Gorton must hit it out of the park with Hayes and Zuccarello

Saturday, February 23, 2018

As we draw nearer to the conclusion of Monday’s trade deadline, more rumors are circulating about where players could wind up. From a Rangers perspective, fans continue to follow reliable sources on Twitter to find out the latest on Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello.

By reliable, I mean any hockey media professional with a blue check mark next to their name. It’s pretty obvious who I mean. I don’t have to spell it out. My advice to anyone who is locked in on the hot rumors is be careful who you believe. There are a lot of fake accounts spreading false propaganda to draw attention. Why I have no idea.

It’s almost like all the goofiness starts a few weeks before April Fool’s Day. Too bad the NHL continues to push up the deadline. Believe it or not, it used to be in late March. Poetically, Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan were acquired from the Blackhawks for Tony Amonte and the rights to Matt Oates (who?) on Mar. 21, 1994. They each played a dozen games while fitting in seamlessly. While everyone can point to MATTEAU MATTEAU MATTEAU, it’s worth noting his clutch tying goal in the closing seconds at Calgary on a backhand rebound in his Rangers debut on 3/22/94. That was a pretty big moment that left Sam Rosen and John Davidson speechless.

I only reference it due to the organization paying tribute to the 25th Year Anniversary of that special championship team. That was every bit as memorable for all fans including the younger generation who never got to truly experience that Stanley Cup.

Here’s something else. When current Team President Glen Sather brought in Martin St. Louis in the only captain for captain deadline trade with Tampa for Ryan Callahan, while sacrificing two first round picks and a seventh for a second, the blockbuster move came on Mar. 5, 2014. We all know how that turned out.

Don’t forget St. Louis struggled only scoring one goal with seven assists in his first 19 games. What followed was truly inspirational with an emotional St. Louis showing unbelievable heart and resilience following his Mom’s death. Who didn’t go nuts when he scored that first goal on Mother’s Day to lead the Blueshirts to a huge Game Six win? The Garden was rocking. It was unreal. They never trailed after the Game Four humiliation that resulted in St. Louis, Brad Richards and Henrik Lundqvist calling a players only meeting to send the message that the series wasn’t over. It’s fitting that all three locker room leaders played crucial roles in the franchise’s first ever comeback from 3-1 down against the hated Penguins, who they had never beaten in a series.

The point is I don’t get the rush to have the deadline before the end of February. Of course, it’s very exciting and gets everyone talking, which is positive for the NHL. They want good PR. It’s a heck of a lot better than listening to NBC’s Pierre McGuire describe every fine detail of “Kris-to-fer Le-tang.” Nobody cares what high school he went to. FYI I am glad that puck didn’t hit McGuire because it could’ve seriously injured him. In this day of social media, there are way too many bad seeds who say the wrong thing after such incidents. Especially given how most fans feel about McGuire. Regardless of that, he’s still a knowledgeable hockey reporter, whose passion comes out between the benches. Look how many broadcasts copied NBC. You can get a lot of juicy information on what’s going on.

So, what does all this have to do with the original topic? Only that the trade drama is a lot of fun, anxiety and entertainment for everyone. Whether your team is buying or selling, you want them to be involved. It’s eerily similar to July 1. A date most hockey fans have circled on their calendars. Truth be told, we live for this stuff. The big trade, signing or extension gets our juices flowing. I’m ready. Are you?

The latest rumor involves Hayes going to Nashville for a package featuring 19-year old Finnish prospect Eeli Tolvanen. The only question I have is, is the source right?

If they are, full credit obviously. Everyone wants to be first in this business. However, let’s say it’s true. Why have the Predators done an about face on Tolvanen? Only a year ago, he was one of the hottest prospects in the game who was deemed untouchable.

What happened? As it turns out, the former Predators 2017 first round pick taken number 30 overall, hasn’t had a strong first year in North America. In 38 games for AHL affiliate Milwaukee, Tolvanen has scored just nine goals while adding 10 assists for a total of 19 points with a minus-10 rating. Hardly what was expected.

Not only has he been a disappointment. He wasn’t that noticeable during Finland’s gold medal victory at the 2019 Under-20 World Junior Championship. He didn’t score a goal and had four helpers in seven games. The four points tied for seventh on the team. He didn’t stand out like top European 2019 NHL Draft prospect Kaapo Kakko. Aleksi Heponiemi, Aarne Talvitie, Jesse Ylonen, Henri Jokiharju and Rasmus Kupari were more impressive.

It was a surprising tournament for Tolvanen. It could just be an off year for a kid who doesn’t turn 20 until the Spring. That happens. Rangers’ seventh overall pick Lias Andersson has been inconsistent in his first full professional year in North America. In 36 games with Hartford, he went 6-14-20 with an alarming minus-24 rating. However, part of that is the Wolf Pack are a bad team. His ’19-20 has been handled questionably from an organization that doesn’t have the best track record with first round picks.

But Andersson is back up with the Rangers and played a good first game in Thursday’s 4-1 home defeat to Minnesota. If you combine the seven NHL games he got into last season and the 22 this year, he has a combined six points (2-4-6) over 29 games. He isn’t a top nine forward yet. Interestingly, Filip Chytil is on the fourth line for the time being. Despite showing glimpses of talent with a few highlight reel goals, the 19-year old rookie who the team grabbed with at number 21 in the same draft as Andersson, he’s still learning.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Developing young players takes time and patience. Look at how first-year coach David Quinn has handled Pavel Buchnevich and Tony DeAngelo. Both had NHL experience and have responded well to the discipline Quinn Bin. DeAngelo enters today’s afternoon match with the Devils on a five-game point streak (six assists). Buchnevich has played his way back into the top six on a second line with the much rumored Hayes and Jimmy Vesey. He scored the lone goal the other day on the power play. Six of his 12 goals have come via the man-advantage. An area he excels at. It’s continuing to evolve at five-on-five where Quinn believes there can be improvement. I concur.

In a rebuild like the one the Blueshirts are fully committed to, they can’t afford a misstep. Current GM Jeff Gorton has to be right on both trades he makes involving Hayes and Zuccarello. The same for Chris Kreider if he’s really considering moving the very valuable power forward. Highly risky unless they hit it out of the park. That’s precisely what Gorton must do. The future depends on it.

Battle of New York’s Derek Felix can be followed on Twitter or at New York Puck on Facebook.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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2 Responses to Gorton must hit it out of the park with Hayes and Zuccarello

  1. hasan4978 says:

    March 21? Damn I didn’t realize it was that late back in the mid ’90’s. I do agree having it too early lessens deadline acivity cause there aren’t as many sellers as there would be later, on the other hand if you have it too late deals come too late to really impact teams much before the playoffs. I don’t know what a good solution would be, go up a couple weeks and have it the second week of March I suppose?


    • Derek Felix says:

      I just cried a little after seeing the video they put out for Zucc. Oh man. Hockey is like every other sport. A business. It’s truly a sad day for NYR fans. I just finally finished my piece on the trade. That was hard to write. The recap will be much easier.


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