Just when you thought it was safe, Lias Andersson and the New York Rangers are in the news again.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post was the one who stirred the pot, breaking the news that there was another setback in the relationships between the Swedish center and the New York Rangers. Brooks reported that Andersson had declined an invitation to rejoin the Rangers at their mini-training camp as the team prepared for the qualifying round.
There have also been unconfirmed reports that Andersson wants to play next season in Swedish Hockey League (SHL) where he returned to action with the HV71 club and played well.
Reaction was swift in Rangerstown. For many this was the last straw and spelled the end of Andersson’s career with the team. For John Davidson, it was a decision to be respected (in a very carefully worded comment). For others, it was a logical response following a long, contentious relationship between the player and the team.
Even seasoned observers of the Rangers like Brooks of the Post and Rick Carpiniello of The Athletic see the latest as a severe blow to his chances of ever coming back to New York.
The history (we all know it)
We all know the Lias Andersson story or at least we think we do. Seventh overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. A player valued for his leadership and tenacity, factors that made him an off the board pick by the Rangers. A first hint of controversy when he threw his silver medal into the crowd at the WJC Tournament. A first season split between Frolunda and Hartford with a brief stop in New York. This season, a fiasco after he made the team in training camp only to be sent to the AHL where he quit the team, demanded a trade and returned to Sweden. Rumors of bullying, depression and a foot injury that was ignored.
What really happened? The truth lies somewhere in all of this. We may never know the real story.
For the most part, the reaction has been harsh. ProHockeyRumors.com characterized it as a situation “when Andersson is needed the most, he has opted not to answer the bell.”
For many fans, he’s a spoiled brat who is not good enough to play in the NHL and the sooner he is gone, the better. For many, the overwhelming sentiment on social media is “good riddance” and the latest twist was only to be expected. He’s yet another Rangers first round pick who amounted to nothing joining a long line of picks that includes Hugh Jessiman, Pavel Brendl, Dylan McIlrath and Jamie Lundmark.
The consensus is that he has no future with the team and the Rangers should trade him away for whatever meager return they can get. The fantasy is that Jesse Puljujarvi could be had in a one-for-one deal. The reality is that his trade value keeps dropping and this is just another instance of Andersson making a move that diminishes any potential return.
There are folks who are willing to give Andersson the benefit of the doubt. They point to Andersson’s play with HV71 as an indication that he still has the skill to compete in the NHL (he did make the Rangers out of camp this season). They cite his fractured relationship with the coaching staff in New York and Hartford along with the unrecognized foot issue as challenges that can be overcome.
Even Andersson’s latest decision has some logic. The COVID-19 pandemic complicates matters significantly for players coming from Europe. They face potential lengthy quarantine with no guarantee that the season will actually resume. For a player like Andersson, he may see this as an invitation to exposure with little chance that he will actually play. Based on his prior experiences, can you blame him?
As for his desire to remain in Sweden next season, there is some logic there also, for both Andersson and the Rangers. A strong, full season in the SHL will only make him a more valuable trade asset or even an unlikely candidate to contribute to the Rangers in the future. It’s been pointed out that a decision to remain in Sweden is not his, he is Rangers’ property and he was on loan to the SHL. If the Rangers want him in their training camp next season, he has to show up.
One thing is for sure, Andersson is a victim of inflated expectations. Sure, he was the seventh overall selection in the 2017 draft, but that draft was one of the weakest in recent memory. Of the 210 players selected after Andersson, only six have played more games than Anderson’s total of 66 and that includes Filip Chytil. If anyone believes that the Blueshirts could have done better, think again.
Rangers President John Davidson was careful to not criticize Andersson’s decision. This is what he told the Post:
"“We had discussions with Lias about coming over for camp, but he felt it was better for him to stay in his home country at this time. We respect that decision.”“We had a number of good conversations. He told me he wants to be a New York Ranger. We’ll continue to hold his rights and down the road we’ll have discussions about where it’s best for Lias to play next season.” – John Davidson"
Davidson pointed out to The Athletic (subscription required) that there are uncertainties about next season and it may be better for him to be playing in Sweden if the NHL is not in action. They characterized the decision for Andersson to remain in Sweden as mutual. Davidson told The Athletic “He’s a part of the Rangers organization. We’re going to try to get him playing as best as he can, and we’ll just see where it all goes.”
It’s in the team’s best interests to maintain a cordial relationship with Lias Andersson. A bad connection can only result in a total breakdown in communication. That would lead to hostility and probably another suspension.
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The Rangers options are limited, but the steps they are taking make sense. Allowing him to play in Sweden is probably the best scenario. He’s happy there and if he plays well, he could be a viable trade asset.
With the SHL season likely to start long before the 2020-21 NHL season, he could get a head start in Sweden and have a solid shot at making the Rangers whenever they play the next season.
At the very least, he could end up being the player selected by Seattle in next summer’s expansion draft, a loss the team may be okay with.
Still, most observers see the latest turn in the Lias Andersson story as the final nail in the coffin of his career with the Rangers. Inviting him to the mini-training camp was a gesture of good faith and he didn’t reciprocate.
As usual, there is more context to the situation than we can imagine, further complicated by a global pandemic. The only sure thing is that this isn’t the last we have heard from Lias Andersson. This story won’t end until he finds a future in New York or somewhere else.