Heading into the 2017-18 season, the New York Rangers were thought to be one of the strongest contenders in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, especially considering some of the offseason moves they made.
They were forced to part with veteran forward Derek Stepan and backup goaltender Antti Raanta, true, but they gained a true, legitimate number one defenseman in Kevin Shattenkirk. With Shattenkirk, Anthony DeAngelo (acquired in the Stepan/Raanta trade) and Brendan Smith (acquired from the Detroit Red Wings during the 2017 trade deadline) in and veteran defenseman Dan Girardi out, NHL analysts applauded the Rangers’ offseason moves. Fast forward less than six months though and the team’s defensive structure is in shambles.
Then, significants moves were made... At the trade deadline, captain Ryan McDonagh was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who also acquired forward J.T. Miller. The Lightning sent Vladislav Namestnikov, a 2018 first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick in 2019, defensive prospect Libor Hajek forward prospect Brett Howden. The conditional second-round pick becomes a first-rounder if the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in either 2018 or 2019. And let's not forget that veteran Rick Nash was moved to the Boston Bruins in return for a 2018 first-rounder, forwards Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey, defenseman Ryan Lindgren plus a seventh-round pick in 2019.The Rangers sent Michael Grabner to the New Jersey Devils for a 2018 second-round pick and prospect Yegor Rykov.
Rangers management made it clear prior to the deadline, and elected to tear things down and rebuild from the ground up as general manager Jeff Gorton and president Glen Sather issued a letter to the team’s fanbase, warning them to brace for change. They have surely loaded up on prospects and picks, but it looks now like the rebuilding announcement could be a scam and the Blue Shirts have something much bigger in mind this summer.
Not only did New York get a bunch of picks and prospects, they also managed to free up much cap space for seasons to come. According to NHL insider Pierre LeBrun, the Rangers could have put together the best plan to convince Ottawa Senators captain and star defenseman Erik Karlsson.
"When you look at the Rangers now, there’s a lot to be excited about, honestly, if you’re a Rangers fan because you’ve got three first-round picks this June, you’ve got two second-round picks, and two third-round picks. And potentially two first-round picks next year too, if the Lightning win the Cup this year or next. It’s certainly not unheard of that they might win the Cup," LeBrun explained during a Thursday afternoon radio hit on Edmonton’s TSN 1260, per FanRag Sports.
“And on top of that, tons of cap room moving forward. And who’s to say this has to be a five-year rebuild? It may very well be that MSG – Jeff Gorton uses his ammunition now to make this a pretty quick retool. What if they go out this summer – and heck – go after Erik Karlsson. Not the craziest thing in the world because they have assets now. So we’ll see how that plays out. But I think the Rangers are well-positioned.”
Rumors were all over Karlsson on Monday's deadline as the Sens captain can sign an extension with Ottawa as early as July 1. However, with the activity going on Monday, GM Pierre Dorion might make a move before the draft in late June. It was reported that the Vegas Golden Knights almost landed Karlsson before the deadline, but now they could be facing heavy competition against New York.