Make no mistake about it, the New York Rangers are ‘all in’.
The Rangers established their position by acquiring five-time all-star Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday. In exchange for the former Blue Jackets’ captain, the Rangers sent Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon, and their 1st round draft pick in 2013 to Columbus.
“It was a deal we couldn’t turn down,” Rangers President and GM Glen Sather said in a conference call. And the bottom line is that in order for the Rangers to get to the next level, it was a deal that they needed to make.
After missing the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons, Sather changed the organization’s philosophy about building a team. After the lockout, the Rangers focused on building a team through the draft. The nucleus of players: Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, and Chris Kreider are reflective of that philosophy.
As much as Sather wanted Nash, he didn’t want to break up the core. Before the trade deadline in February and in the month between the end of the Stanley Cup Finals and the trade, the Blue Jackets were adamant about players such as Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, or Derek Stepan as part of any deal involving Nash.
“Most of these guys have grown up together, have good chemistry, and get along,” Sather said about the current Rangers team. “Nash doesn’t break up the core and he is basically the same age as everyone else.”
And as he has done before, Sather was able to make a trade to get his man without having to give up some of the best assets that the Rangers have. In retrospect, Blue Jackets’ General Manager Scott Howson might have been better off by accepting the Rangers’ trade offer for Nash at last season’s trade deadline. In February, the Rangers were rumored to have offered, Dubinsky, Erixon, JT Miller, Dylan McIlrath, Christian Thomas, and a 1st round pick for Nash, but Howson declined the offer.
With this trade, Sather was able to get Nash without giving up significant pieces to the championship puzzle. Although Dubinsky and Anisimov were part of the young core and undoubtedly contributed in their time with the Blueshirts, the emergence of other forwards made them expendable.
With Nash on the roster, the left wing position has went from a weakness to strength for the Rangers. Although Dubinsky and Anisimov both spent time on the left wing last season, the Rangers have plenty of depth on left wing this year with Nash, Kreider, Carl Hagelin, Taylor Pyatt, and Mike Rupp.
More importantly, the acquisition of Nash also cements the Rangers’ position that their time to win is now. Even though the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season, there was one school of thought which suggested that they should continue the process of developing young players and try to win the Cup without shaking up the roster.
While the Rangers will continue to build a team through the draft, their window to win the Stanley Cup with this core is limited. Lundqvist is unquestionably the Rangers’ best player, and despite the addition of Nash and the growth of the young talent on the roster, the Blueshirts will only go as far as their Vezina-winning goaltender can take them.
At 30 years old, Lundqvist is in the prime of his career, and the Rangers couldn’t afford to continue to wait for more players to develop. In addition, with the uncertainty revolving around the new collective bargaining agreement, and the number of Rangers who will become free agents in the next few seasons, the time to win on Broadway is now.
When asked about his new team, Nash said, “they are already one of the top teams in the league. The players they have there are very impressive from the goalie out.”
With the addition of Nash, the Rangers’ next challenge will be to become the best team in the league.