Mats Zuccarello should be the exception to Rangers’ fire sale
Regarding the Rangers, before they become something else on or about Feb. 25.
1. The season, we all have been told even more times than Alex Georgiev stopped the puck Sunday, was always about development. But in addition to developing players, this was also about developing a nucleus around which to build. It is hardly heresy to suggest the Blueshirts are further ahead on the latter than the former.
So is it truly wise to break up the nucleus by sending Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes away in exchange for the usual packages of future prospects and draft picks because that was the original plan? They are separate cases, but it is inarguable that Zuccarello’s revival has been the key force in the creation of a first line that has become a formidable, go-to unit.
Now, are Zuccarello-Mika Zibanejad-Chris Kreider exactly Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler? No. But the line is the team’s engine, and the Norwegian has been its conductor. Sending him away now for a lukewarm return simply to add quantity to a still threadbare system does not seem to add up.
There is nothing inherently meritorious about sticking to a plan if a more advantageous one presents itself. Ownership/management never intended to strip the team down to its studs (alternate meaning) when the Rangers embarked on their reset last February, so it’s not quite clear why the team’s most important players have to go simply because they’re not in their teens or early 20s.
We’ve said it before and will say it again: Making decisions based on the proposition that your team won’t be in position to win for another five years becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
2. Hayes presents a more complex scenario than Zuccarello because it is not yet clear whether management is convinced the center will be the same force on a long-term deal that he has been in consecutive contract seasons. And the return for No. 13 should be far more substantial, though we have argued for months that the typical 24-31 draft pick plus a B-level prospect or two doesn’t move the needle dramatically enough.
3. So let’s focus on Zuccarello for a moment, then. There is risk involved in assuming the winger gladly will return to reclaim his No. 36 as a free agent if traded. He could fall in love with his new team. He could receive a larger offer on the open market than the Blueshirts deem reasonable. He could feel jilted and not all that thrilled to re-up with the organization that sent him away after months in which he made it clear he wants to stay.
4. Isn’t there some sort of cap contained in the CBA limiting the number of Rangers on the Lightning? Apparently not, given Tampa Bay’s substantial scouting presence at the Garden last week. The league’s best team is on the hunt for a righty defenseman. Kevin Shattenkirk, for whom the Lightning had completed a conditional deal prior to the 2017 deadline before the defenseman rejected it, shoots right. Just saying.
5. Hey, that was some plan the Penguins had to draft Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in back-to-back years. Don’t know why the Rangers haven’t thought of that.
6. If you trade for draft picks and prospects, you’d better, a) get the correct people and, b) develop them properly. The Rangers’ track record does not exactly inspire the utmost confidence, does it?
Exhibit A: The 2014-through-2016 drafts from which the Rangers have gotten a total of five games (four from Tim Gettinger, one from Brandon Halverson) of the 17 players selected those three years.
One asterisk: The Blueshirts’ first picks came in at 59, 41 and 81, respectively, though Brayden Point and Jordan Greenway were on the board to be taken.
A second asterisk: Igor Shesterkin is a 2014 fourth-rounder, so there is a pretty good shot at redemption here. By the way, the 23-year-old Russian goaltender (22-4/1.19/.949 in the KHL), is represented by Paul Theofanous, the very same fellow who reps Vitali Kravtsov and, oh right, Artemi Panarin, and happens to be one of Glen Sather’s best friends in hockey.
Exhibit B: The tire fire in Hartford, where the Wolf Pack are 30th in winning percentage in the 31-team AHL. Libor Hajek, supposedly ready enough to knock on the Broadway door in this, his first pro season, has struggled through an 0-5=5 and minus-23 year, and Lias Andersson has six goals with 13 assists in 33 games with one goal in his last 16. Maybe hiccups for both young men, but boy.
Seriously. What is going on down there?
7. Cap considerations: Ryan Strome, with one year remaining on his contract at $3.1 million, can be bought out at a one-third rate. A buyout would bring a cap charge of $433,333 next season and $533,333 in 2020-21, so you better believe the center is playing for his job on Broadway.
The 24-24-8 Rangers undoubtedly will dip following the deadline, and that should be advantageous as it relates to the draft. But what does it say about the league that as of Wednesday morning, 10 teams had a worse record?
Author: Larry Brooks