On Sammy Blais, sunk cost, and the need to optimize the Rangers roster

Sammy Blais sunk cost for the Rangers

I wanted Sammy Blais to work out with the Rangers. Not only to justify the horrible trade, but because his skill set as a tenacious forechecker with speed would have been a nice asset in Gerard Gallant’s system. However Blais hasn’t produced, and while scoring was never his strength, he’s simply been a negative asset on the ice since he got healthy. At this point, Sammy Blais is sunk cost for the Rangers, and may be time to cut bait.

Blais is sunk cost

It’s been two years since the objectively bad trade that sent a first liner for a fourth liner and a second round pick. Player names don’t matter. That was a summary of the trade. There were hopes that this specific fourth liner could, if he stayed healthy, be a productive third liner in sheltered minutes. His play style was conducive to that, and when healthy with St. Louis, he showed flashes of it.

Those hopes and flashes were likely the reason why he was targeted in the trade. Blais’ knee injury early last season was a blow for sure, and it contributed to many of the forward depth woes that plagued the Rangers until the trade deadline. Finally healthy, Blais was expected to jump into the Rangers lineup in a then undetermined role.

Blais started on the top line, and has basically bounced all over the lineup before settling in his current role on the fourth line. Blais has been and, given where he is in his career, likely will continue to be a fourth line player. But he’s a fourth line player on a team that wants to have its fourth line be a shutdown line. Blais has never been that.

Since Blais doesn’t produce offense, or even have good puck possession metrics, Blais is now an asset with out a role. He’s also a significant net-negative on the ice so far. He’s certainly break-even defensively, as are most of the Rangers right now, but that significant red bar on offense is far is far worse than his current linemates.

To level set, the fourth line isn’t expected to have gaudy possession numbers. But they are expected to be net positives on the ice. Julien Gauthier has been good. Ryan Carpenter has been mostly bad, but also mostly saddled with Ryan Reaves, which will have an impact to his numbers. Blais has been worse than both.

Cap savings are needed

The Rangers need cap space. Even if their shooting percentage woes get corrected over time, the team lacks a pure shooter in their top nine. They are also consistently playing Barclay Goodrow in the top-nine, which is a problem when Vitali Kravtsov is sitting there with a thumb up his butt.

The easy solution is to play Kravtsov, move Goodrow down to the fourth line, and sit their worst fourth liner at the moment. That player is Blais. If you add Blais’ $1.525 million to Reaves’ $1.75 million, that’s $3.275 million in healthy scratches. Since Reaves likely isn’t going anywhere, Blais is the one that hurts more.

In an ideal world, the Rangers are simply able to trade Blais for a mid round pick and call it a day. That is recognizing sunk cost and getting back for it what you can. The initial trade that brought him here will go down as one of the worst trades in Rangers history, regardless of what happens with Blais. With that firmly set, there’s no point in trying to salvage that trade the way they’ve been trying to salvage the Ryan McDonagh trade.

Will Chris Drury own up?

If there’s one alarming trend with Chris Drury thus far, it’s been a perceived inability to recognize a sunk cost and do what needs to be done. Libor Hajek stands out, although his recent play has been far better than expected. Blais is in the same category now, and requires Drury to recognize that he has become sunk cost.

Trading (or waiving) Blais accomplishes three things for the Rangers:

  1. Immediate bankable cap space to address team issues at the trade deadline
  2. Removing a negative asset from the lineup
  3. Provides a clearer path for Gustav Rydahl, who likely should have made the team out of camp if not for waivers

But all this requires Drury to recognize that Blais is no longer an asset that has value to the Rangers. Julien Gauthier’s significant improvement this year has shown us this. Add to this Blais being a UFA after this season (he’s 26), and he wasn’t even going to be a Ranger next season.

It’s time to cut bait. The Rangers need cap space. They need a better fourth line. They need a better top six. The best way to accomplish this, given the players they have right now, is to play Kravtsov and scratch Blais. If you have to pick between one expensive fourth liner that add nothing on the ice, then pick the one that is a net-positive in the locker room.

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