The Rangers were unable to change the ending, but now they are creating a blueprint to remain cup contenders over the next few years. Of the changes this offseason, the major surprise came when the Rangers found a trade partner in the Anaheim Ducks and shipped Carl Hagelin west for a package centering on Emerson Etem.
On the surface this moves seems peculiar, moving a nice role forward who has proved an important cog in the machine. However, this move cannot be chalked up to any on ice reason. Plainly stated Hagelin’s performance met expectations this season and with his age he likely is still improving as he enters his late 20s prime. That being said, the Rangers had to figure out their priorities when it came to the cap sheet. This is why Hagelin is a Duck.
The Rangers have sucessfully locked down many of their most important players to long term deals in the past couple of years. They have the league’s premier goaltender through the 2020-21 season as well as their top four defenders, in Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein, all on deals with at least three years left.
As for forwards, where Hagelin will be replaced by Etem, they have only Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, Derick Brassard on longer deals, and just secured the services of J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast on shorter mid-level agreements. Sitting with roughly $7 million left against the cap they are still in discussions trying to find a long term deal for top-tier center Derek Stepan. Assuming they get that deal done, it will leave them with six forwards, four defensemen and a franchise goaltender locked in but that is where things get complex and where Hags fell by the wayside.
The Rangers had to prioritize who was worth paying because after a Stepan deal they still have Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider as upcoming free agents due for big raises. After all that is said and done, if it happens according to plan, the Blueshirts will need whatever change is left over to fill out the additional four forward and two blue line spots that are currently occupied by a mixture of veterans and checking forwards.
There simply wasn’t enough money to pay Hagelin what other teams will and ultimately the Rangers decided players like Zuccarello, Stepan and Krieder are more vital. This is why it made sense for the Rangers to pull the plug on getting a piece back in Etem, who is younger and cheaper, in exchange for a player they will likely lose soon to the realities of the salary cap without any compensation in return.