Normally I like to build up a post and make the title more thematic than anything, but here, since I’m assuming it’s the first thing you see anyways, and I want to get straight to the fun stuff, I’m putting it out there right away. There’s been a lot of debate about Kevin Hayes since the impasse last season that resulted in his one-year deal, and frankly there’s no need to rehash that. What matters is the future, and as a buddy explained in the escalator tower at the Garden regarding the Bostonian Big Man, we should probably just go ahead and re-sign him given his evident talent and utility to the team.
I asked him what about Mika Zibanejad, and he said to keep him too, which broke through in blunt terms the potentially false dichotomy (I mean maybe we can only keep one or the other, but as I’m about to explain I think we can have our cake and eat it too) that has governed much of the discussion around the two centers. I’m still of the opinion that you could trade Mika right now and get a king’s ransom, but I’m also not opposed to keeping a point-per-game player in his prime I suppose. In any event it’s fun to imagine different things as we approach the deadline.
I want to introduce another player into this discussion before we go anywhere else, and that’s Chris Kreider. You’ll see how he figures in to the broader discussion as I wonder out loud how we can build maybe two separate contending teams under David Quinn (or whoever comes next beyond that). I think it’s worth stipulating up front that in this hypothetical he is, alongside Zibby and Hayes, a core member of the team, at least for the short/medium term. He’s having a career year, and while he may not age well he might still be able to crank out goals and drive offense for the next let’s say four years, maybe even five.
We’re going to need to stipulate another thing here as well before diving into it (there will be plenty of caveats and argumentative assumptions to unpack afterwards as well, don’t worry), and that’s GMing. It’s going to be hard to pull this off, and if Jeff Gorton is reading this,
1. I have full faith in you, and
2. you’d be an all-time great if you did manage to swing it and everything went according to plan.
Ok, also, while you’re here, or in your office, or wherever you make General Manager decisions for the sake of our favorite hockey team, I’ll be graduating from law school in two years and would love a job. Alright, that’s enough of that, let’s have some fun.
Jettisoning the assumption that we can only keep Hayes or Zibanejad, let’s remember that the big problem with the Rangers this year is that there simply aren’t enough good players to go around. So it follows that we should try and keep more good players around. Simple enough, but there’s the big concern of time and money as you travel onward through a rebuild, as well as the idea that you can get something sweet long-term if you sell at precisely the right moment. It sure seems like now’s the moment, huh? I mean that contract is going to be a real doozy. All of that money, tied up for 6-7 years? Yeesh. We’ll wind up in a cap crunch needing to send away some young player we’d rather keep down the road, and that’s exactly what you don’t want to do. But just you wait, because I’m pretty sure GMJG can make it all happen.
Hayes is going to want his payday, and rightfully so, but he’s also going to want some job security. He’s also also going to want his payday – no, not that one, the other one. See if we can land Hayes on a four-year deal but with some extra cashola on top to make it worth his while, his prime years are as a Ranger, he makes a ton of dough, and if he keeps up the good work he can be a good ol’ fashioned 30-year-old UFA making way too much money, but at that point he’d no longer be our problem. Him and the other guy, the one with the funny hair cut and sick DJing skills (work on your game, kid), would look mighty fine as a Blueshirt one-two punch.
The dollar amount on Hayes would likely be $7 million just about, which probably gives most of you pause, but remember it’s four years, with the last bit of it being prime rental time if this doesn’t go according to plan. Plenty of options there – you can always retain salary and make a very attractive asset out of that deal, should it become necessary (he’d probably have some kind of no-trade list but if he wants all 31 dang teams on it he can head to Winnipeg right now, thanks for playing).
So to take stock we’ve got … two good players. Need some more I reckon if we’re looking for even a snowball’s chance in hell, but the good news is we actually have a couple. The big name is Kreider, who is also going to likely want a serious big-kid contract, again, totally understandably. This might become an impasse that forces a trade unfortunately, but locking him down for a similar deal to Hayes – high AAV in order to buy a shorter term – would mean you’ve now got three good players! Ok, nice.
There’s a question I can hear you all asking, the same one my dad asks in any political discussion (he’s great though and we really do see eye-to-eye ideologically speaking), and that’s this: How are we going to pay for it all? Especially since we’re going to need more than three players, and all of this money being thrown around (not mine or yours, thankfully) means somebody’s going to have to take a haircut. The answer is simple though, because we’re going to do it all the way any well-managed NHL team does things, which is subsidizing those big contracts with collective-bargaining-mandated entry-level contracts. Good thing we’ve actually got a few of those hanging around, right?
One of the assumptions this whole proposal rests on, which I’m sure you’ve intuited by now if you are even still reading, is that the young players need to be good. This is another juncture at which reasonable people can disagree, and it’s a point well taken.
Offsetting big contracts with little ones doesn’t get you far if the little ones are replacement level players anyway. What you need when you’re paying guys at or near market value is more than one guy playing well above his pay grade. My optimistic attitude towards the Baby Rangers is holding this together for me at this point, but honestly why be anything but optimistic about sports? You’ll drive yourself nuts otherwise, and on the relatively improbable chance the stars do align you called it first (not to mention you called a Cup win like four years ahead of schedule, which is exciting enough in its own right).
That’s a long-winded way of saying we would, in these circumstances, absolutely NEED Lias, Filip, Brett, Pavel, Vitali, and anyone else who’s ready and able to join the cause to really hit their stride right out the gate, or at least right in the last stretch run (we’d probably be a 7 or 8 seed in this whole hypothetical, which is fine by me – more on that later). Still, I feel confident in their abilities as a whole, and there’s one guy who I feel one-hundred-million-percent confident in to help keep the team in it through thick and thin while we take a stab at a Cup, one last time for all the glory in the world, and that’s Henrik Lundqvist.
This should not go understated: Henrik Lundqvist is still, and likely will remain so for at least the timeframe we’re looking at here, an elite goalie. He carried some deeply mediocre Rangers lineups to the playoffs, kept us in it when we needed that extra push, and despite not closing the deal well, it wasn’t him that couldn’t close. Those teams were only sort of contenders, but here’s another bold stance I’ll take: you only need to be sort of a contender to win the Stanley Cup with Henrik Lundqvist, maybe even without.
If the Rangers sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard team or even eke out a third place finish in the Metro, I’ll take my chances thank you very much. He is, in my opinion, the third best goalie ever and someone who always beats the odds, quite literally, and if you did the past decade or so over again I think you win the Cup at least once, if not multiple times. Different matchups, weird bounces where there weren’t any in our current incarnation of planet Earth, and injuries not happening – yeah, the Rangers were legit enough to win a Cup between 2010 and 2018, they just didn’t.
The point of this is we could get around to rectifying that, because with Hank in the postseason there’s always a chance. Not to mention, if he’s tired or not playing so great, we can call in our secret weapon Igor Shestyorkin, who while probably not a Hank clone (not sure that’s possible) could certainly be a low-key surprise once Benoit Allaire has had maybe ten minutes with him. It’d be a nasty tandem that could make things work, and with enough firepower up front I’d definitely roll the dice.
Now, what if this doesn’t go according to plan? Well here’s the good news, you only gave your new core members three to five year contracts and they remain in their primes; you could sell on one or all of them if you really decide this rebuild needs recharging, but my point here is that the rebuild doesn’t need to be one way or the other.
We can have our cake and eat it too, keeping good players, shedding some of the expendable ones in order to keep fuel in the tank, and if worse comes to worst pull another, potentially bigger, fire sale. At that point your young guys who were all on ELCs but now need long-term deals become your new core to build around, and Kreider, Hayes, and Zibanejad all depart having given us their best years and a few more years’ worth chances at a Cup for Hank. You keep the ball rolling and pick up more high quality youngsters, now complimenting Lias, Filip, and Igor instead of those guys complimenting Zibanejad, Hayes, and Lundqvist, and we’ve got some more contending years. Not so bad, I don’t think.
Ok so two problems, now that you’ve sat through nearly 2000 words of me spitballing. First, and I said this before, but it’d be incredibly hard to make this all happen. We’re assuming best case scenarios on somewhere around a half dozen major inflection points (I didn’t actually count, but it’s a lot of traffic lights we need to make), and that’s not easy to do at all. Jeff Gorton sure has his work cut out for him, and that’s without even looking at the elephant in the room. You see, I’ve left out an major, important, can’t-live-with-’em/can’t-live-without-’em component of any hockey roster: the defense.
That’s more than I can even compute and would likely make this entire thing even more difficult than the already easier-said-than-done plan I’ve laid down, and probably might just prevent it from happening altogether. Still, if Gorton can wiggle his way out of his defensive issues and make everything else click I really think we’ve got about four years’ worth of dark horse shots at the Cup (which are as good as any – Cup favorites by all of the fanciest calculations have around a 20% chance of winning it all, so you may as well push) and then hopefully about four or five more if you really jump off properly from there.
This has been an exhausting and not-even-exhaustive account of how we might be able to have it all, and I’m honored if you have indeed read all of these 2000+ words thus far. This is all based on a fun discussion I had that really stoked some interesting thoughts on what we might want this team to look like going forward with a good dude who suggested, with the right mix of “just saying” but also humility in his voice, that magic beans can only get you so far. We need good players to win hockey games, and we already have some, so let’s find a way to play this whole thing to our advantage. At the very least it’d be super fun, or at least fun to write about in the afternoon when you should be learning every short-form citation there is for different federal and state statutes. Thanks for being here guys!
PS: drop a big name free agent in there and you’ve got yourself a team, put it in the books.