Rebuilding Rangers need to trade off the right pieces

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Rebuild:build (something) again after it has been damaged or destroyed.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, the Rangers are doing exactly what their letter said they were going to do nearly a year ago; rebuild. The pain of watching a team rebuild is what we as Rangers fans are witnessing right now. It is a long, and grueling ordeal that believe it or not, is the right way to get back to greatness.

When a team goes through this process, they sell off aging veterans on expiring contracts, and solid pieces that the team does not see fitting into the plan when the team is good in what is hopefully 2-3 years (i.e. Toronto). As we all know (because it is the only thing Rangerstown has worth talking about), the Rangers have two impending UFA’s in Kevin Hayes (26 going on 27 soon) and Mats Zuccarello (31).

The Hayes situation has been on going since literally day 1 of the season, and as for Zucc, it is something we all saw coming. The question is what is NYR brass going to do with these two players, and what might their returns be. Recently Craig Custance of “The Athletic” wrote a piece about 20 players who can find themselves on the move before the February 25th trade deadline. Three Rangers found themselves on that list; the two mentioned above and Chris Kreider. I am going to dive into what Custance said and my thoughts on the situations.

Zibanejad and Zuccarello (Getty)

Let’s start with the Zucc, who is probably going to be the first one to pack his bags and leave Broadway. Zuccarello came in at 14 on Custance’s list. Custance wrote, “Zuccarello’s numbers are down, with the winger averaging just 0.50 points per game, well below his career average of 0.67. But it was interesting to read his comments to Larry Brooks in the New York Post that his availability on the trade market may have something to do with his on-ice production.

“People can say that I’m making enough money that I shouldn’t let any of this affect me, but I’m sorry, I have been here for nine years and I am human,” Zuccarello told Brooks. “It’s a tough situation but it’s also no excuse for me.” “ Yes this focuses more on the on-ice production, but what I am taking away from this, as I did from the previous interview number 36 had with a Norwegian writer, is that Zucc knows his fate; his days on Broadway are numbered. As for a return, I think Zucc will receive a similar return to that of Michael Grabner last year – a 2nd round pick, and a B level prospect.

Final decision – Zucc is gone by, or even way before the February 25th deadline.
Kevin Hayes(Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Next let’s take a look at the most controversial Ranger, Kevin Hayes (and by controversial I mean his contract situation, not the person). Custance has Hayes 4th on his list. Custance wrote, “He’s big. He’s a center. He’s a rental. He’s everything a contending team like the Bruins or the Jets would love to plug into their lineup for the stretch run. Hayes has 33 points in 39 games and will be one of the biggest targets before the trade deadline.

“He’s a really good player,” said one NHL source. “I think it’s buyer beware when he’s signing his next contract … but as a rental? Awesome. He’s not going to be a first-line center. Let’s say it’s the Bruins, he’ll be their third center. Then he’s really good.” Yes, we all know about Hayes and his great play and the mob mentality occurring for keeping him or letting him go, so I am just going to skip all that. Custance hit this on the head. If Hayes goes to a team such as Winnipeg or Boston, he doesn’t have to be “the guy”.

He would be a middle 6 player there and absolutely flourish against second and/or third pair defensemen. I know some Rangers fans don’t want to hear this, but you have to play devil’s advocate for a minute and understand the risks of signing a soon-to-be 27 year old to a (what I presume to be) a 7 year deal worth $49 million ($7m AAV).

Final decision – Hayes is skating in his farewell tour on Broadway. Yes, he is an excellent player, but this team is REALLY BAD. Signing a 27 year old to a contract like that during this time is just a bad investment. As for the return, my ideal one would be sending him to Winnipeg for Kristian Vesalainen and a first round pick. 
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Last but not least, let’s take a look at Chris Kreider. Just a quick FYI, Kreieder is not an impending UFA on July 1. He has one more year left on his deal from 2019-2020 carrying a friendly AAV of $4.625 million. Kreider will get what I presume to be a very similar, if not exact deal, to Hayes; a 7 year deal worth $49 million ($7m AAV). Custance has Kreider 7th on his list.

Custance wrote, “It would have to take a significant offer to lure Kreider away from the Rangers. He’s already hit 20 goals this season. He’s got another year left on a team-friendly deal that has a cap hit of $4.625 million. But Kreider may be the best example of what one GM was referring to when he pointed to the Rangers as a one-stop shop for buying teams.

If you want a rental forward, they have one. If you need a veteran forward with a good contract, they have one of those too. Need help on defense? They have just about any kind of player you like there. “The New York Rangers – they have every flavor you can imagine,” said the executive.” Kreider will be 29 years old when his new deal kicks in, whether he gets extended before, or hits free agency. Kreider is having a marvelous year, and has become a vocal presence on this rebuilding Rangers club.

There are many out there that believe Kreider is set to be the next captain of the Rangers. He is also extremely valuable to them being that he speaks Russian and the Rangers are a couple of players away from wearing CCCP on the front of their sweaters instead of Rangers.

Final decision – I will be completely honest, I do not know what Gorton does with Kreider.

If I HAD to choose, I think the Rangers do make him the next captain and extend him. Personally, I do not like this option, unless you can get Kreider to sign a 5-year deal instead of a 7-year deal, which he most likely will not do. Just to give you some perspective, the Rangers traded captain Ryan McDonagh last year who was in a near exact situation as Kreider is in right now; 1.5 years left on his current deal, a cap hit of around $4.5 million, and will be 29 when their next contract kicks in.

For me, I would move Kreider tomorrow. There are still players on this team that can be leaders in the forms of Zib, Fast, and even Staal who has two years remaining on his contract. Kreider would bring back a boat load, and save the Rangers A TON of money to spend on some new toys for the (then hopeful) rebuilt team that is a piece or two away…..again i.e. Toronto.