In what amounted to a salary dump, the Rangers dealt Vitaly Kravtsov to the Canucks in exchange for William Lockwood and a 2026 seventh round pick.
Once thought by the organization as a key piece to the rebuild when he was selected ninth overall in the 2018 NHL Draft under former GM Jeff Gorton, it didn’t work out for Kravtsov.
After showing promise initially by scoring two goals and adding two assists over 20 games under David Quinn, the Rangers prospect made the mistake of going back home to Russia to play in the KHL. Displeased over not making the NHL roster in 2021-22, which led to him being sent down to Hartford, Kravtsov got bad advice from his agent.
He decided not to play for the Wolf Pack in the AHL. Instead, he returned home to play for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL. After struggling initially, Kravtsov finished with six goals and seven assists in 19 games last season. A good showing in the Gagarin Cup Playoffs helped him.
Despite putting in a trade request, he and the current Team President and GM Chris Drury were able to work out their differences. Kravtsov returned to the Rangers for his second opportunity on Broadway. He found it hard to crack the lineup and play consistently under coach Gerard Gallant.
Early injuries didn’t help. However, once he got healthy, Kravtsov was moved around by Gallant. Without any line consistency that also affected Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko during the first half, his ice time fluctuated. There was a good stretch in January where he was playing better hockey. But Gallant didn’t have enough patience to stick with him.
In a lineup where the demanding coach preferred the more experienced two-way capabilities of Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow, Kravtsov became the odd man out. Once they acquired Vladimir Tarasenko, he was only given one game to play by Gallant. Despite the Rangers winning over Seattle on Feb. 10 with Vincent Trocheck and Chris Kreider producing, the coach singled out Kravtsov. He never played another game.
Instead, waiver wire pickup Jake Leschyshyn played over him. The reasoning was that Kravtsov was not a fourth line player. While that’s true, was there any harm in trying him with Goodrow and Tyler Motte? At least they could’ve showcased him.
Instead, a player who had three goals and three assists in 28 games had his value plummet. So devalued was Kravtsov that there was hardly any interest. He is a restricted free agent after the season. Perhaps the threat of returning to the KHL scared potential suitors off.
It doesn’t fully explain the lack of asset management by the Rangers. They basically got nothing in return for a former first round pick who has the skating and capability to become a top nine forward. Gallant’s words.
Despite how he was handled, Kravtsov showed up early for team practices and morning skates. He continued to prepare as if he were playing. Something beat reporters Mollie Walker and Vince Mercogliano noted along with Colin Stephenson. If he had such a bad attitude, that wouldn’t be the case.
At some point, Kravtsov realized he was never going to get a realistic chance here. Once Gallant settled on a top nine that included Vesey playing with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, it was obvious that the writing was on the wall. With Artemi Panarin playing alongside Tarasenko and Trocheck, that left Lafreniere with Kakko and Filip Chytil on the cohesive third line that played a key role during last year’s playoffs.
The last two games, the Rangers went with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen due to “roster management.” The translation for trade coming. With all the rumors surrounding Patrick Kane, who apparently only would waive his full no-movement clause for the Rangers, it was very apparent that Drury had to create room to acquire Kane. He didn’t practice Friday and wasn’t with the Blackhawks today. They’re scheduled to play the Sharks, who will again scratch the much rumored Timo Meier.
By having the Canucks absorb the $875,000 salary Kravtsov makes that freed up enough cap space to make the much anticipated move that’s been over-discussed forever. If Kane has agreed to waive his NMC, he could be a Ranger by later tonight.
It’s only a question of who goes back to the Blackhawks. They don’t have any leverage, which means the return for the future Hall Of Famer won’t be that good. Assuming it happens this weekend, who knows what the package will consist of.
If you’re a Blackhawks fan, you should be disappointed. It’s not going to be fair value for a great player who was instrumental in helping the franchise win three Stanley Cups. One of the greatest players in Blackhawks history, Kane has totaled 446 goals with 779 assists for 1,225 points. His last game was on Feb. 22. He left an imprint on Dallas by scoring twice and setting up a goal in a Hawks’ 4-3 comeback win over the Stars. His last four games, Kane went 7-3-10.
The Rangers weren’t even expecting to be in this position. They thought once they acquired Vladimir Tarasenko along with defenseman Niko Mikkola, whose importance has become crucial due to the injury Ryan Lindgren suffered in an ugly blowout 6-3 loss to the Capitals earlier this afternoon, they were not going to be in on Kane.
However, things have drastically changed over the past week. With Kane proving healthy and many sources hinting that he only would accept a trade to NYC, that had to alter the Rangers’ plans. If you can get a player of Kane’s caliber on the cheap, it’s understandable why Drury would change his mind.
This is a player who had instant chemistry with Artemi Panarin, who spent his first two years in Chicago before they couldn’t afford him. The unique combination of Kane and Panarin is irresistible. Especially based on the thought process.
While the current roster is having issues keeping pucks out of their net due to a defensive collapse that’s led to the longest winless streak (0-3-1) of the season, they’re hoping a trade for Kane would re-energize the club. They imploded once T.J. Oshie delivered a tough hit on Ryan Lindgren that ended his day. Lindgren, who was seen wearing a sling on his left arm, is the glue of the blue line. If it is what I fear, he could be out for significant time. Eight weeks possibly.
If the worst-case scenario happens, it could alter what Drury does between now and March 3. He can add Kane, which still could require a third team to absorb some salary. Similar to what the Wild did when they were involved in recent trades with Toronto and Boston. However, losing Lindgren for a critical stretch could change things.
At the moment, the Rangers have six defensemen who’ll play tomorrow when the Kings visit MSG. Adam Fox. Jacob Trouba. K’Andre Miller. Niko Mikkola. Braden Schneider. Ben Harpur. What’s the story with Zac Jones? An AHL All-Star who probably deserves another shot is he part of a proposed trade for Kane? Or will he be recalled tomorrow.
There are many questions that still must be answered. With Kravtsov no longer a Ranger, he’ll finally have a better chance to play. However, if he thinks it’ll be easy under new Canucks bench boss Rick Tocchet, he better think again. Tocchet expects a lot from his forwards. It took Andrei Kuzmenko a few games to adjust. Now, he’s back to scoring goals.
Whether or not Gallant was sincere in what he said about Kravtsov, it came off fake. He never really warmed up to him. However, it’s time to move on. Best of luck to Kravtsov.
Now, we wait to hear about a bigger deal involving an American legend.