One thing you can take away from Chris Drury’s first crucial weekend as Rangers GM is that he’s a man of his word. The new president and general manager went into this offseason with a focus on improving the Rangers bottom six and making them tougher to play against. Only problem with that so far is the fact he subtracted a huge part of his top line to help accomplish that mission. In fact, after the draft weekend it would seem as Chris Drury’s plan for the Rangers has taken a sideways approach.
To start a weekend where many Rangers fans thought and hoped would end with the news of Jack Eichel becoming a New York Ranger, Drury’s biggest move came in the fashion of shipping off Pavel Buchnevich to St. Louis for a 2022 2nd round pick and 4th liner Sammy Blais. While Blais will certainly help the Rangers become tougher and gritter in their lineup it’s a tough blow to the Rangers top line.
While the Blueshirts have a plethora of promising young wingers including Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov they won’t be able to replace what Buchnevich gave the club on a nightly basis. It has been largely argued that you do not go out and buy bottom 6 players. While that argument can seem foolish in regards to what Barclay Goodrow can bring the team, the move here with Buchnevich for nothing more than a salary dump is practically inexcusable.
Adding Sammy Blais to the bottom six of this group with Goodrow will add an element to this club that they haven’t had in a long time and it’s clear that they’re trying to copy the blueprint from the back to back Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Problem with bringing Blais in is the fact that Drury subtracted a top line playmaker for a guy that fits more of the dime a dozen role. I like the style of game that Blais plays but hate the cost that the Rangers forced themselves to incur in order to make it happen.
Making yourself tough to play against is all well and fine but you have to hope that Kravtsov and Kakko will continue to take their games to the next level in their development in order to make this Buchnevich trade sting a little bit less. In fact, you really need both players to take significant steps next season with more of a spotlight on Kakko. It’s not often you see a top line guy for a 4th liner and a pick, especially when you look around at some of the trades made this weekend and you have to wonder what the hell was Drury thinking?
Kakko took strides in his second season, including upping his play in his own end, and should continue to take strides and develop under Gerard Gallant’s tutelage. Buchnevich was a key contributor for the Blueshirts at even strength, powerplay, and even on the penalty kill. Kravtsov, who played well in his short NHL tenure, was stapled to the bottom six for much of his time in the NHL last season and the trade of Buchnevich will certainly open ice time for the young winger to impress but will he contribute to the level that Buchnevich did immediately? That’s yet to be seen.
The hardest part for many to digest for the trade was that many fans, myself included, thought moving on from Buchnevich would result in a much bigger move by either Friday or Saturday night. The Jack Eichel trade didn’t come to fruition over the weekend and if you believe the reports from all the big insiders there might not be a Rangers-Sabres trade on Eichel which leads you to wonder what’s next?
Are the Rangers really content to enter the season with Zibanejad and Strome as their 1-2 center punch again? Do they still believe that Filip Chytil can take the next step in his development under his 3rd head coach in his young career? If so it would explain why Drury has taken such a hard line stance with the Sabres over Eichel and why we haven’t and possibly might not see a deal.
By not trading for Eichel and absorbing his 10M dollar cap hit it would allow the club to keep their crucial key pieces in place for the next decade plus by locking up the likes of Zibanejad and Fox. When you look at the deals that were already made this weekend with Cale Makar and Seth Jones you can already imagine that Adam Fox is salivating at the thought of his extension.
In the end, while the plan for the Rangers is obvious to bolster the bottom 6, you simply cannot do that at a cost to your top 6. Even if Eichel was not in the cards which is now looking more and more possible, then the focus should be on bolstering the 2nd or 3 line center position and beefing up the wings as they started with Goodrow. Now with eliminating Buchnevich from the equation, you have created a hole up front with unproven expectations and the hope that both of the young guns will provide significant output on the offensive front. All while adding only one main impact piece to the bottom 6 wings and another in Blais that you can argue is not a massive improvement over wingers already on the roster.
While it’s far too early to call Chris Drury a bust as Rangers GM, the beginning of his GM tenure is picking up right where his playing career with the Blueshirts ended – uneventful and hard to watch. Thankfully for Drury there’s a whole lot of ballgame left to turn this around and leave his imprint on the club in a positive way.