You never have to twist the arm of Rangers GM Glen Sather to get him to consider and consummate a high-stakes trade. In fact – and especially at this time of year – he usually walks around with his arm pre-twisted to make a deal more convenient for one of his 29 NHL colleagues. And on Sunday afternoon, he pulled off another major move, acquiring veteran defenseman Keith Yandle, minor-leaguer Chris Summers and a fourth-round pick in 2015 from Arizona in exchange for top prospect Anthony Duclair, defenseman John Moore, a Blueshirts first-round draft pick in 2016 and a second-rounder in 2015.
First, the good news if you're a Rangers fan: Yandle's new team is built for the present, and the addition of the 28-year-old, eight-season veteran to a defense corps that includes Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein and Dan Boyle makes it one of, if not the best blueline groups in the Eastern Conference. Sather knows Henrik Lundqvist is 32 and Martin St-Louis is 39 and Rick Nash will turn 31 in the summer, and the East is about as wide open as it will get. And this is who Sather is. In his heart, he's a gambler. Always has been, always will be.
However, here's the bad (and potentially very bad) news: to land Yandle (who has four goals and 41 points in 63 games this year) Sather had to part ways with a huge trove of treasure:
Duclair, a 19-year-old right winger who has one goal and seven points in 18 games as an NHL rookie this years – and who dazzled for Team Canada (alongside new Coyotes teammate Max Domi) at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and two high draft picks. The Coyotes don't get the Rangers' first-rounder until the summer of 2016, but that franchise is going to get a very high selection of its own this summer and is doing the right thing in stockpiling potential after recognizing their core was going nowhere fast. And we shouldn't minimize the inclusion of Duclair, a speedy, imaginative force on offense who won't have to deal with any pressure to crack a veteran-laden lineup as he had to in Manhattan. All the upside in the long-term is Arizona's, and their fans should be extremely encouraged by the transaction.
To make the deal work under the salary cap, the Coyotes are retaining half of Yandle's contract for its duration (which concludes at the end of next season at a $5.25-million cap hit), but the reason GM Don Maloney and ownership were willing to do that was clear: the Rangers were ready to pay a significant price no other franchise would have come close to matching, let alone improving upon. Once again, Sather has proven a little too willing to sacrifice the future for a short-term bump in performance. His team was going to be in tough to re-sign pending UFA winger Mats Zuccarello to begin with, and while this opens up some more cap space to do that, it has done so at the cost of the franchise's future.
The 24-year-old Moore has never risen to the level associated with his draft slot (21st overall by Columbus in 2009) and was a complementary piece of sorts in the 2013 trade deadline Blue Jackets/Rangers swap headlined by Marian Gaborik. He is in the same spot this time, but the future in Arizona is many years away.
The future in Manhattan, as it almost always has been during the 71-year-old Sather's decade-and-a-half tenure as Rangers GM, is right now. And if the Blueshirts fail to get the job done this year, Sather has made it more difficult for that organization to contend for a Stanley Cup during the seasons to come.
UPDATE: The Rangers weren't done after the Yandle trade was signed off on, first moving winger Lee Stempniak to Winnipeg in exchange for 24-year-old winger Carl Klingberg, then acquiring center James Sheppard from San Jose for a fourth-round draft pick in 2016. Would anyone at this stage be surprised if Sather peeled off a few more draft picks or prospects in return for more experience prior to Monday's 3 p.m. Eastern Time deadline?