After a disappointing (and unsurprising) exit in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the eventual Champions, the rumors began to swirl for the Blueshirts on Broadway. GM Jeff Gorton and Head Coach Alain Vigneault both acknowledged that changes needed to be made to the roster, especially the bottom 6 forwards and the back end of the defense. While both stated that few players were untouchable, rumors from across the league ranged from an entire re-build (beginning with trading fan favorite and one of the top goalies in the league Henrik Lundqvist) to signing big time players like Steven Stamkos (who re-upped with the Tampa Bay Lightning).
Most New York fans were counting down the days to Free Agency and the NHL draft, expecting big things to happen. Prior to the Draft, fans were buzzing about the signing of Russian forward Pavel Buchnevich. Buchnevich (21) was one of the highly touted players from the KHL and many scouts believed he could become the next Russian Superstar and help elevate the offense of the Rangers. He has solid speed and soft hands that is packaged together in a big body with tremendous hockey smarts. While Buchnevich will come into the league with high praise, he will have to quickly learn to play in the NHL with the smaller ice. It can be tricky for players that join the NHL from overseas to get their bearings their first year, having to adjust to a new environment, new teammates, and new rules in the span of one offseason is no easy feat but many believe that Buchnevich can step in and be an impact player his first season.
After signing Buchnevic, Rangers fans were eager to see what the Draft and Free Agency would bring. Then, like a flash, Draft day came and went while the first day of free agency seemed like it never happened. The biggest move during the Draft, was a trade for young defenseman Nick Holden from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a 4th round pick in the 2017 draft. By no means was this a terrible move, but it was not one fans (or other GMS for the matter) were expecting. This coming on the heels of the Rangers trading the rights of Keith Yandle to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a 6th round pick in the 2016 draft, and a conditional pick (the conditional pick was to be a 4th round pick in the 2017 draft if Keith Yandle signed with the Panthers, which did happen).
While the draft was solid for the Rangers, it did not help in the immediate future and many fans looked for the big splash in Free Agency which began on July 1st. Many insiders believed that the New York Rangers were making a BIG push for Stamkos and that it was a real possibility that the Star center would be wearing Rangers blue for the 2016-2017 season. While Stamkos will be wearing blue this season, it is not the same blue the Rangers were hoping for, Stamkos re-upped with the Tampa Bay Lightning the day before FA was set to begin. While this put a damper on the hopes of fans around the country, there was still faith that a move would be made. That faith was misplaced, it was clear by the end of the first day that the New York Rangers were more focused on fixing the depth issues with the signings of forward Nathan Gerbe, and defensemen Michael Grabner, Michael Paliotta, and Adam Clendening. While it was important for the Rangers to sign bottom 6 forwards and depth defensemen with the departures of Dominic Moore, Victor Stalberg, Keith Yandle, and Dan Boyle, it was clearly not what many anticipated to happen. Another move that many expected but did not occur, was the buy-out of either Dan Girardi or Marc Staal, stalwarts of the defense in years past but major liabilities by the end of the year. While buying either of the Veterans out would have shrank the Rangers cap space, it was a move that could be made especially with two young defensemen (Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei) waiting in the wings.
In the following weeks there were the important signings of RFA’s JT Miller, Dylan McIlrath, and Nicklas Jensen (who was acquired from Anaheim in the Carl Hagelin trade), and the promotion of Jeff Beukeboom to assistant coach after Ulf Samulsons departure. While rumors swirled surrounding Rick Nash and Derek Stepan, many fans believed that no “big splash” was going to happen.
During the afternoon of July 18th, Rangers fans phones were alerting their owners of a New York Rangers move. It was not a move that anyone expected, the Rangers had traded Center Derek Brassard and a 7th round pick to the Ottawa Senators for F Mika Zibanejad and a 2nd round pick (both picks in the 2018 Draft).
A quick glance at social media would tell exactly what the Blueshirt Faithful thought of this trade and it wasnt pretty. Many fans were calling for the immediate removal of GM Jeff Gorton, not because it wasnt an even trade, but because Derek Brassard was involved and that he was the “heart” of the team. Others saw the trade in the right way, Mika Zibanejad is in no way a superstar but the potential is there for him to be better than what was given away in Brassard. Comparing the two side by side would show that the Rangers did not lose much production in the swap, what the Rangers did gain though, could prove to be far more important. Zibanejad (23) will be entering his 4th full season in the NHL when he takes to the ice in New York and also saved the Rangers about 2.6mil for the upcoming season. Many experts believe that not only could this be the precursor to a bigger move but that it will also help the New York Rangers sign RFA Chris Kreider to a bigger contract and lock the speedy winger up for years to come.
With camp opening for team Physicals on September 18th, there is still time for moves to be made and after the shocking trade of Derick Brassard, who knows what could happen. These next 2 months could prove to be the most interesting offseason for the Rangers in quite a long time.