It’s the offseason, so of course that means mindless speculation and endless hypotheticals. I’m not hating on our national passtime by any means – I love conjecture and imagining things that totally won’t happen as thought exercises. One thing that came up on twitter recently however has me concerned, because while thought exercises and potential scenarios are important, we’ve also got to keep it in the realm of reality for any of it to be illuminating.
Without that grounding we either state the obvious over and over to the point where it lacks any utility, devolve into reactionary contrarianism, or begin to set an agenda that dominates the conversation once other people take it too seriously (this last bit implies that we here on the Rangers blogosphere are Thought Leaders, which of course we are). I’d like to address it head on: there are almost no good trade hypotheticals involving Pavel Buchnevich.
Before picking this one apart, let me just explain the backstory here. On twitter, friend of the blog Fitz posted two hypotheticals that sparked some low-key, casual discourse among likeminded folks concerning the young Russian winger and whether or not there were circumstances in which trading him might be better than retaining him. The two polls can be found below, and although their results won’t display because the voting hasn’t closed yet, I can say that as of my writing this (6:36pm on Saturday, June 2nd 2018) that the results of the first poll were 25% yes to 75% no, and the results of the second were 59% yes to 41% no. Fitz also clarified that for the first poll moving up would mean receiving a pick in the top 1-5 of the draft.
Would you trade Pavel Buchnevich to move up in the draft?
— Fitz (@FitzGSN_) June 2, 2018
Now, I want to make sure two things are explicit here: first of all, I’m not putting Fitz on blast, since he’s a pretty good guy who puts out thought-provoking stuff in good faith. The second thing I want to clarify is that I’m not saying Fitz’s polls were the kind of useless reiteration, flamboyant iconoclasm, or harmful issue framing that I alluded to earlier. What I am trying to express here though is that these arguments are over before they start when couched in context by one basic fact and its direct implications.
As we all know, the Rangers are rebuilding, aggressively retooling, remodeling, whatever you want to call it – we’re in flux, and both fans and management are aware of this fact. Rebuilds entail a couple of things that neutralize these hypotheticals at the get-go, and that’s something I feel strongly about. You can feel free to disagree, as reasonable people always can do, and if I’m being honest I really do enjoy the kind of conversation that pops up around these kinds of things, although as I mentioned earlier they do run the risk of wandering so far from this existential plane that things can get a bit silly.
The first implication of rebuilding is something Rob has elaborated on in a full post on here before, and that’s the proposition that you need to bet on upside during a rebuild. His example was the Knicks and Kristaps Porzingis, who was a frustrating pick for many fans at the time he was taken by our MSG roommates but has since turned out to be a world-beating talent (or something very very close to it). Rob’s point was that the Knicks bet on his ceiling however, and that kind of swing-for-the-fences attitude is crucial if this rebuild is going to be successful. You might be thinking that given the kind of talent likely to be available in the top 5 of this draft then that I’m contradicting myself – shouldn’t we be swinging for the fences as far as young, elite talent goes?
Well, yes and no. The problem with packaging Buchnevich in a deal to move upward is that you’re giving up young talent that you should be betting on succeeding. Buch may not have actualized it quite yet, but he certainly has the skillset to be one of the best wingers in the National Hockey League, and the Rangers would certainly not be getting a top-5 pick for just him and the 9th. We’d inevitably be giving up more than just that, in effect gaining one potentially elite piece in exchange for two or more. That’s not betting on upside, that’s playing it safe and limiting your options, which totally defeats the purpose.
I say this all as someone who spent an hour-long car ride with my dad hyping up Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist, and Oliver Wahlstrom. I’m all for moving up in the draft, which runs contrary to a lot of conventional wisdom as is, but I think if we’re going to do that we need to find a way to do it without losing Buch. I really do think there’s a deal to be made there, which is perhaps naive of me, so let’s not instead mortgage the future for an individually slightly higher quality but net and net lower quality alternative future.
The other big implication of a rebuild is that you need to have your books in order. Salary cap management is a basic part of today’s game, and one of the things that enables you to have larger contracts is having younger players on smaller contracts to subsidize your cap space. Now, Buch’s ELC is running down, but his next deal could be highway robbery if the Rangers play it right and that’s exactly the kind of Nashville-esque contract we should be looking for.
Think about how easy McDonagh’s last contract made life for the Rangers, and how hard his next one would make things if we didn’t prudently trade him at the deadline (I was never a big McDonagh guy to be frank and welcome any and all hate that this comment opens me up to). This speaks less to the point about trading up in the draft and more to the hypothetical of trading Buch in a package for Karlsson – his next contract is sure to be a doozy, and while I’m not as afraid of his injury history as others, it’s still going to be a little bit bloated by the time that deal runs its course.
Buch, as mentioned earlier has high upside that we need to bank on, and while Karlsson is the best defenseman in the world until Rasmus Dahlin hits his prime, giving up potentially elite, economically efficient talent in return for definitely-more-elite-but-fiscally-crippling talent does not gel with the Rangers transitory phase. The Rangers need to do this thing right and trading for Karlsson (with the obvious intent to re-sign him) would be a quick fix that’s likely to end in disaster. Let’s not go down this road, Rangerstown.
So to recap we need to stockpile high-upside assets and go for both quality and quantity, which trading up at the draft with Buch would rule out, and which a Karlsson package would also definitely preclude, given the mountain of assets that would be required to get him in Rangers blue (it’s not going to be one-for-one, unfortunately). Much as I might want to trade up in this draft and get one of the Next Big Three (of course if you can move into the top 3 for Buch I’d do it, but again it would cost too much and there’s no way that happens regardless, so let’s keep things here on Earth, as I’ve mentioned before) if the right deal simply isn’t there it’s not worth giving up a potential star winger plus additional pieces for another maybe star. At that point you’re on a net loss of assets and that’s going to stymie, not accelerate, this rebuild.
What’s more is we need to stockpile high-upside assets in a way that’s going to maximize the amount of those assets we can eventually retain. It goes without saying, but you want as many good players on your team as possible, and that’s only possible with deft contract management. I’m confident that Jeff Gorton knows he needs a feasible long-term plan as far as the dollars and cents go in order to make this team the best it can be on ice, so I think he knows that trading Buchnevich would be mortgaging our future in more ways than one. This rules out a Karlsson trade almost entirely, with the benefits of having a young, upward-trending talent on a cost-effective contract certainly outweighing an elite, yet depreciating, asset who may fetch the largest ever free agent deal. It would be a little bit different if we were Tampa Bay and this were a short-term, win-now move, but we’re not, and it isn’t.
The obvious counter to all of this is that yes, hypothetically we could be talking about trading Buch for the first overall, or sending him to Ottawa in a sign-and-trade, one-for-one deal that gives us Karlsson on a team-friendly contract in the summer. But we’re not talking about that, and we know it. That’s precisely what I’m getting at – if we’re humoring these kinds of hypotheticals, the “what if we totally fleece another GM in the trade of the century” kind of scenarios, then we’re not really doing anything productive and maybe even doing something dumb and bad. When we do rein things in a bit we can see that the realistic Buch trades still aren’t realistic, being so constrained by outside factors that they too, are not actually realistic at all.
So there you have it folks, assets and asset management rule out both trading up with Buchnevich as the centerpiece and trading for Karlsson as part of a package. It simply doesn’t make sense when you contextualize things, leaving little wiggle room or uncertainty as far as humoring the possibility goes. I mean sure, the Rangers should definitely trade Buch for either Dahlin or Karlsson straight up, but those things aren’t useful hypotheticals, and the kinds of arguments that are useful shoot themselves in foot before the race even begins.
Much respect to Fitz, and I of course hate neither the player nor the game given that it’s all just yelling into the void about sports, but there you have it folks, my take on how there’s basically no trade involving Buchnevich that makes sense. Maybe I’m just being a downer, maybe we should all just speculate until we wind up making a much more disappointing trade and then lament the fact that we didn’t land Karlsson or the first overall, but if we are doing these hypotheticals, well, here’s my contribution. Sorry."Why (Almost) Any Trade Involving Pavel Buchnevich is a Bad Trade",