With the 2018 Trade Deadline now passed, the crew here at Blue Seat Blogs has decided to take a step back and assess the New York Rangers’ rebuild so far. We’re just over one year into this grand experiment, and in that time the Rangers have taken strides forward. They’ve turned over most of the roster, created significant salary cap flexibility, and stockpiled draft picks. But asset management is just one part of the intertwining process that is creating a contending hockey team. Yesterday, Rob assessed the coaching, particularly the appointment of David Quinn and whether he’s the right guy for the job. Today I will share my take on GMJG’s transactions thus far, and on Friday, Dave will tackle player development.
My initial thought for this post was to do a list of every trade made since the announcement of the rebuild, and just go bit by bit. But I’m a dreamer at heart, and really wanted to do some fun little analysis. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and things tend to look differently in different frames. So what I’m going to do instead is look at the assorted transactions undertaken by Jeff Gorton and conceive of them almost as one giant transaction, take a step back, and see what sort of thing it looks like. Trades are a core component of any rebuild, and since weighing which ones are more important or whatever can be difficult let’s just ball this whole thing up and bounce it around in our brains like an ever-growing wad of hockey tape after a game.
Since our rebuild began in earnest, Gorton has largely played it safe in my opinion, but he’s made the right moves. He turned one aging “top-line” center into a younger “top-line” center, which wound up being great when that guy (Mika Zibanejad) smashed his ceiling and is now a point-per-game dude slash real-deal top-line center. Yes, this was before the rebuild was announced, but it’s still important!
He did trade Derek Stepan (also before the rebuild was announced) perhaps unnecessarily, but he also got, and I’m going to duck for cover on this one, fair value. I said it! Tony DeAngelo is probably going to turn into an at least good player if not a pretty good one, and you got a top-ten pick back as well. That’s for a guy who was reliable and great in every zone, but who also never really blew you away with his point totals. I’m pretty high on Lias Andersson too, but that’s a bit outside the scope here (drafting and trading are two different animals). The return was fair.
Stop me now if you’ve heard that before actually, because it seems to be the refrain with a lot of Gorton’s moves. Sure, Michael Grabner was great fun, but not strictly a great player, and we got a decent pick and a prospect. Mats Zuccarello too, much as we loved him. Kevin Hayes landed us a first, the Ryan McDonagh package was perhaps underwhelming but included quantity over quality, which, like it or not, is a strategy that can measure out equitable value as well (I’m also fairly optimistic about both Brett Howden and Libor Hajek anyways). It seems to be a pattern, that GMJG is good at his job, so what’s not to like?
Well, it’s that he’s good at his job. He makes even-handed trades that you know need to be made. He meets expectations, he performs his tasks functionally and efficiently. Look at all this roster turnover, dude is a wizard at turning one thing into another thing, but the problem is those things are always just enough. In order to really be an above-average team, or hopefully a top-quartile to top-decile team that contends with regularity, we’re going to need to do two things – trade well and draft well – in an above average manner.
Well unless we really suck, or really hit the jackpot, we’re not going to land that super elite talent at the draft without a big time trade for ideally a top-five, not just top-ten, pick. Beyond that, if we want that super elite talent from within the league already, we’re going to need to make a massive trade and totally swindle someone. We need Hall for Larsson, Forsberg for Erat, whomever for whomever style trades. Even if they aren’t for super elite talent, look at what Carolina did turning Noah Hanifin into Dougie Hamilton and Victor Rask into Nino Niederreiter. We need to stack this lineup from top to bottom, and whether that’s just four lines of very good players or the kind of lineup you see in Tampa Bay right now, then you need lopsided trades in your favor.
So there you have it folks, as far as transactions go, Gorton has, in my opinion, been good. The problem is that we need to be great if we want to win the Cup, but short of that I’m actually pretty happy with good – it’s not even really fair to frame it as a problem, for a whole host of reasons I won’t get into here. The rebuild is far from over, and in fact we’re still fairly early in it if we’re being honest with ourselves, so let’s wait and see. He might just be warming up, and Gord help you dopey GMs around the league if he is.