Rangers and Kravtsov both to blame for avoidable situation

Shortly after I posted my initial reaction to the startling news surrounding the Rangers and former ’18 first round pick Vitali Kravtsov, we learned something new about what feels like an untenable situation.

Of course, the organization went into full spin mode by leaking information to close ally and veteran Hall Of Fame hockey writer Larry Brooks of the New York Post. He broke the original story yesterday that Kravtsov refused to report to Hartford which meant the team decided to suspend him. That’s not all. Brooks got a tip from MSG that the 21-year old right wing who showed some promise in 20 games last season, that he thought he would be traded following an edgy exit interview.

Brooks obviously fed the nugget to Mollie Walker, who posted her story later on Tuesday that Kravtsov wanted to play in the top six last Spring. If true and there’s no reason not to believe it given Kravtsov’s track record, it doesn’t reflect well on the young player. Perhaps he got bad advice. In any event, he fired his agent and hired a new one. I guess it didn’t help. This is a player who hated being sent down to Hartford two years ago. Eventually, the organization reassigned him to his KHL team Traktor Chelyabinsk back home in Russia.

Kravtsov returned and after playing well in the KHL in ’20-21, the Rangers brought him back. He finally was called up and made his NHL debut. In the 20 games, while the two goals and two assists aren’t mind-blowing, the kid showed good instincts and the elite skating I recall him displaying at the Under 20 World Junior Championships. He was a good player for Russia. They even tried him at center with some success. My impression from watching him finally play for the Blueshirts was that he belonged. Despite former coach David Quinn using him on the fourth line at times, Kravtsov stood out due to his work habits and awareness. There were times Quinn moved him up for shifts.

The notion that he ‘floats’ during shifts sounds ridiculous. It reeks if something Glen Sather would make up to smear a young player on the outs with the team that drafted him under ex-GM Jeff Gorton. There’s also been banter about his off-season commitment. That also seems a bit much for a player they were happy to take ninth three years ago over Oliver Wahlstrom. Strange stuff. Is it due to how MSG operates under CEO James Dolan? Yes. They even did it to former captain Ryan Callahan before he was traded for Martin St. Louis. A very popular Ranger who was well respected by teammates and fans. Predictably, some fans turned in him because God forbid he wanted security with the NMC they hand out like candy. It was a typical Dolan operation after they sold many Captain Cally merchandise to those same fans. At least it worked out for both sides.

The same thing happened to former first round pick Lias Andersson, who thought he did enough to make the team a couple of years ago. Then, he got sent down and had a mental breakdown that resulted in Andersson going back home to Sweden. Of course, he was eventually traded to the Kings for a second round pick that turned into promising American Will Cuylle. At the very least, they look to have chosen well after mishandling another former first round pick who went number seven in ’17.

Asset management isn’t a strong suit for the Rangers. They seem to wind up in these uncomfortable situations all the time. Unless it’s a hyped prospect they are head over heels with to borrow a Tears For Fears hit song (they’re back!), this organization doesn’t handle every young player well. We saw what happened with Tony DeAngelo, who was railroaded due to a fracas with Alex Georgiev following a disappointing overtime loss to the Pens. I don’t feel like rehashing the whole thing because it had nothing to do with hockey. Now, we’re left wondering what the heck they’ll get back for a devalued player who they decided to out through Brooks and the damn Post. It makes me sick.

Good job. They not only screwed up with Kravtsov. But if they really knew he was so entitled about being guaranteed a good spot on the roster, then why didn’t Team President and GM Chris Drury shop him last summer? We didn’t hear a peep. At least Kravtsov had more value before this chaos. Now, who knows. He’s better than Andersson. If he matures and realizes nothing is handed to him, he can become a good player. The tools are there.

I hope he doesn’t turn into another Petr Nedved. Nedved did go into a solid NHL career, but it could’ve been so much better. He forced his way out of Vancouver following a contract holdout and was dealt to St.Louis. Nedved would eventually have two stints as a Ranger where he had some success. However, he never quite amounted to what they thought. His best season coming with the Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr Pens when he went off for 45 goals and 99 points (career bests) in ’95-96. Following another productive year, they were happy to trade him to the Rangers for Alexei Kovalev. We know how that turned out. Revisionist history sure makes you think about some of the asinine decisions this team has made. Sergei Zubov and Nedved to Pittsburgh for Ulf Samuelsson and Luc Robitaille. Zubov, who went onto win another Cup with Dallas after the Pens gaffed by trading him for Kevin Hatcher. Yikes.

I can go on about the awfulness of the mid-90’s Rangers that lead directly to the franchise’s demise. It wasn’t only due to Neil Smith. But Colin Campbell, who I still hate. Unfortunately, Mark Messier falls into that category too. He’ll always be a hero for ’94. Without his leadership, the Rangers never win that Cup. Mike Keenan was a lunatic. However, Messier definitely had his imprints on some of the trades that didn’t pan out. At least he got to reteam with Wayne Gretzky for two years with a surprising run to the Conference Finals. Then, he left in bitter fashion for the Canucks in a move that was all about ego. That’s part of Messier.

Will Kravtsov actually rethink his decision and report to Hartford, or will he and his new agent find a team that wants him for a fair return? By that, the Rangers better not give him away. It’s still baffling that it reached this point. Kravtsov hasn’t responded to the news yet. It’s like he’s been cast out. What of the ridiculous decision to keep Libor Hajek for no good reason and hang onto Dryden Hunt over Kravtsov, who sure fills a void on the right side of Filip Chytil? Mystifying. This whole thing stinks like horse manure, or the garbage Manhattan has morphed into under the shortsighted leadership. Same difference. It is what it is.

I wish cooler heads had prevailed. Instead, they’re about to lose a talented player with potential. Whatever happens happens. I won’t change my view on this. I think Kravtsov obviously could’ve handled it better. But I understand his frustration. When you’re told one thing and then they rip out the rug from under you, it isn’t reassuring. It makes you wonder what the heck they’re doing.

They didn’t do that to the Golden Boy. Nils Lundkvist has been here 10 minutes and basically was handed a spot over Zac Jones, who I believe will be a better defenseman. I guess if you’re part of a lousy trade and come over, you don’t have to play a single game for the Wolf Pack. At least Jones has the right approach. He’s going to go down there and work hard. Maybe Kravtsov needs an attitude adjustment. The bottom line is both sides are at fault for this situation. One that could’ve and should’ve been avoided.

Common sense isn’t so common. Someone might want to relay that message to the circus at Penn Plaza. Send in the clowns.

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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