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Rangers Stanley Cup window remains open a crack with Smith acquisition

Defenseman Brendan Smith is an upgrade for the Rangers, a team that is very much in win-now mode, but it again cost them a piece of their future.

The New York Rangers are fighting a war; a war they cannot win. But the Blueshirts must try anyway and in acquiring defenseman Brendan Smith from Detroit for a 2017 third-rounder and 2018 second-rounder, New York at least has a chance of making another run at the Stanley Cup.

The Rangers have been one of the best playoff teams in the East in the past five years, in a league with Tampa Bay and behind Pittsburgh. But the core is aging and there’s no reason to believe stalwarts such as Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Marc Staal will be better next season. So this is the window to win…but it’s only open a crack.

If the Rangers can finish fourth in the Metropolitan Division, they’ll cross over to the Atlantic playoff bracket as a wild card, thus avoiding Pittsburgh, Washington and Columbus, at least for two rounds. That’s a big advantage and one that must be taken.

New York still has to win those series however and with Smith, they get a puck-moving defender who was having a down year offensively on a bashed-in Red Wings squad. Smith is certainly an upgrade on the now-injured Dan Girardi and since only picks were traded away, New York comes out deeper here. Will it be enough to actually grasp that Cup for King Henrik and his court? The odds aren’t great, but with Kevin Shattenkirk already snapped up by Washington, Smith represents a needed consolation prize for New York.

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The tough part to swallow here if you’re a Rangers fan is that once again New York mortgaged its future. Barring more deals, the Rangers will pick just once in the top-75 of the draft this summer. Last year, their first selection came at No. 81 when they landed controversial defenseman Sean Day.

With this year’s second-rounder already given up (last year’s ill-fated Eric Staal trade), the Rangers had to part with their 2018 pick. At the least, New York had an extra second-rounder thanks to the Derick Brassard trade with Ottawa, so the Rangers still have seven picks for 2018…for now.

The bigger problem is that New York already has one of the worst prospect pools in the NHL (Future Watch spoiler alert). Years of going for the Cup have seen the franchise shed picks and prospects at an alarming speed and there will be a gap very soon.

The team’s Manhattan address and recent run of solid play has helped entice young free agents (Jimmy Vesey and Kevin Hayes being prime examples), but that’s a stop-gap at best. Eventually, this organization will have to go back to drafting and developing talent. If the Rangers win the Cup this season, that restocking won’t be painful. If they don’t, the Smith trade will be remembered as another get-Cup-quick scheme gone wrong.

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