As the 2004 trade deadline approached, and a lockout looming, the Rangers were in what can only be called a terrible place. They would finish the season with a lowly 69 points, which was just good enough to avoid the lottery, but terrible enough for the Rangers to do what New Yorkers thought to be impossible: gut the team and completely rebuild. The 2004 trade deadline saw General Manager Glen Sather make a total of 11 trades beginning on January 23, 2004. These 11 trades involved a total of 29 players and 9 draft picks switching hands. It’s been six years since the now infamous fire sale, which has left enough time to review how each of these trades panned out.
January 23, 2004
Rangers acquire Jamie Pushor from Columbus for an 8th round pick in 2004 (Matt Greer): Pushor played a total of 7 games for the Rangers in which he did not register a point, and 14 for the Wolfpack in which he registered 2 assists. Greer played one game with the Syracuse Crunch in 2008-2009, and doesn’t appear to be making it to the NHL any time soon. Let’s call this one a wash.
Rangers acquire Jaromir Jagr from Washington for Anson Carter: What is lost in this trade is that the Caps picked up half of Jagr’s salary for the remainder of his contract. This would become a big factor in the Rangers success post-lockout, as they had an $8 million player for $4 million. Carter only played 15 games for the Caps before being spun to the Kings (for Jared Aulin). This was a clear salary dump of a disgruntled player for the Caps, to which the Rangers benefited. Jagr was the piece that the Rangers built around post-lockout and was one of the key reasons the Rangers made the playoffs in the years following. Jagr now holds the Rangers single season records for goals and points.
March 2, 2004
Rangers acquire Josef Balej and a 2nd round pick in 2004 (Bruce Graham) from Montreal for Alexei Kovalev: Kovalev was on his second stint with the Rangers, and clearly not meeting expectations. Other than Brian Leetch, Kovalev was the biggest star that could net a good return. Balej played 13 games with the Rangers in 2004, finishing with 1 goal and 4 assists. He played the lockout year in Hartford, but the Rangers did not bring him back after that. Balej had a lot of promise, but it fizzled out and he now plays in the Czech leagues. Graham bounce between the AHL and the ECHL for a while, but has since been relegated to the CHL.
March 3, 2004
Rangers acquire Dwight Helminen, Stephen Valiquette, and a 2nd round pick in 2004 (Dane Byers) from Edmonton for Petr Nedved and Jussi Markanen: Nedved was another one of those “stars” that could net a decent return for the Rangers at the deadline. Helminen was a two way forward playing for Michigan at the time, and played two full seasons in Hartford before being let go. He is now in the San Jose system, and played in 7 playoff games for the Sharks this year (he is no longer on the playoff roster). Helminen may not have panned out, but Valiquette was a serviceable backup for a season before he lost his game, and Byers has spent a lot of time with the Wolfpack, and has played just six NHL games, netting a goal and 31 PIMs. Byers should be given a long look next year, but players like Dale Weise and Brandon Prust may have passed Byers on the depth chart.
Rangers acquire Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immonen, a 1st round pick in 2004 (Lauri Korpikoski), and a 2nd round pick in 2005 (Michael Sauer) from Toronto for Brian Leetch: This one is tough to analyze, so let’s start with the prospects first. Kondratiev eventually turned into Petr Sykora, who had a productive half season with the Rangers before being snake-bitten in the playoffs against the Devils. Kondratiev now plays in the KHL. Immonen showed a lot of promise during brief call ups, but the Rangers mishandled the forward, and he now plays in the Finnish leagues. Korpikoski never met his potential that made the Rangers trade up to get him (ahead of players like Travis Zajac, Wojtek Wolski, and Mike Green), and was eventually traded for Enver Lisin. Sauer hasn’t played a full season in the AHL yet, but looked decent in a brief call up in 2008-2009. The success of this deal rests squarely on the shoulders of Michael Sauer, which unfortunately doesn’t look too good. This one hurts. A lot.
March 6, 2004
Rangers acquire Jamie McLennan, Blair Betts, and Greg Moore from Calgary for Chris Simon and a 7th round pick in 2004 (Matt Schneider): Moore never panned out, and is now with the Islanders. McLennan was brought in just to fill a roster spot. Blair Betts was the prize of this trade. Betts had injury concerns, but overcame them and became a great fourth liner and penalty killer for the Rangers for a little more than four seasons. Schneider finished up his time in the WHL, and then went to Canadian college. It doesn’t appear he will make it to the NHL.
March 8, 2004
Rangers acquire Rick Kozak and a 2nd round pick in 2004 (Brandon Dubinsky) from Philadelphia for Vladimir Malakhov: Kozak is no longer with the Rangers, and is currently in the CHL, but Dubinsky is the real prize of this trade, and of the fire sale in general. Dubinsky has quickly become a fan favorite, and is one of the better two way players on the Rangers. He will need to show some consistency to really meet his potential, but for now, it looks like the Rangers got the steal here.
Rangers acquire David Liffiton, Chris McAllister, and a 2nd round pick in 2004 (eventually became a 3rd round pick – Billy Ryan) from Colorado for Matthew Barnady and a 3rd round pick in 2004 (Denis Parshin): The Rangers traded down in the 2004 draft, turning the 2nd round pick into a 3rd round pick and Billy Ryan, who played at the University of Maine for a few seasons and is no longer in the Rangers system. Liffiton never panned out, playing just one game for the Rangers. McAllister was a body to fill a roster spot. This is a wash, but it would have been nice to see some sort of return for Barnaby.
March 9, 2004
Rangers acquire Karel Rachunek and Alexandre Giroux from Ottawa for Greg de Vries: Rachunek had one decent season in NY before not getting re-signed by the Rangers and bolting to New Jersey, then to the KHL where he currently plays. Giroux is a career AHL player, having played just one game with the Rangers. He is no longer in the system.
Rangers acquire Jeff Paul from Florida for Paul Healey: This is a rare trade where a player was traded for someone who’s last name matched his first name. That’s about it on this deal.
Rangers acquire R.J. Umberger and Martin Grenier from Vancouver for Martin Rucinsky: Grenier never played an NHL game with the Rangers, but the point of this deal was to get Umberger, who was holding out in Vancouver. The Rangers attempted to sign Umberger, but were content to let him become a UFA, and accept the compensatory 2nd round pick in 2004 as a result. This pick was used to trade up in the first round and draft Lauri Korpikoski.
After 11 trades, 29 players and 9 draft picks exchanging hands, the Rangers essentially wound up with Blair Betts and Brandon Dubinsky playing significant NHL time. The jury is still out on Michael Sauer and Dane Byers, but time is running out for these two. Sauer needs to play a full season, but it doesn’t appear that he fits into coach John Tortorella’s system, even after a strong camp in 2009. Byers seems to be stuck behind a plethora of older, more expensive 3rd-4th line players on the NHL club. For him to see significant time, the Rangers will need to get rid of some bodies. The fire sale saw some players go, broke a lot of hearts, but in the end, it was necessary. If Dubinsky turns out to be the only player of value that comes from it, then so be it. That Leetch trade still hurts though.
Update: It’s tough to track these things, and I have been corrected on a few points by user Stella:
The Malakhov trade was for Philly’s 2005 second rounder, which the Rangers used to trade up in the first round to select Marc Staal.
The second rounder used to select Dubinsky was the result of a series of trades — the #37 pick acquired in the Barnaby trade was traded for the #50 pick and a third rounder (Zdenek Bahensky, never made it in the NHL). The #50 pick was traded to Phoenix for the picks used to select Dubinsky and Billy Ryan — Phoenix used the #50 pick to select Enver Lisin.