Jeff Gorton Better Have A Plan, Because The Keith Yandle Situation Was A Disaster

The New York Rangers traded Keith Yandle to the Florida Panthers for a 6th round pick and a conditional 4th round pick Monday afternoon.

The Rangers didn’t make a mistake moving Yandle’s rights, especially since the two sides reportedly had a discussion and Jeff Gorton didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. The meager return was to be expected, since Yandle is a UFA in July.

The problem is the Rangers’ decision making from the start of the Yandle saga. It was trading for Yandle despite extending Marc Staal, not utilizing Yandle properly when the Rangers did have him and then not moving him at the deadline.

I tweeted this last night, but it’s worth mentioning again. Gorton has made three major moves as Rangers general manager: Didn’t trade Yandle at the deadline, did trade for Eric Staal at the deadline and then traded Yandle this summer. You can make the argument Gorton was forced into all three moves, but no matter how you look at it all three were bad.

The Yandle trade will fall somewhere between “regret it a lot” and “catastrophic” depending on Anthony Duclair’s continued rise. With the opportunity to get real assets for Yandle, Gorton shied away and wanted to go all in one more year with this team. It earned him one more playoff win and Yandle ended up getting traded before Arizona could even use the first round pick they got from the Rangers. Think about that for a minute.

It’s a disaster of epic proportions no matter how you slice it. For Duclair, John Moore and a 1st round pick the Rangers got Chris Summers and a 6th round draft pick (maybe a 4th rounder, too, if Yandle and the Panthers agree to a new deal). People will say “you have to give to get” when it comes to going all in, but the Rangers never had a backup plan for the reality if they didn’t win outside of the fact it was a mistake to go all in for another year. It’s like being on a crashing plane only to realize you traded all the parachutes for an extra gallon of gas; you have to ride it out to the finish.

To summarize: The Rangers just traded their best defenseman this past year and had to do it because they’re resigned to keeping their worst defenseman. Already Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have cost the Rangers Anton Stralman, Carl Hagelin and now Yandle. It’s a spinning cycle that has repeated over and over again.

There’s floating rumors the Rangers have interest in Cam Fowler and those “Kevin Shattenkirk wants to play in New York” rumors have surfaced again. But here’s the thing: All of those players will now cost the Rangers assets and money, where Yandle would simply cost the Rangers money. Fowler isn’t anywhere near a Yandle-level replacement, and Shattenkirk will cost significantly more and then will have to be re-signed anyway next year.

Throwing Yandle — a true puck rusher who helped keep opposing defenses on their heels even when the puck was in the Rangers’ defensive zone -- away to bring in someone else to replace him at addition cost isn’t good asset management. It’s what the Rangers have done over and over again the past three years.

This isn’t just about the Rangers losing Yandle, it’s about what it does to the defense as a whole. Ryan McDonagh, Girardi, Staal and Kevin Klein are now the Rangers’ top four as it stands today. Trudging that lineup out night in and night out will earn the Rangers exactly what they’ll get: A horrific season of losing hockey that Henrik Lundqvist might not be able to turn into a playoff berth and another wasted year of Hank’s elite talent either way.

Not only that, Gorton’s comments on how Brady Skjei was a good replacement for Yandle will come to light and quickly. Losing Yandle now puts Skjei into the limelight, and thinking Skjei can even brush his fingernails to Yandle’s offense is akin to thinking Girardi is going to bounce back next year just because. It’s not a thought based in reality. (Note: that’s not to say Skjei can’t turn into a nice puck mover, but I don’t think his ceiling will ever be near Yandle’s.)

So what now? Yandle’s misuse and horrific asset management aside the Rangers don’t seem to have much of a plan — or at least haven’t made one public.

The Rangers save virtually no money on the Yandle move -- just 2.6-million — so they’re going to need to use that money (and Dan Boyle’s $4.5-million) to keep the RFAs they have to re-sign. Which means the end of the Yandle saga will be that 6th round pick. That’s it.

So what other defensive options are there? To acquire any of the true younger upgrades you’d need to part with guys like Rick Nash or Derek Stepan -- which makes the Rangers worse in terms of forward defensive depth. Steven Stamkos or not, the Rangers will need to address whatever hole they create by trying to upgrade their defense. That’s not exactly the best strategy in the world.

Fowler — who appears to be someone the Rangers have their eye on — is basically a more offensively gifted John Moore who didn’t exactly light the world on fire with a stacked offensive team in Anaheim. His advanced metrics aren’t great, and the drop off from both his offense and defense to Yandle would be pretty staggering. Plus, he’s making $4-million and he needs to be signed in two years as well. Rinse, lather, repeat.

The Rangers don’t seem to have the best of plans moving forward -- at least not to the public eye. The organization does a good job keeping things close to the vest, but this past year’s worth of moves from the front office doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Hopefully that changes soon.

When the Rangers traded for Yandle in February of 2015 I wrote the following:

The risk is, as I've already said, if you don't win a Stanley Cup with these moves you've mortgaged a massive piece of real estate in a deal you didn't have to make. And while I understand everyone saying Duclair is "unproven," in my book he's the type of prospect who should only be pried from your hands if something significant is coming back. And while Yandle is something significant, I'm not sure why the Rangers also needed to part with a 1st and a 2nd round pick to get it done. Miller should have been enough to get that deal done -- and you all know how high I am on Miller.

The Rangers will get a chance to use their new toy tonight and I am very sure he's going to make the Rangers much better. Like I said before, I truly believe they're better today than they were yesterday. And not just marginally, much, much better.

But are they good enough to win the Stanley Cup? Because that question will answer whether or not this deal haunts the Rangers for the rest of their lives.

Hindsight is 20/20, but if the risk was that easy to see two years ago, then why were the Rangers so ill prepared for the fallout this summer?