Chris Drury’s first offseason as Rangers GM in 2021 had hits, misses

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Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

When Barclay Goodrow was claimed off waivers by the San Jose Sharks earlier this week, there was plenty of significance to the New York Rangers.

Not only did it free up $3.6 million in salary cap space the next three seasons for the Rangers, but Goodrow was the last remaining piece from Chris Drury’s first offseason as general manager of the Blueshirts.

After several seasons in the organization as the assistant general manager, Drury was appointed as the president and general manager of the Rangers on May 5, 2021, replacing John Davidson and Jeff Gorton, who were let go by the organization.

Drury took over with two games left in a disappointing 2020-21 season, when the Rangers failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a 56-game shortened regular season, finishing fifth in the Metropolitan Division with a 27-23-6 record.

Four days after the season ended, he fired coach David Quinn and soon after replaced him with Gerard Gallant. Overseeing his first NHL Draft in 2021, Drury and the Rangers selected forward Brennan Othmann No. 16 overall in the first round. Though the rest of that draft class has yet to impress, Othmann could have a regular role with the Rangers in 2024-25.

Sparked by an incident against the Washington Capitals on May 3 when Tom Wilson cross-checked Pavel Buchnevich and rag-dolled Artemi Panarin, Drury entered the offseason motivated to make the team bigger and tougher.

Drury’s major offseason moves included signing defenseman Patrik Nemeth, trading for forward Ryan Reaves, and acquiring Barclay Goodrow’s RFA rights in order to sign him to a six-year, $3.6 million contract before he hit free agency.

Related: Future uncertain for these two Rangers defensemen

Breaking down Chris Drury’s first offseason as Rangers GM in 2021

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most memorable move, unfortunately for Drury, was trading Buchnevich, who was due for a new RFA deal, to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forward Sammy Blais and a second-round pick that Drury later used to acquire forward Andrew Copp.

Drury engaged in heavy trade talks with the Buffalo Sabres to acquire Jack Eichel, but was unwilling to give up Alexis Lafreniere or Kaapo Kakko. The Rangers stood pat and Eichel was shipped to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Goodrow was ultimately the most valuable piece from Drury’s first offseason, but now that he’s been claimed, no players acquired in the 2021 offseason remain on the roster.

Nemeth’s three-year, $7.5 million contract was an absolute failure. He lasted just one season in New York and posted a minus-nine rating. Drury had to attach a pair of second-round picks the following offseason in order to trade him to the Arizona Coyotes and get his contract off the books.

The Buchnevich trade is now looked upon as a total disaster, though it was believed to be somewhat necessary at the time because of New U=York’s salary cap situation. Blais played just 54 games with the Blueshirts due to injury and recorded nine points, never scoring a goal. He was ultimately shipped back to St. Louis midway through the 2022-23 season as part of a package for forward Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Niko Mikkola. That worked out much better for New York.

Similarly, the second-rounder in that deal was flipped in a package for Copp midway through the 2021-22 season. Copp was excellent in the postseason and a big part of the Rangers reaching the Eastern Conference Final, though they fell short against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Copp, Tarasenko, and Mikkola all left in free agency after half-seasons in New York, leaving the Rangers with no remaining ties to Buchnevich, who has tallied between 63 and 76 points in his three seasons with the Blues. Not to mention that the Rangers have yet to adequately replace him as the right wing on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

Reaves’ toughness, personality, and skillset as a fighter was a welcome addition to a Rangers team that needed more of that going into Drury’s first season. Reaves was a beloved teammate, but his lack of skill and defensive ability, while making $1.75 million annually, became a detriment and he was shipped to the Minnesota Wild early into the 2022-23 season.

Even his coaching hire, Gallant, was fired after just two seasons. Gallant did lead the Rangers to back-to-back 100-point seasons and an Eastern Conference Final appearance, but he fell out of favor with management and the clubhouse and left New York on sour terms.

That left Goodrow as the final piece standing. Overpaid for his fourth-line and penalty-killing role, Goodrow had 33 and 31 points in his first two seasons in New York, the two highest marks of his career, and was reliable in the postseason.

While his experience and skillset were definitely valuable, it looks as if Drury paid too steep of a price for a bottom-six player. The decision to place Goodrow on waivers and clear his cap hit certainly supports that.

It’s safe to say Drury didn’t knock it out of the park when he first took over. But for what it’s worth, he showed his value ahead of the 2022 trade deadline, making substantial additions by acquiring Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte, and Justin Braun. Despite a couple swings and misses early, the Rangers made the conference final in Drury’s first season.

In the midst of his fourth offseason, the pressure is on with the Blueshirts failing to reach the Stanley Cup Final once again. Drury’s become a well respected GM in the League, but his tenure in New York could be defined by the way he attacks the next few seasons.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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