It wasn’t surprising that Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid were among the New York Rangers players moved either prior to or at the trade deadline. The aftermath of these three trades has set the Rangers up to become an active participant in this summer’s offseason.
The 2018-19 campaign started out very promising, but as the season progressed, Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton knew tough personnel decisions needed to be made if the franchise’s rebuild was going to continue moving forward. The constant questioning on trade rumors seemed to raise the level of tension surrounding the team each day prior to the deadline.
Yes, it was a very emotional time for staff members, teammates and fans to say goodbye to franchise mainstays like Zuccarello and Hayes, but their pending departure began to wear on everyone’s nerves. Clearly, the situation had become a distraction, and the time was right for Gorton to pull the trigger on moving them off the roster. Even though Zuccarello, Hayes and McQuaid had expiring contracts, Gorton was able to gain quality assets with each trade completed.
Gorton Has Transformed Rangers Into Younger Team
In a little over a year since announcing their rebuild, the Rangers have transformed themselves into a younger, faster team that is able to compete on a nightly basis. Gorton hasn’t been shy about making trades if each deal advances the organization’s rebuild. Thanks to the moves at the trade deadline, the Rangers currently hold 10 draft choices in the upcoming 2019 NHL Entry Draft, including six picks in the first three rounds. But, some of those selections come with conditions that could improve the organization’s draft position this summer and beyond.
In the Zuccarello trade to the Dallas Stars, the Rangers acquired a conditional 2019 second-round pick and conditional 2020 third-round pick in the deal. The 2019 pick could be upgraded to a first-round selection if the Stars win two playoff rounds and Zuccarello plays in 50 percent of all playoff games. If he re-signs with the Stars, then the 2020 pick becomes a first-round selection as well. Let’s not forget if the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup this season, then the 2019 second-round pick acquired in last spring’s Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trade becomes a first-round selection in this summer’s draft.
You can make a strong argument that most of the heavy lifting has been done in the rebuild. The moves made at the past two trade deadlines will allow the Rangers to take that major first step forward this offseason. They have created enough salary cap space to sign a key free agent or add a major talent via a trade, which positions them into making a serious run at a Stanley Cup playoff berth next season.
What Lies Ahead for the Rangers This Offseason
Yes, this approach would “speed up” the rebuilding process, but suddenly, the Rangers have options available to them. Gorton has gathered enough trade assets to address the team’s needs and acquire the necessary parts that will make the Rangers a more competitive team next season. That could mean packaging them all together to acquire an elite player or keeping the picks and selecting quality prospects to add to an already impressive group of young talent.
The Rangers are treading water in this year’s playoff chase, and likely to miss them for the second consecutive season. The good news is the front office has amassed a talented core group that seems to be on the right path to success. Yes, the Rangers may be struggling at the moment, but that’s not to say they cannot get back on track and finish the season strong.
This offseason could be very pivotal in which direction the Rangers rebuild is heading. The gap towards contention isn’t as far as we might think. Mark your calendar as the draft will take place in Vancouver on the weekend of June 21-22 and the odds are high the Rangers will be quite busy on those two days. Gorton will have hard decisions to make because he cannot afford to strike out on his next acquisition.
No question, Ranger fans should be optimistic about the future because it’s quite bright at this moment.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy