By: Michael Abitabilo
What goes around comes around. And while Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather is often lauded for the 2009 trade that brought Ryan McDonagh to the Rangers in exchange for unwanted forward Scott Gomez, his acquisition of Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Anthony Duclair, John Moore and a first and second round pick may prove to be the yang to the McDonagh Trade’s yin.
Let’s start with this: Yandle is a nice player. He isn’t the big, nasty defenseman the Rangers lack, but he makes the 2014-2015 Rangers a slightly better team. He remains under contract for 2015-2016, and the Coyotes have reportedly agreed to retain 50% of his salary, meaning Yandle will only count for about $2.65 million against the salary cap – truly a bargain for a player of Yandle’s stature.
From the Coyotes’ perspective, this trade was a no-brainer. Yandle was almost certain to leave the team via free agency after next season. By pushing up his departure date by 15 months or so, they get two high draft picks and the Rangers’ most dynamic forward prospect in at least a decade, not to mention an extended look at impending restricted free agent John Moore.
But let’s analyze this further from the Rangers’ perspective. This deal appears to be the culmination of a series of interrelated events. When the Rangers let Anton Stralman join Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle in Tampa Bay last summer, they signed free agent defenseman Dan Boyle to replace him. Boyle, like so many before him, was to be the savior for the Rangers’ powerplay. And while the powerplay has improved this season overall, Boyle has struggled both offensively and defensively. Despite the addition of Boyle, the Rangers were still looking for a powerplay specialist at the point. Defensively, Boyle’s struggles have necessitated coach Alain Vigneault to move Kevin Klein from the third defensive pair to the second. Without the reliable Klein to his right, John Moore’s questionable decision-making was exposed, and he became expendable – despite his youth (24 years old), cap-friendly salary ($850k), and tremendous upside. The trade is also a clear indicator that the Rangers almost certainly believe they will sign Mats Zuccarello to a long-term contract extension; if not, Duclair was the only player in the organization (but not on the roster) who had the potential to step into a top six forward role this year or next.
All of these factors led to the acquisition of Yandle, but the Rangers gave up a lot to get their man. Yandle is certainly an upgrade over Moore, so the question becomes whether he is enough of an upgrade to warrant giving up a first and second round pick and Duclair.
As for the draft picks, the Rangers have now separately traded their 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 first round picks (to bring in Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis and Keith Yandle). It’s clear that Sather believes the team’s window to win is rapidly closing. With Henrik Lundqvist turning 33 tomorrow, he might be right. The team simply does not have time to wait until 2017-2020 for those picks to develop into NHL players.
So that brings us back to Duclair. The 19-year old unexpectedly forced his way onto the team out of training camp by showcasing his speed and goal scoring ability. But Duclair couldn’t hold down a top six forward spot early in the season, and was reassigned to the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. He starred at the World Junior Championships, where he played on Canada’s top line with his soon-to-be teammate Max Domi and last year’s second overall pick Sam Reinhart. It became clear that in Duclair, the Rangers seemed to have the type of forward prospect they haven’t had in years. Think about the forwards the Rangers have developed recently: Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov, Carl Hagelin, Jesper Fast, the list goes on. All solid players, but none is a dynamic offensive force. Duclair has the potential to be just that. Alexei Cherepanov aside, it’s not a stretch to suggest Duclair might have been the best offensive prospect the Rangers have had since Alexei Kovalev in the early 90s. Duclair almost certainly could have been an asset on next year’s team – if not this year’s. If Sather was inclined to trade him, one has to wonder if Yandle was the best player he could have received in the deal.
So this trade will ultimately be very easy to judge: if the Rangers win the Stanley Cup this year or next, it will have been worth it. If not, Go For It Glen may live to regret it and become fodder for McDonagh Trade-esque “can you believe that trade?!” discussions for years to come.
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Mike Abitabilo is the co-founder of the Read Zone, and intends to stay on the Anthony Duclair bandwagon for years to come.