Missing the forest for the trees is an old idiom that we’ve all heard. It’s very common, and the basic definition is to miss the overall organizational goals due to over analysis of a few specific ideas, events, or moves. It is basically saying don’t get too in the weeds of every minute detail because you’ll miss the overall goal.
When Vlad Namestnikov was traded late Monday, there was chatter about how the Rangers got very little in return, that this trade could have been made over the summer, that this meant the Rangers shouldn’t have bought out Kevin Shattenkirk, and other argumentative points that broke down the trade of an expensive fourth liner. That’s the tree.
Meanwhile, the exact point of the trade was to free up cap space and roster slots for recalls throughout the season. It also gives the Rangers a cushion for bonus overages next season, as they are a team at risk with many players on ELCs that could trigger these bonuses. With the Shattenkirk buyout costing the Rangers $6 million in dead cap space next season, ensuring bonuses don’t carry over is critical. The move was almost entirely for more flexibility both now and next season. That’s the forest.
There are pieces to this that are completely unrelated to the Vlad Namestnikov trade. First and foremost is the non-trade of Ryan Strome. The team made the decision to keep Strome long before the Namestnikov trade went down. Neither Strome nor Namestnikov were long for a Rangers uniform anyway, so this apparent one season decision is inconsequential. End of story. Agree or disagree with the team’s decision, just accept it and move on. That’s a small tree in the forest of the rebuild.
The next is the Shattenkirk buyout. For some inexplicable reason, people tried to tie this to the Namestnikov trade, saying if the trade –for that return– was made now, why wasn’t it made sooner? Well Jeff Gorton answered that already. They tried. It wasn’t there until Monday. This isn’t NHL ’20 where you can pause the game on a day until you make a trade. It’s also worth noting that the Shattenkirk trade was made to get the Rangers cap compliant immediately for the start of the season, while the Namestnikov trade was made for flexibility. Apples/oranges. Two trees that matter, but on opposite sides of the forest.
*A common and flawed argument is that the Blueshirts could have bought out Staal or Smith and then hoped a trade for Namestnikov went down sooner. The Rangers couldn’t take that risk, so they made the call to buyout Shattenkirk, who also didn’t really have a role on this team anyway.
With those pieces in mind, let’s again take a step back and look at the overall goals of a rebuild:
- Draft well and develop prospects.
- Identify which prospects are a part of the future plans and ensure they are developed properly, without rushing them.
- Identify which roles these prospects are going to play, and ensure their development is tailored towards those roles.
- Remain flexible for unexpected changes (like landing Kaapo Kakko) and ensure there is cap and roster flexibility for players exceeding (or failing to meet) expectations.
- Don’t throw the prospects to the fire and set them up for failure. There is no rush…yet.
That is the forest. As long as each move made keeps those goals in mind, then the Rangers are on the right track for the rebuild. Sure, there will be disagreements over the specifics, like why Lias Andersson needs to light himself on fire to get more ice time, and we will certainly question specific moves in the here and now.
The challenge is now to not only evaluate decisions in real time, but also keep an eye on the overall rebuild goals and how this moves towards that goal. It’s just like managing your professional career. Each move made should be a step in your overall career goals.
For the Namestnikov trade, the step in moving along in the rebuild was creating more cap and roster flexibility. Was this accomplished with the trade? I’d say so.