As expected, the player movement is coming rapid and crazy. Today, the trades got kickstarted with NHL Draft host Chicago stunning the hockey world with two big moves that’ll change their team.
First, they sent Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. This was a deal that was about saving money for the future. Hjalmarsson will turn unrestricted in two years while the younger Murphy is locked into a long term deal.
The even bigger shockwave was when they sent Artemi Panarin with Tyler Motte and a sixth round pick this weekend in exchange for a reunion with Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth round pick. Panarin is a breathtaking player who formed amazing chemistry with Patrick Kane turning him into a 100 point guy who won the Hart. But the electrifying Russian is already making $6 million over the next two seasons. So, by 2019 he’ll command a huge payday. Saad is locked into a longer term deal which also pays him the same $6 million average thru 2021.
With the hockey world still stunned by those trades, the Rangers made a predictable one sending Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Coyotes in exchange for 21-year old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick tonight.
It’s a thought provoking move that begs the question why they didn’t get more. Stepan is locked into a long term deal that averages out to $6.5 million thru 2021. His no-movement clause was due to kick in this July. After a inconsistent season which still saw the number one two-way center go over 50 points, he was a huge disappointment in the postseason. Unlike past performances highlighted by that drop pass to for Ryan McDonagh’s overtime winner and Stepan scoring in sudden death on a Dan Girardi rebound to stun the Capitals in a memorable second round in 2015, he was unable to find his form this past Spring.
A prideful guy who takes things to heart, he admitted that he sucked and wished he had played better following a second round elimination to the Senators in six games on home ice. His brutal honesty is why I respected him. He never passed blame and was one of the team leaders who helped them make three Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup appearance.
Even for his shortcomings in the face-off dot and for not being able to hit 60 points, Stepan was a reliable player who was fully trusted by the coaching staff in any role. He was splendid on the penalty kill forming solid chemistry with Rick Nash. They were a lot of fun to watch often creating shorthanded oppportunities and a few nice goals.
It will be odd not to see number 21 in a Blueshirt this Fall. I’ve been a huge Stepan fan since he was drafted in the second round 51st overall in the 2008 NHL Draft. He teamed with Chris Kreider to win gold at the 2010 Under-20 World Junior Championship. Something I’ll never forget.
Stepan was a very good Ranger. In seven seasons, he finishes with 128 goals and 232 assists totaling 360 points with a plus-109 rating in 515 games. In 97 postseason games which are a Rangers franchise record for forwards trailing only Marc Staal (104) and Dan Girardi (122), he tallied 19 goals with 30 assists for 49 points. Now 27, he’ll be counted to lead the rebuilding Coyotes in the future.
In two seasons, Raanta was terrific as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. After winning 11 games and posting a 2.25 goals-against-average with a .919 save percentage in ’15-16, he was even better establishing career bests in wins (16), shutouts (4) while posting a 2.27 GAA and .922 save percentage in a career high 29 games. Signed for another year at a bargain basement $1 million, Raanta will get the chance to become a starting goalie for the Coyotes. A great locker room guy, the likable Finn with the quirky personality will be missed.
It’s up to GM Jeff Gorton to find a suitable replacement that can back up Lundqvist and give him much needed time off. Undoubtedly, he’ll be busy working the phones. Thanks to goalie coach Benoit Allaire, the Rangers have turned Cam Talbot into a good starter and now Raanta. He’s not the best in the biz for nothing.
A big thank you goes out to Stepan and Raanta for their time spent on Broadway. Especially Stepan, who meant plenty to the franchise. Without him, they don’t reach three Final Fours or make a Stanley Cup appearance.
At the end of the day, it’s a business. Like many fans, I hate to see my favorite players go. But in a hard cap era that is unforgiving, this is the reality. Any success comes with a price. We saw it last year with Derick Brassard and two summers ago with Carl Hagelin. It’s why I dislike the current system. It’s not fair.
I don’t think Gorton is done. Even though in a interview with MSG’s Amanda Borges, he told her they aren’t trading their 21st overall pick, that could change. By acquiring the number seven overall from Arizona, I think he’s setting up up for something bigger.
Don’t be shocked if the Rangers beat the Islanders to the punch on Matt Duchene. They now have two first round picks and can part with players in good contracts to get the coveted franchise top center they lack. It’s a necessity. I expect the rumors to be rampant once the Draft starts tonight.