New York Rangers: Trade deadline moves hurt now but expedite rebuild

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 25: Ryan Spooner
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 25: Ryan Spooner /

The New York Rangers made massive changes at the NHL trade deadline on February 26., and as hard as all of the changes can be, things are starting to move in the right direction quickly.

New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton wasn’t bluffing when he released a letter to fans on February 8. preparing them for some big departures. The February 26. trade deadline was met with two huge trades by the Rangers that sent some sentimental names out the door. We said goodbye to core players that had a lot to do with the Rangers success in recent years for mostly prospects and draft picks as well as a couple solid roster players.

The first of the two blockbuster trades was Rick Nash to the Boston Bruins for forward Ryan Spooner, defense prospect Ryan Lindgren, a 2018 first-round pick, a 2019 seventh-round pick and forward Matt Beleskey.

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The consensus seemed to be that the Rangers “fleeced” the Bruins but when you really think about it, it is a pretty even trade. The Rangers will retain half of Nash’s remaining salary while the Bruins retain half of Beleskey’s.

Beleskey is 100% only a part of this as a cap dump for the Bruins. He’s an instigator type player that produces nothing and doesn’t belong in the league.

Boston put him on waivers in December but because his contract is so terrible nobody claimed him, so they took this opportunity to pawn him off on New York and only pay half of his atrocious $3.8 million per year contract.

As for Spooner, I really like this addition. He is not the same kind of player as a Rick Nash but when you compare the two on paper this season, Nash has 22 more games played than Spooner and only has two more points. Spooner also notched two impressive assists in his Rangers debut in the 3-1 OT loss to Detroit on Sunday and then tallied another three last night in the 6-5 win against Vancouver.

That’s five points in two games as a Ranger. He has seemed to have instant chemistry with Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast as line mates. He is an RFA at the end of this season and is still on the younger side at age 26. I think that he wasn’t really fitting into Boston’s future anyway as there was no where to slot him on the top two lines, he wasn’t quite defensive enough for a third line role and he’s too good to be a fourth liner. This gives Spooner some new life to be able to be creative with the puck and make plays which is what he seemed to do right away in his first game in New York.

As for the rest of what the Rangers got in this, the first-rounder I think is great as they are stacking up on early draft picks for this summer in what is said to be a deep draft. The prospect Lindgren is playing at the University of Minnesota right now probably has a couple of years before making it to the NHL, so just like any prospect, they can scout them all they can but at the end of the day everyone is just a shot in the dark.

I think overall that this trade is a big statement by Boston considering they gave all of this away for a two month rental. Boston has one of the best pools of prospects in their system so while I don’t think this hurt their future drastically, if they don’t win the cup with Rick Nash they lost this deal hard.

This trade made a huge splash at the deadline but it was a tiny ripple compared to the Tampa Bay deal.

The Rangers then sent defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller to the Lightning for forward Vladislav Namestnikov, a 2018 first-round pick, two prospects in forward Brett Howden and defenseman Libor Hajek and a conditional 2019 second-round pick that will change to a first if the Lightning win the cup this year or next.

This easily was the biggest deal of the deadline and came right at 3pm. I think we all knew McDonagh was packing his bags as he hadn’t played since February 7. and the rumors had been swirling for over a month. I was crossing my fingers that they would not deal any players that were young and effective pieces that they could use as the new core of the Rangers. Examples would be guys like Hayes, Chris Kreider, Brady Skjei, Jimmy Vesey and most certainly J.T. Miller considering the year he has been having.

I was at peace with McDonagh moving on because we knew it was inevitable but I was shocked to hear Miller was a part of this as he is only 24, has a great contract and is the second highest point scorer on the team. When it comes to these things you never know what is being said over the phones and how things unravel. For all we know Tampa could have only wanted to make a deal if Miller was involved and they had to negotiate from there.

As for what came back in return I think that Namestnikov is a nice addition as he came with 44 points on the year which is four more than Miller’s total and currently higher than anyone on the Rangers. It is tough to compare though considering Namestnikov has been playing on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, two of the best scorers in the league.Namestnikov is a year older than Miller at 25 and becomes an RFA at the end of the season. He made an impressive debut as a Ranger last night with a goal and an assist in Vancouver. He made smart plays with the puck and played a 200-foot game.

I like the high-end prospects that were acquired in Howden and Hajek as well as the third first-round pick of this upcoming draft and the chance for another next year. It’s not easy to get excited about players who are still young and developing when you give away two huge pieces of the team, but I think that with these deals the organization has maximized the amount of talent in their system and has expedited the rebuild process.

It’s also not easy for fans to see beloved players from those deep cup runs all playing for teams that have eliminated the Rangers from the playoffs in recent years.

With Nash at Boston, Grabner and Boyle at New Jersey, McDonagh and Miller joining Girardi, Callahan and Stralman on Tampa and now Brassard reuniting with Hagelin at Pittsburgh, it’s almost like the world is upside down.

Now that the fire sale is over I think that the Rangers need to focus on developing the young players in the lineup for the rest of the season and focus on the draft come the offseason.

As difficult as changes are to accept for players and fans, it was time to move forward and change the identity of the club. The Rangers have always had one foot in and one foot out when it came to trying to keep up with the new NHL.

They would make moves to patch certain holes with signings and add a young player here and there but in essence, they were keeping the core together because it was making playoff runs each year and they kept giving it one more chance.

It’s like putting new wallpaper up over the old wallpaper and not addressing the structure of the house, which is finally the approach they are taking in an efficient way.

They claimed in their letter that they started the rebuild process this summer which is in reference to trading Derek Stepan, but if they were really starting the rebuild process, then would they have went and signed Kevin Shattenkirk and made a bunch of one-year deals to veterans like Desharnais and Pavelec?

They were obviously going for it again this year and when the team started to struggle in January and they acknowledged the level of competition around them in the east they went into rebuild mode.

The hardest thing for a franchise is to accept their situation and come to terms with ending an era and I think what the Rangers have done something admirable in backing up their letter. I think just after this deadline the Rangers have surpassed teams who have been rebuilding for multiple seasons like the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes in the process.

So now that the bleeding is over let’s take a look at who is left and what the make up is of the updated Rangers lineup.

The team is looking young and fresh as many players are now stepping into core roles such as Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei, Mika Zibanejad and Jimmy Vesey, all of which only made their Ranger debuts last season. Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast are now going to be leaders but are still young and have only been on the roster since 2015. Both are really coming into form and I am excited to see what they can bring to this new identity.

It is crazy to think Chris Kreider, who I feel like made his debut yesterday when he stepped into the 2012 playoffs as a rookie and scored a couple of goals, is the fourth longest Ranger on the team behind Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and Mats Zuccarello.

Zuccarello and Shattenkirk should both wear the letters moving forward. You cannot rebuild a team without veteran leadership and it helps that both of them are effective players that aren’t old.

Obviously, I wouldn’t call them youngsters as Zuccarello is 30 and Shattenkirk 29, but they are in their primes and are the right players to lead this team into a new chapter, both being signed into next season.

You can’t just go getting rid of everyone.

Next: Grading the deadline trades

The good thing is that the Rangers had too many players alike and they shed off enough to just keep what was needed and that can be used for the new plans.

The Rangers have said goodbye to twelve players that were on their roster in May when they made it to the second round of the playoffs. I would say that is some big change for 10 months.

As hard as change can be, I think that this new style for the New York Rangers is going to be fun and exciting and things are already starting to look better.