losing him for nothing. Shortly after this Drury traded for the rights to Barclay Goodrow. This was all well and fine, Goodrow is a good if not great bottom-six player for any team to have, but the main issue was the contract Drury ended up signing him to.
With Goodrow about to hit free agency, there were other suitors out there who would have overpaid for him. Having just played a key role for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their back-to-back Stanley cup winning seasons, Goodrow had made a name for himself. In part because of this, he ended up signing a six-year contract for $3.6 million a year with the Rangers. Now the cap hit for this contract was a little higher than most people were anticipating, but the term of six years was the real negative part of this signing.
The other substantial moves Drury made were signing Patrik Nemeth to a 3-year $2.5 million contract and trading for and extending the contract of Ryan Reaves. Nemeth was a serviceable bottom pair defenseman in the league, and I’m sure there were hopes the Swedish defender would become a mentor for fellow countryman and rookie Nils Lundkvist, but that didn’t quite work out and again it was the combination of the cap hit and the term that made the perception surrounding this move a negative one. At the end of the day, the Patrik Nemeth project was an abject failure (or a D much to the dismay of BSB readers) and he overall cost Drury two draft picks to fix this mistake, three if you think they traded for Braun because Nemeth couldn’t be counted on.
The Reaves trade was perhaps the biggest indicator of the element Drury wanted to add to the team. The general idea is with Reaves on the roster maybe guys like Tom Wilson would think twice. He brings an element of toughness the Rangers didn’t have before, and grit and toughness were clearly things Drury wanted on the roster and he would go so far as to even sacrifice a little bit of skill to ensure it’s there. Whatever, cool, fine even! One year of Ryan Reaves isn’t so bad, but the truly confusing part was that Drury signed him to a one-year extension before he even played a game for the team.
So to recap the top moves Drury made in the offseason, he traded away a top winger on the team and then traded for or signed multiple grit pieces and a replaceable defenseman with a total combined cap hit of $2 million more than what the St. Louis Blues signed Buchnevich for. This is simplifying the whole situation but seeing this spelled out is a bit infuriating. Were the intangibles of these three additions worth the 30 goals and almost 80 points Buchnevich scored for the Blues this year? That’s a hard pill to swallow.
If we move on to the regular season, there were some bumps along the way. One of them happening almost right away with the Vitali Kravtsov dilemma. Having been assigned to Hartford the young player was upset and wanted out of the organization, how this was handled internally and whether Drury was to blame we’ll never know, but it was not a good look for the team. This was the second time in a short span that a top prospect in the organization didn’t like the way they were treated and asked to be traded. In retrospect, as this currently stands, it seems this has since been resolved and perhaps Drury deserves some kudos for not hitting the panic button and offloading Kravtsov to the first suitor that came along.
As for their play during the season, after a small stumble out of the gate, the team was finding ways to win games. The occasional hiccup occurred here or there, but the Rangers had stretches of solid play in between some grisly defensive breakdowns. The team was often bailed out by their Vezina-winning goalie Igor Shesterkin. In classic Rangers fashion, the team seemed good, but they were relying far too heavily on their goalie to win games. As the year progressed it became more and more likely they would qualify for the playoffs but there were some serious concerns about holes in their roster that would prevent them from making any type of meaningful run.
At the trade deadline, Drury seized the opportunity and went all in. He traded for multiple pieces to fortify several areas of their roster. The Rangers went on to make a deep playoff run, so it seemed these moves and his savvy negotiating had paid off in spades. Their offensive depth finally had just that depth, and they could roll four lines with each having a chance to do damage.
Here’s the thing, while Drury should be commended for his ability to recognize holes in their roster, these holes in need of being filled were made by his moves or lack thereof in the previous offseason. Needing to add more scoring depth is a hell of a thing to experience, especially when you traded away a thirty-goal scorer for cents on the dollar. Adding to this all the assets he ended up moving for Copp was absolutely an overpay, Drury should have pushed to modify the condition that sacrificed their first-round pick. It may be my personal bias but seeing Brad Lambert taken with the Rangers’ own pick is a punch to the gut. The team gave up a fair amount for short-term purposes, and there is concern they could be in the same position at next year’s deadline. This is not a sustainable business model.
Author Grade: C
Banter Consensus: B-
A lot of Drury’s activity this past year could be looked at under a subjective lens. In some context, a lot of the moves he made were good ones and the team did end up taking that proverbial step forward and went to make a deep playoff run. The league even acknowledged his success when they nominated him for the Jim Gregory Manager of the Year award. However, it’s up in the air whether it was Drury’s management or the team’s world-class goaltender that led to their successful year, and this is just part of the reason it’s complex to credit the success of this season to Drury. It’s possible the team would have taken these steps naturally or perhaps gone even further had he not emphasized acquiring grit and toughness or even if Gorton and Davidson were still in charge.
Again Drury did make some objectively good moves this past season. He signed Igor Shesterkin to a steal of a contract and locked down the team’s most important defenseman long-term. He even signed a top coaching candidate in Gerard Gallant, and though he has had some missteps and been outcoached during certain periods, the team did find success in various ways under him. Both their powerplay and penalty kill were better than in previous seasons, with a PP% of 25.23 being ranked fourth in the league and their PK% of 82.3 being seventh in the league. Last but not least Drury has proven to draft well, with the stock of their initially highly questioned first-round pick Brennan Othmann rapidly rising.
As the years pass by a true assessment of solely Drury and the team he manages becomes more easily distinguishable. With each move he’s made shaping and molding the New York Rangers into his own personal vision, we’ll see if the team progresses or regresses this upcoming season and how the trades he has made continue to age.