The New York Rangers have moved to shed long-term contracts to increase flexibility and acquire draft picks to replenish their system. The team is clearly pivoting from “win now” approach to more of a long view strategy.
A Depleted System From Failed Cup Runs
In the 1980s, the New York Yankees were known for trading away talented prospects to acquire players that could provide immediate help. This strategy failed drastically, as the suffered their longest World Series drought in team history. A change in philosophy to developing their own players such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Riviera catalyzed their return to glory in the late 90s.
The Rangers have been in a similar “win now” mode for several years. The team had to do what it could to try to get a Cup for Henrik Lundqvist, the franchise’s greatest player.
But as result of trading picks for rental players, their system is bereft of legitimate prospects. They did not have a first round pick for four straight drafts from 2013-2016. The last first round pick in 2012 was Brady Skjei.
Moving on From Two Alternate Captains
Dan Girardi was a warrior for many years, but his huge contract was gobbling up cap space and his play was in a steep decline. Buying him out gave the Rangers some breathing room.
The trade of Derek Stepan wasn’t about getting rid of him. Stepan is a productive player with plenty of tread left on his tires. But with a no movement clause about to kick in, the Rangers had to find a way to get some cap room to maneuver to fill the team’s holes.
In return for Stepan and Antti Raanta, the Rangers acquired a high upside young defensemen in Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh pick in the draft. The Rangers used the pick on Lias Andersson, the highly-skilled Swede with an NHL pedigree.
Though somewhat of a polished prospect, Anderson will have his work cut out for him just make the team in his first year. DeAngelo has potential, but he’s not expected to be thrust into a key role right away, especially with Alain Vigneault’s reluctance to trust young players. Cap relief aside, the Rangers essentially traded their number one center for players that are not expected to contribute much next season.
The Rangers also held onto to their other first round pick and used it to select Filip Chytil. With more highly touted players available, it was a surprise pick by the Rangers. He’s a high ceiling player who the Rangers think could develop into something special.
But a few months short of his eighteenth birthday, he has a long way to go. The Czech won’t even be playing in North America anytime soon, much less the Garden.
The Rangers also traded down in the fourth round to acquire an extra pick. This is notable because it signifies Jeff Gorton’s commitment to improving the Rangers’ poorly stocked system. To this end, the Rangers have also recently signed two young defensemen; Alexei Bereglazov from the KHL and NCAA standout Neal Pionk.
The Rangers can now picture a team anchored by Skjei, Pionk, and Bereglazov at the blue line; Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, Anderson, and Chytil as forwards; and developing Russian netminder Igor Shestyorkin. It is unlikely to work out for all of these players, but clearly, Jeff Gorton has designs on changing the course of this team. The ship is turning toward the horizon instead of the closest port.
It is clear that the recent moves by the Rangers were made with the intent of positioning the team for long term success. This is a striking departure from the “win now” mindset of the Lundqvist era.