The jury is still out on if the Derek Stepan trade was the right move for the New York Rangers, but based on this past season, it ain’t looking pretty.
Before this debacle of a season started, the Rangers made a large and questionable trade. New York shipped Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes for Tony DeAngelo and the Coyotes first round pick.
Stepan was a solid force at center ice for New York while Raanta was a premiere back up. The trade was met with immediate scrutiny. During the course of the season, for the most part, that scrutiny was justified.
At least this season, the Rangers lost the trade. DeAngelo was in and out of the lineup. While the seventh pick did yield Lias Andersson, the young Swede didn’t play until very late in the season. The loss of Stepan created a massive hole at center and the loss of Raanta possibly an even bigger gap behind Henrik Lundqvist. In the long term, this deal may still be a win for New York. But this season it went all wrong.
Who’s at Center?
The immediate knock on the trade was the fact that the Rangers traded away their number one center. Now, Stepan isn’t a number one center like Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid is, but he was a model of consistency in New York his entire career. Stepan never posted a season below 44 points in New York. The season he posted 44, he did so in 48 games due to a partial lockout.
Stepan was not only a solid point producer, but he could log time on the penalty kill, on the power play and he was one of the Rangers better players in the face-off dot. Still, New York felt that Mika Zibanejad was the new number one so they let Stepan go. The only problem is while Zibanejad slotted in fine at center on the top line, the trickle down effect left the rest of the lineup depleted in that position.
The teams answer to trading Stepan was to sign David Desharnais. In 71 games, he tallied 28 points. Stepan had 56 in 82 games for Phoenix. While the trade produced a high draft pick and a promising young defensemen, it left New York with a lack of suitable centers. The trade itself may not have been terrible, but the lack of a backup plan was the real problem here.
We need backup
The more overlooked problem that this trade caused was the fact that suddenly Henrik Lundqvist was left without a backup. For years the Rangers had the best goaltending tandem in the league. Whether it was Lundqvist and Cam Talbot or Lundqvist and Raanta, the Rangers had little drop off without the King.
That changed this season when Raanta left and Ondrej Pavelec stepped in. Pavelec played in only 19 games, starting 12 and going 4-9-1. Not only was he not good based on the Rangers backup goaltending standards, he just simply wasn’t good. New York had to ride Lundqvist and although the team didn’t make the playoffs, if they had his stamina would have certainly been a question.
Once again, it seemed like a move that was made without a plan in mind for what was going to be done after. Or the Rangers may have thought they could turn any goaltender into a star (which in all fairness seemed to be the case for a while). However, neither of these things were true and in turn the goaltending behind Lundqvist was subpar at best.
Why it went wrong
The trade itself isn’t the largest issue here. It hurt a lot of fans to see Stepan go and Raanta was becoming a crowd favorite. But, the return for the Rangers was and still is promising. The issue with the trade was the lack of movement after. There was no urgency to find a center, no urgency to find a suitable backup and because of that, the lack of a plan, the Rangers suffered.