On March 2, 2004, Ranger fans had their hearts ripped out. In the midst of another losing season, General Manager Glen Sather decided it was time to start over, and began with a fire sale that eventually led to the Rangers we see before us today. The prized piece of the fire sale was Brian Leetch, and Slats shipped him, along with the hearts of millions of Ranger fans, to Toronto for Jarkko Immonen, Maxim Kondratiev, a first round pick in 2004, and a second round pick in 2005.
The trade felt like a punch to the stomach for every single fan. For management, they got what they wanted: two legitimate prospects, and two top-60 draft picks. At the time of the trade, the Rangers got fair value for Leetch. It’s been eight years since that trade, so let’s look at what they got.
Maxim Kondratiev: The Russian defenseman’s time with the Rangers was very brief. After just 46 games with the organization, 29 with the Rangers, the Rangers shipped Kondratiev to the Anaheim Ducks in 2006 for Petr Sykora and a 2007 4th round pick. Sykora helped the Rangers reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years (seven seasons). Kondratiev now plays in the KHL.
The 4th round pick was used on Brett Bruneteau, who is no longer in hockey. Interesting note about this pick: the Rangers had acquired this pick (#108) as a conditional pick in 2005 in the Steve Rucchin trade. Essentially, the Rangers traded for this pick twice.
Jarkko Immonen: The Finnish center draws most of the attention from this deal. Not as a positive, but from a “what could have been.” Immonen dominated his first full season in the AHL (2005-2006), finishing with 70 points in 74 games. His play earned him a six game stint with the Rangers, where he scored two goals in his first two games.
Immonen’s second AHL season was again stellar, finishing with 46 points in 54 games. He played well in the NHL, finishing with six points in 14 games, bringing his totals to 3-5-8 in 22 games. However, it didn’t appear that he was a fit for the Rangers, or maybe he just didn’t want to play in the US anymore. After the 2006-2007 season, Immonen returned to Finland. Immonen is now in the KHL.
2004 1st Round Pick (Lauri Korpikoski): The Rangers wound up with the #24 pick in the draft as a result of the trade. They used this pick and a second round pick (#46 – Adam Pineault) to move up to #19, where they drafted Lauri Korpikoski. The Rangers also acquired an eighth round pick in the transaction (#247), which they used on Jonathan Paiement.
Korpikoski played fairly poor for the Rangers, and it was safe to say he did not meet expectations. He did not provide the offensive flair that made him a first round pick, and he struggled defensively as well. The Rangers gave up on him, and dealt him to Phoenix for Enver Lisin in the 2009 offseason. In Phoenix, Korpikoski has found himself a nice role as a third line player, and has started to finally chip in offensively.
Lisin played one year for the Rangers, and then left for the KHL.
2005 2nd Round Pick (Mike Sauer): The Rangers appeared to have hit the jackpot with Sauer. Sauer battled many shoulder injuries early in his career, but finally broke through and made the Rangers roster out of camp in 2010. Initially used as a rotating defenseman on the bottom pairing, injuries forced him into a full time role, where he exceeded all expectations.
Sauer now plays top-four minutes for the club –when he’s healthy– and is the real gem of this trade.
Trades for prospects and picks are generally gambles. Neither picks nor prospects are guarantees, and the general rule of thumb is to be happy if one pans out to be a solid player. The Rangers got just that in Sauer. It’s tough to call this trade a success, especially when it came from dealing Brian Leetch, but the deal was just that: A success.