Awwww yeaaah: our annual Future Watch issue came into the office yesterday, feeling all slick and new, like a baby wearing a diaper full of prospects knowledge. As per usual, all 30 NHL franchises are ranked based on the kids they have in the hopper and once again, the New York Rangers did not fare well.
And even though I love covering prospects and the draft, I'm not going to shade the Rangers here. Because the reason they are so low is that they keep trading away their high draft picks for veterans in a short-term attempt to win the Stanley Cup.
And yeah, that's what they should be doing right now.
If I was running a team that employed Henrik Lundqvist in net, I would certainly be making a push for the title year after year. 'Hank' turned 34 yesterday and he is still one of the elite netminders in the game, ranking top-10 in save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts among goalies with at least 20 games played. But how much longer can he stay on top? A few years, to be sure – just look at 36-year-old Roberto Luongo this season – but this is the window right now, baby.
And the Rangers have been in that window for years now. Since trading for Rick Nash in the summer of 2012, New York has played in nine post-season series. Only one team in the NHL has done better – Chicago has 11. Los Angeles, which admittedly has two more Cups during that span than the Rangers, has only played in seven series, while Boston, Anaheim and Pittsburgh each have six.
I'm sure Rangers fans would have preferred to have at least one title during that time, but it is very hard to win it all and New York management (from Glen Sather to successor Jeff Gorton) has at least given the team a chance by acquiring players such as Nash, Martin St-Louis, Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle over the years.
In the process, the Rangers have given up a lot of future assets. That Yandle-for-Anthony Duclair package? Yeah, that stings a little already – but hey, sometimes you have to gamble.
Some folks are already crowing about New York's latest venture, the deadline acquisition of Eric Staal, as being folly. But I'm totally OK with it for two reasons. The first is the thesis of this blog: when you have Lundqvist, Nash, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and a bunch of other great players, you go for it. Secondly, I think Staal is a good fit.
The erstwhile Carolina captain's play has dropped off recently, yes. But Staal was not brought in to be a No. 1 center – in fact, he's the third center on the depth chart and if Eric Staal is your third-line pivot, that's terrifying for the opposition. Imagine how that is going to shake out once the post-season hits: Staal is a big body who will be super-motivated to win that Cup, not only for brother and new teammate Marc Staal, but also because Eric tasted glory early in his career in Carolina and that feeling creates an everlasting burn for more.
If you're going to feel bad for anyone in this scenario, it's New York's scouting department. The Rangers aren't scheduled to pick until the third round this summer and that selection will probably be in the early twenties, at best. The team hasn't made a first-round pick since Brady Skjei (28th overall) in 2012, but at least they hit on that one – the young defenseman has already played games for the Blueshirts and is developing nicely.
But the pool is small, hence the franchise's standing in Future Watch. I was at the Traverse City prospects tournament in Michigan this fall, where eight teams send their best youngsters to play each other. Top Rangers prospect Pavel Buchnevich was not there, since he was playing in Russia, but otherwise the New York entry relied heavily on free agents on tryouts to fill out their roster (to make things worse, Skjei got hurt near the end and goalie Brandon Halverson went on the shelf before that). Needless to say, the squad didn't play for the title.
At the same time, I'm a big fan of defenseman Ryan Graves, while center Adam Tambellini and goalies Igor Shesterkin and Adam Huska have a lot of potential, too. So the cupboard's not bare, it's just a really small cupboard. And if the Blueshirts can go deep in the playoffs once again, then it's all good.
If they win the whole thing…well, that's the plan, isn't it?