The Rangers came dangerously close to doing nothing at the trade deadline when they were the team in the best position to cash in on this deadline. Thankfully, a last-second deal to move Brady Skjei and his contract saved the day.
It’s Monday, but I’m going to use the format from the weekly Rangers Thursday Thoughts to recap what just happened.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Rangers as usual.
1. I was ready to go off on the Rangers’ front office. I had spent the last few hours watching every team other than the Rangers make a move, and it felt like the Rangers would let the deadline pass without doing anything other than putting the team into a cap crunch this summer where they would have no leverage to move money. I furiously typed my criticism of the Rangers’ approach to the deadline, which was all for nothing because at the last second, the Rangers were able to unload Brady Skjei’s contract on Carolina and get a first-round pick in return. The Rangers were able to give the team they need to overtake in the standings to reach the postseason their most inconsistent defenseman for a first-round pick.
2. Here is how I was going to open these thoughts:
The trade deadline came and went and the Rangers did nothing. Nothing. They had the No. 1 asset on the trade market in Chris Kreider and extended him for a ridiculous and ill-advised seven years rather than move him. They kept impending unrestricted free agent Jesper Fast and impending restricted free agents Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome and Brendan Lemieux. They held on to all of their defense despite having an abundance of young, cheap, high-end prospect defensemen on the brink of being ready to be Rangers. They kept Brady Skeji’s contract and Jacob Trouba’s. On Thursday, I wrote that that only Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin were untouchables at the deadline (and Henrik Lundqvist because of his no-trade clause), but it turned out to be that the whole roster was untouchable.
The Rangers are now in a position where they are going to have to use the offseason as their trade deadline. Their cap situation isn’t a situation for the remainder of this season, but it will be this summer when the front office will be busy trying to unload contracts to fit Kreider’s contract and will have no leverage to do so. The Rangers had a chance to move DeAngelo and/or Strome with both having career years when their value might never be this high again, but instead they kept both. The only thinking behind the Rangers’ decision to not do anything before Monday’s deadline is that they are going to for it this season in terms of reaching the postseason. And when you’re four points back of the second wild card and the second wild card is looking like it might be the only path to the playoffs, that’s a very dangerous decision. That’s a decision the pre-letter Rangers would have made. I thought we were past that type of decision.
3. The trade to move Skjei and his contract and acquire a first-round pick is remarkable. I would have been happy with the Rangers moving him and his contract for nothing and somehow they got a first-round pick for him. I have no idea what Carolina is thinking. I know their defense is in shambles, but that’s the best deal they could make today? The Rangers could have done more though, and I feel like their lack of doing anything more like moving others players aside from the Untouchables means they now have to make the playoffs. This was supposed to be the third straight and final selloff with the rebuild ready to completely take off for 2020-21, and the Rangers chose not to sell off anything other than Skjei when they could have moved most of their roster. The only good that can come from moving a single player is the Rangers reaching the postseason this season. In a season that was never supposed to be about wins and losses, or points, and was supposed to be about experience and development, the front office has forced the issue with the team having to make the playoffs in as season that was never supposed to be about the playoffs.
4. While the Rangers have increased their playoff odds from a single-digit percentage to roughly a 25 percent chance with a 9-3 run since their 10-day layoff, they’re going to need to complete the miraculous comeback now. They’re going to need to continue to play .750 hockey for the next six weeks and somehow either win every remaining game against the Islanders (1) and Flyers (3) or have the Hurricanes and Panthers/Maple Leafs (whichever team doesn’t get the third Atlantic berth) fall apart enough to pass them. This Rangers run has been remarkable and the fact they are still very much in the playoff race on deadline day is very much an achievement for this team in this season, but the front office has made it so they can’t fall short now. With remaining games against the Islanders, Philadelphia (3), Pittsburgh (3), St. Louis (1), Washington (2), Dallas, Colorado, Tampa Bay, Florida, Arizona and Calgary, I have no idea how they’re going to continue to play the .750 hockey needed to reach the postseason. Even their remaining “easy” games against Montreal, New Jersey, Buffalo and Chicago are anything but easy with those teams proving to be tough outs while pulling off enormous upset wins in recent weeks.
5. The Rangers have been able to lean on the historic play of Shesterkin the last few weeks, but they’re no longer going to be able to do that as John Davidson announced on Monday morning that Shesterkin and Pavel Buchnevich were involved in a car accident which left the Shesterkin with fractured ribs. Shesterkin is going to miss at least a few weeks and possibly the rest of the season and now the Rangers will need Lundqvist to turn back the clock and play the way he used to play every game, which is the way Shesterkin has been playing, and they’re going to need Alexandar Georgiev to do the same when he plays as well.
6. The Rangers’ rebuild currently has the perception that it’s ahead of schedule because of their play since the 10-day layoff. I want the 12 games since the layoff to be indicative of where the team is headed, but it’s a 12-game sample size. In those 12 games, they played two true contenders in Dallas and Boston and lost both games as a reminder as to how far the Rangers have to go before they can expect to play until June again. The rebuild is also perceived as ahead of schedule because the team is once again leaning heavily on its goaltending. It’s the formula they used to achieve success for the first 11 years of Lundqvist’s career before the roster was torn apart so much that no goaltender in the history could win behind it. If the rebuild goes the way the Rangers have planned for it to go, the team won’t have to lean on Shesterkin for the next decade, and the organization won’t waste Shesterkin’s prime putting a questionable surrounding cast in front of him the way they wasted Lundqvist’s.
7. As for Lundqvist, he said this on Monday about his current situation:
“With my situation, after the season you’ll obviously have things to talk about: your role and if you fit in this role, or something else. Right now, my focus is just to work hard and be ready.”
My desire remains for the Rangers to trade Georgiev in the offseason and have Lundqvist serve as the backup in 2020-21 and for as long as he wants behind Shesterkin. There are so many quality teams with serious goaltending issues (Colorado, Toronto and Carolina are the obvious ones) that the Rangers would be able to move Georgiev, who is also going to be a restricted free agent and will be making more than his current $792,500. Lundqvist deserves to go out as a Ranger when he wants to, and he would go out before he’s unable to play at a respectable level anymore, and not because he was forced into a trade or was bought out. Advanced stats still show Lundqvist is an above-average goalie even if he isn’t the all-time goalie he once was. The Rangers no longer need him to be the goalie who single-handedly carried Rangers teams to conference finals and a Cup Final and was the best goalie of the last decade and one of the best goalies in league history. They need him to be a veteran presence, a mentor to his heir and give them somewhere around 25 starts a season. I think Lundqvist will be back next season. I really want him to be.
8. I’m still shocked the Rangers came to terms on an extension with Kreider. The Rangers had the No. 1 asset on the trade market and instead of moving him, chose to give him the years he wanted, and now Kreider is set to be a Ranger through the 2027-28 season. We were made to believe the years on the deal were what was holding up an extension between the two, but the Rangers caved and gave Kreider the seven years, so it was the dollars all along. I’m guessing Kreider had been pushing for seven years and $7 million per year and came down on his demand to land at seven years at $6.5 million per year. It’s a move that helps the Rangers in the short term, but doesn’t necessarily help the Rangers for the long term, and possibly doesn’t help them when they are ready to contend again.
9. Right now, the Rangers are a playoff bubble team in a season in which they weren’t supposed to sniff the playoffs. So if we envision the rebuild having a natural progression and assume the Rangers aren’t going to suddenly go from being a middle-of-the-pack team to Stanley Cup champion then let’s say next season the Rangers are a playoff team as a wild-card berth. Then in 2021-22 they are one of the three Met seeds. I think 2022-23 is when the Rangers should be expected to be a top seed in the East and a true Cup contender and that’s an aggressive expectation. Obviously success isn’t linear and the Rangers could somehow find themselves in that spot next season … or they could find themselves out of the playoffs completely. No one wants to believe the latter is a possibility because of the Rangers’ recent 12-game performance, but success isn’t guaranteed from year to year and as part of the toughest of the four divisions in the league, there’s no way to know how the Rangers will compare.
10. If we follow the idea that the Rangers will gradually improve from season to season that means Kreider will be in his mid-30s when the Rangers will be in the championship window this rebuild is building toward. By then Kreider will have played more than 800 games games in the league with his bruising, physical style of play, and who knows how his body will hold up as this contract plays out or the type of player he will become once his speed and skills begin to erode. (Kreider is six months older than Panarin is now under contract for a year longer than him even though it’s Panarin’s game that will age.) Most Rangers fans wanted Kreider to be extended because of what they have seen this season, not because of what they will see in four seasons, when they will be complaining about Kreider causing a cap crunch and wanting him to be bought out. Normally with these lengthy contracts, you expect to overpay for the last few years of the contract for what you’re going to get over the first half or half-plus of the contract, but the Rangers will be overpaying Kreider on the wrong side of 30 at a time when the window is open. If the Rangers win the Cup within the next seven years and Kreider is on the roster during that time, the extension will be completely worth it. If they don’t win the Cup within the next seven years, well, let’s not think about that.