It’s been a turbulent time since Thanksgiving for the Blueshirts and it’s becoming tough to watch. We knew what the vision was from general manager Jeff Gorton almost a year ago when the organization sent out a letter to the fans explaining the rebuilding process that would ultimately take place. There was a brief period in which the Rangers turned some heads when they went 9-1-1 in a span pre-thanksgiving but since then the Rangers have gotten just six wins in 23 games.
When the February trade deadline comes, it will be year two of this rebuilding process. The Rangers however, need not to wait until then, it’s time to start pulling the trigger on some deals that will continue to add draft picks and get some younger players infused into the system. Let’s take a look at some of the players who can be in play and what the potential return is.
Zuccarello is a fan favorite but it’s time for a change. Zucc hasn’t been the same player and the distraction of the inevitable trade has weighed mightily on him. In a post-practice interview a few months back, Zuccarello basically said he’s “waiting to be traded”. He has started to find his scoring touch as he picked up three goals in the last two games adding some trade value. Zucc is in the last year of his contract so he would be a rental for a playoff contending team and despite his poor play for much of the season, he can still fetch some value. It’s hard to figure what exactly the return can be, but some analysts see a late first round pick could be had for Zucc along with a mid-level prospect. To me, Zucc once traded, can certainly get back to the player he once was an be a key asset for a team’s playoff run and I believe the Rangers know it so they will try and get the maximum value for a player like Zucc.
This is a tough spot for the Rangers. He settled and signed a one-year deal prior to the season knowing it would be a showcase essentially for either staying put or getting traded. He hasn’t disappointed and finally started becoming the player we all expected him to be when he spurned the Blackhawks to sign with the Rangers back in 2014. He’s been sidelined the last four games due to an undisclosed injury, but it shouldn’t hurt his value if the Rangers decide to trade him. Hayes has made it known he is aware of the situation he is in and it hasn’t been a distraction. He also has stated he wants to stay with the Rangers. The Rangers have two options here, hold on to him and begin discussing a long-term extension that they now have the ability to do so as of the 1st of January or trade him for the highest value possible and then try to get him back via free agency. Hayes can easily bring a first round pick back and two high level prospect that are close to NHL ready. He’s a big center with puck moving skills and is proving he can put the puck in the net in all situations. He would be the highest value as far as a player that could be traded from the roster.
These two defensemen would be the first two up that Gorton would try to move. However, McQuaid would be the easier one to move first solely based on his cap-friendly hit ($2.75M) and he too would be a rental for a team looking to beef up on their blue line with a right-handed shot and add some toughness. McQuaid can be had for a draft pick as the Rangers can then fill in his spot with someone from the minors.
In order for the Rangers to really continue this rebuild and cap space clearing, they will have to get rid of some additional contracts. One of which belongs to Marc Staal. Staal has been one of the bright spots on the blue line this year which makes it a difficult decision. At age 32, he has three more seasons left on the dreadful contract with a $5.7M cap hit. No team would take that commitment unless the Rangers retained at least 50% of the contract or they bought him out and they would sign him to a league minimum deal. We saw his partner for years Dan Girardi get bought out ($3.61M cap hit against the Rangers for one more season, followed by a $1.1M cap hit until after 2022-23) prior to last season and sign in Tampa; that would be the likely route of how anything would go down involving Staal unless secretly Gorton is a genius and gets a deal done which is highly unlikely.
These are indeed trying times for the Blueshirts and their fans, but this is the course and the management are adamant about staying the course and that includes the owner James Dolan who on a recent Rangers road trip stopped in and stated he is happy with the process despite the poor play. He also stated that both his teams (Knicks and Rangers) will not tank for better draft results. The Rangers are setting themselves up for a decent draft pick if they continue to lose. According to widely popular tankaton website, the Rangers currently sit in the 8th place draft slot and hold a 19.0% chance at a top 3 pick and a 6.0% at number one overall in case you were wondering.
Management have their hands full and will continue to work hard at continuing this process that will help the team’s future. As of now, the Rangers currently have six picks in the upcoming 2019 draft that includes their own first round, two second round picks (one of which belongs to Tampa Bay that can become a 1st round pick if the Lightening win the Stanley Cup this year). They have just $4.6M in cap space currently and by the deadline would have just over $9M.
If you wanted to look ahead into 2019/2020, the Rangers would have $59M committed to the current contracted players on their roster ($21.9M of the $59M locked into four defensemen – Staal, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei and Smith). They would have just eight forwards (Mika Zibanejad, Kreider, Namestnikov, Ryan Strome, Jimmy Vesey, Fast, Filip Chytil and Brett Howden) on their roster for next season under contract with two additional forwards (Pavel Buchnevich and Boo Nieves) as restricted free agents.
Rather than wait, the management needs to begin the next phase of their process now and start to see what the team could start shaping into for next season and how they would perform under Quinn who has success with young players hence why he was hired to coach the team. As for the fans, as much as it is frustrating to watch on a nightly basis, this is the course that needs to be taken and it needs to continue so all I can say is continue to be patient and continue to support even in the toughest times.