Grading out New York Rangers trade deadline moves

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton continues to build for the future

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone and once again New York Rangers General Manger Jeff Gorton was faced with letting go a couple of mainstay players as another chapter in the rebuild was completed.  This year’s deadline provided an additional dimension of caution and portential hazard with the upcoming expansion draft for the newly awarded franchise in Seattle.

On the trade block were upcoming unrestricted free agents Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid.  Due to contract term prerequisites, it was clear Gorton did not see these players as 5 year investments or the annual cap hits that the team would need to absorb to keep them.  While several other names circulated among the trade boards and rumor mills, the departure tickets were issued to just these players.  Going into Saturday, I forecasted destinations and potential return on each via Twitter.

Zuccarello was the first to be dealt, dispatched to the Dallas Stars for conditional picks in the second round in 2019 and conditional third round pick in 2020.  The conditions on these picks move them to first round picks based upon the Stars reaching the Western Conference finals (2019 pick) or Zuccarello re-signing with Dallas (2020 pick).

The trade return for the 32-year-old pending free agent Zuccarello was projected to mirror the return of Michael Grabner who was dealt to New Jersey; a second round pick plus a minor league prospect.  The market demand for Zuccarello increased after Matt Duchene was traded on Friday.

The best case scenario return could yield Gorton two first round picks while the worst case scenario yields the second second and third rounders as stated.

The loss of Zuccarello will be felt throughout Rangerland as he became a fan favorite over the past nine seasons.  The trade removes an estimated $6M in cap projected space (estimated the annual salary he sought in re-signing).  It opens a roster spot on the Rangers top line for Jimmy Vesey and others.  The eventual return for Zuccarello will be determined by July, however this outcome is favorable to the Rangers who likely would have lost Zuccarello to another team for nothing.

Next up was center Kevin Hayes.  Hayes, a 26-year-old pending free agent, signed a one year contract extension in September which many believe cast doubt upon the Rangers interest in signing him long term.  With the top center off the trade board gone in the Duchene trade, Hayes emerged as the top choice among executives from Nashville, Winnipeg and Boston.

Hayes was eventually traded to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a 2019 first round pick, agitating winger Brendan Lemieux (son of former NHL player Claude Lemieux), and a conditional fourth round pick if Winnipeg wins the Stanley Cup this spring.

The Rangers receive Lemieux who is seen as the type player the team has lacked since losing Brandon Prust to free agency in 2013.  The 6’1, 210 pound winger has played third line with the Jets scoring nine goals and provides an element of grit that Coach David Quinn desires.  Upon receiving Lemieux, Gorton received several calls from teams interested in acquiring him.

In the last move of the busy day, defensemen McQuaid was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets for 2019 fourth and seventh round draft picks and minor league defenseman Julius Bergman.  McQuaid who had helped stabilize the play of Brady Skjei came to the Rangers this fall in exchange for Steve Kampfer and a fourth and seventh round picks.  Those picks were reacquired while the additional prospect Bergman was assigned to the Rangers AHL affiliate Hartford Wolfpack.

Gorton receives a “winner” ribbon among NHL general managers for the results from the trade deadline.  He received top value for players who would have otherwise been allowed to leave and likely sign with another team for no return. The deals open up opportunities for the prospect base to matriculate the depth chart into top six positions on the forward line and for the bottom defense pairing.

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As the Rangers approach this year’s amateur draft in June, they have two firsts and three seconds, two of which could conditionally turn into first round picks.  By acquiring picks vs. players Gorton avoided the potential loss of key assets in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft in two years.  He also commands $18.37M in cap space flexibility or more if the cap ceiling is lifted with only Connor Brickley as an unrestricted free agent.  All in all a fine result for Gorton and the Rangers.