The New York Rangers have quietly changed their team identity

Matt Larkin
Brandon Pirri. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

This generation’s New York Rangers have been poster children for the before-and-after of contending for a Stanley Cup for several years and mortgaging the future for the sake of the chase. Under previous GM Glen Sather, before Jeff Gorton took over, the Blueshirts shipped out their first round pick four straight years in the pursuit of Rick Nash, Martin St-Louis (he cost them two first-rounders) and Keith Yandle. They haven’t picked in the first round since 2012, when they nabbed defenseman Brady Skjei.

There’s nothing wrong with what the Rangers brass decided to do. This team reached the Stanley Cup final in 2013-14 and won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2014-15. New York was obviously close to winning it all, and it was important to take its big swing while Henrik Lundqvist remained an elite goaltender.

Still, the degree to which the Rangers plundered their farm system reached almost comical proportions in recent seasons. They didn’t pick until 81st at this year’s draft in Buffalo. Their first selection in the draft has been, on average, 61.5 over the past four years. Our panel of NHL team executives and scouts ranked the Rangers’ prospect crop 30th among 30th teams in 2016, with just one youngster, Pavel Buchnevich, cracking the individual top 75 rankings.

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Taylor Hall says the honest thing, not the ‘right’ thing, about trade to Devils

Matt Larkin
Taylor Hall. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Taylor Hall belonged to an Edmonton Oilers core often derided among hockey pundits for its lack of on-ice maturity. The group, which included first overall picks Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, dazzled with offensive skill but was criticized for a lack of defensive awareness, particularly Hall and Yakupov. They were paid like star players and honored as celebrities in Edmonton despite never making the playoffs.

But a conversation with Hall after his trade to the New Jersey Devils, however, bursts that bubble of supposed entitlement. He addressed a group of reporters in a scrum at BioSteel’s 2016 Pro Hockey Camp Tuesday in Toronto, and the one word he evoked: maturity. He spoke with a world-weariness, choosing frank answers to questions instead of cliches.

Was the stunning 1-for-1 trade sending left winger Hall to the Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson “just part of the game”? Not for Hall. He took it personally. It did not roll off his back by any means. He made that clear when one reporter asked him if the trade felt like breaking up with a lover.

“Yeah, in the sense that, in a breakup, you just try to forget about it as quick as you can, right?” Hall said. “And that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s not easy.”

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Coyotes flex cap space again, take on Bolland to land Crouse from Panthers

Jared Clinton
Lawson Crouse (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Life as a budget team hasn’t been bad for the Arizona Coyotes this summer.

At the draft in June, the Coyotes swung a deal to land a prospect they were targeting — defenseman Jakob Chychrun — and all that was required of Arizona GM John Chayka was ensuring he had room to store Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5 million salary for the coming campaign. That was no problem for the Coyotes, who had a mountain of cap space, and Chayka was at it again Thursday, utilizing his club’s cap space to further bolster his prospect stock.

The Coyotes used the team’s nearly $8 million of wiggle room under the cap to take on Dave Bolland’s awful five-year, $27.5-million contract from the Panthers, but Chayka wasn’t doing Florida any favors. In exchange for taking on the Bolland deal, Arizona also landed the Panthers’ top prospect, Lawson Crouse. And outside of taking on the salary, all it took for Chayka to land one of the 20-best prospects in the league was one second-round and one third-round pick. Read more

Down Goes Brown: Five RFA signings that resulted in big trades as compensation

Sean McIndoe
Adam Graves. (Getty Images)

Last week, we looked back on the league’s long history of arbitrators having to sort out messy cases. One of the biggest was the 1991 case that saw Scott Stevens awarded to the Devils as compensation for the signing of Brendan Shanahan. It was part of the league’s old RFA system, under which some players who signed with a new team weren’t subject to a right to match or draft pick compensation, but rather to a forced trade in which each team submitted what they felt was a fair offer and an arbitrator picked one.

It was, to put it bluntly, a fantastic system. Oh, the players hated it, and so did most of the teams. But for fans, it was a great source of entertainment. It was all sorts of fun to debate the teams’ offers, come up with ones of your own, and speculate over which side the arbitrator would ultimately land on. The system lasted until 1995, when Gary Bettman’s first lockout ended with a new CBA that ushered in new RFA rules. This excellent blog post contains a detailed history of the old system; it’s fair to say we’re unlikely to ever see it return in the NHL.

So today, let’s look back on five more cases where RFA signings resulted in an arbitrator forcing a trade as compensation. None were quite as big as the Stevens-for-Shanahan blockbuster, but each had its own impact on hockey history.

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Rumor Roundup: Trade candidates for teams that miss out on Jimmy Vesey sweetstakes

Lyle Richardson
Evander Kane (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Top college prospect Jimmy Vesey is expected to announce this week which NHL team he’ll be signing with. His decision could come as early as Tuesday.

Entering this week, NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti lists the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs as the contenders for Vesey’s services. Other clubs could also try to sign the promising youngster.

The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa observes New York Islanders GM Garth Snow attended one of Vesey’s on-ice workouts. Philly.com’s Sam Carchidi reports Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall is interested in pursuing Vesey. TVA Sports claims several sources say the Montreal Canadiens could also get into the bidding.

Once Vesey makes his choice, the clubs that lose out could turn to either the trade or free-agent markets to bring in an affordable scoring forward.

Free-agent pickings are slim. Forwards Jiri Hudler, Radim Vrbata, Alex Tanguay, Matt Cullen and Brandon Pirri are the best of the bunch. At this point, all could be had for inexpensive short-term deals.

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So why hasn’t your team done anything this off-season?

Flyers GM Ron Hextall. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

August marks hockey’s “silly season.” Very little happens. And idle hands are the devils’ playthings, right? Countless blog commenters and Twitter trolls dust off the “Slow news day?” insult whenever we find something to talk about. During the month before NHL training camps begin, fan bases twiddle their thumbs. And think. And overthink. And worry.

“Why hasn’t my team DONE anything this off-season?”

You know who you are. You, from that city with the sandwich everyone needs to try. Your team has been uncomfortably quiet this off-season, with nary a big trade or free agent splash. Should you panic over your team’s 2016-17 outlook? Or will you end up patting your favorite GM on the back for staying the course?

Here’s a rundown of the summer’s most tranquil teams – and whether their fan bases should worry.

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Down Goes Brown: Five blockbuster trades that almost happened

Sean McIndoe
Mark Messier and Brett Hull. (Getty Images)

The 2016 offseason began with a bang, as two of the biggest trades in recent NHL history went down within minutes of each other on June 29. But since then, apart from the occasional move, the trade talk around the league has gone largely quiet.

Or has it? After all, just because blockbuster deals aren’t being made doesn’t mean they’re not being discussed. Hockey history is filled with monster trades that almost happened and that we only find out about after the fact. We covered five of the biggest near-misses a year ago, with names like Steve Yzerman, Corey Perry, Pavel Datsyuk, and even P.K. Subban and Carey Price (in the same deal). Today, let’s look back at a few more.

But first, the obvious disclaimer. While all of these deals were reported by reasonably trustworthy sources, we’ll never know how close they actually came to happening. When it comes to the “near” in near-miss, mileage may vary.

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So is Shea Weber actually an ‘average’ NHL defenseman?

Shea Weber and P.K. Subban at the 2016 All-Star Skills Competition (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Some things in life are not terribly fair. And in the case of the P.K. Subban trade, much of the trade has become a referendum on the merits of Shea Weber. Last I checked, Weber didn’t ask to be traded to one of the most hockey-mad cities on the planet for a player who was universally loved by its fan base. And former Canadiens analytics consultant Matt Pfeffer, whose comments to thn.com about Weber have landed him in the crosshairs of critics, doesn’t deserve to be put through the wringer the way he has.

I feel badly about the latter. Pfeffer is a 21-year-old who is a bright, hard-working kid who’s doing some groundbreaking work when it comes to analytics. We had a very candid conversation Friday afternoon about the Weber trade, perhaps in retrospect for him, a little too candid. He spoke about the trade of course, but also the place of analytics in the game and how hockey is still finding its way. But the comment that seems to be drawing the most ire was when he said: “There’s nothing wrong with being average in the NHL. An average NHLer is worth a heck of a lot and that’s what Shea Weber is.”

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