Finally, let’s talk about the team itself. Let’s stop equating salaries to performance. Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, and Chris Kreider were all signed BEFORE the pandemic. They may be overpaid in post-pandemic dollars, but have they been that bad?
Is Mika Zibanejad overpaid? Can you imagine this team without him? Sure, they could have let him get to free agency after last season, but how could they have replaced him? The top five free-agent centers available last summer were Nazem Kadri, Andrew Copp, and Vincent Trocheck. Max Domi and Ryan Strome. Who would you prefer over Zibanejad? Yeah, right.
Of the 40 highest-paid players in the NHL, the Rangers have two in Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox. The Oilers, Maple Leafs, Golden Knights, and Panthers have three players each among the top 40 and how many Cups have they hoisted?
No one can argue with the Adam Fox salary, but where would the Rangers have to go to replace Panarin’s productivity? He’s on pace for 95 points. And Chris Kreider is on pace to score 38 goals. It ain’t 50, but 38 goals is not half bad.
Aah, the kids. Let’s just say that if Jeff Gorton had not taken Kaapo Kakko second overall or Alexis Lafreniere with the top pick, he would have been drawn and quartered by the press and the fan base. Have they lived up to elevated expectations? Of course not, but let’s not waste time talking about how they have been deployed on a contending team instead of getting top-line minutes on a bad team.
Let’s just note that neither Kakko nor Lafreniere is on the top power-play unit. That has never happened in NHL history before when it comes to two top-two picks.
And let’s take a look at Tage Thompson. A St. Louis Blues first-round pick (#26) in 2016, he was traded to Buffalo in the Ryan O’Reilly deal after scoring three goals in 41 games as a 20-year-old rookie. The Sabres’ management was roasted for that deal and when the Blues won the Cup with O’Reilly, it looked even worse. But wait.
What followed were three mediocre seasons in Buffalo including two trips to the AHL. He made his NHL debut at age 20 and scored 10 goals in parts of four seasons. But in 2021-22 he broke out with 38 goals and this season he has 23 goals in 29 games. At age 24 he became a goal scorer, with the 25-year-old making headlines with a five-goal night against Columbus last week.
So, the “let’s trade Kakko” and “Lafreniere’s a bust” talks should really take a hiatus. Let’s revisit Kakko in two years when he is about to turn 24 or in three years when Lafreniere will be 24. That’s when we will really be able to determine if the Rangers were “forced” to take two bad picks.
But you are totally allowed to castigate Gorton and company for going off the board to pick Lias Andersson in 2017, passing on Jason Robertson, Nick Suzuki, Martin Necas, Drake Batherson, and Robert Thomas. Andersson is 24 this season and is officially a bust.
And again, right now, the Rangers are in the playoffs.