New York City is about to combat its first heat wave of 2018 as NHL free agency begins this weekend. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Rangers will be involved, though perhaps not in the traditional sense of doling out multi-year contracts to players in their late-twenties.
Reports are beginning to surface that Jeff Gorton is active in the trade market and that nearly every current roster player is available. Larry Brooks has reported on scenarios ranging from a Hayes-or-Zibanejad choice, to today’s mini bombshell that Gorton is exploring the possibility of taking on a bad contract to help anyone but the Islanders sign John Tavares. There are also rumblings that Justin Faulk and the remaining two years on his contract could be available in a trade from the Hurricanes.
This is an extremely tempting scenario for the front office. The Rangers are asset-rich and flush with cap space. It’s also not to be underestimated that there’s slightly less pressure on the organization now since they’re not expected to win anytime soon. A bad 2018-19 season – “intentional” or not – most likely won’t get anyone fired. All these factors point towards, and might even push Jeff Gorton into, trades and other maneuvers this summer.
But to reiterate something that was discussed earlier this week on the podcast, the Rangers do not need to make any moves. They could credibly enter this season without making any additions (aside from re-signing their current restricted free agents) and field a competitive team.
it may go without saying, but this puts the Rangers in a position of strength. For example, unlike the Islanders, Lightning, Kings and Blackhawks, the Rangers are not in a “window” of contention, up against the cap, or faced with their generational talent entering unrestricted free agency. That’s why Larry Brooks’ Hayes/Zibanejad thought experiment rang particularly hollow to me. Yes, Hayes is due a raise (hey, that rhymes!) next summer, and given the sudden organizational depth at center, there may be a logjam looming. But so what? That’s not a good enough reason to make a trade. As hockey fans often like to point out, it’s okay to have more than one [insert good thing here]. For some reason, this concept often escapes the grasp of NHL front offices.
Now, if the right deal comes along for either player, of course they should entertain it. If you can get Justin Faulk from Carolina (and re-sign him) for one of Hayes, Ryan Spooner or Vlad Namestnikov plus, do it. But to make a trade simply because the market is active and you’ve got lots of assets to deal and it feels like the right thing to do would be silly. A lot of people have lamented the Derek Stepan trade simply because it didn’t need to happen when it did. And while I don’t hate that trade as much as most people, I totally agree with that sentiment. The Rangers created pressure on themselves to make a move when no such pressure really existed.
So as July 1 approaches, here’s hoping the Rangers remain patient and act prudently. The future is already here, and there’s no need to accelerate it.