I know, he did not trade Wade Redden, but nothing short of a miracle deal could have bested the moves made by Glen Sather at the March 4 trade deadline. He improved the team tremendously for this season, and was able to open up space to re-sign key players during the coming offseason. The most impressive feat was that Sather accurately evaluated the skills of each player involved in the deals, understood how valuable they would be to the Rangers, and accurately addressed the needs of the team. Let me explain.
Petr Prucha, beloved by Rangers fans, has not been productive since the 2006-07 season. Say what you will about the coaching decisions and lay the blame where you wish but there is no doubt that even with adequate ice time, he is no longer the player he was coming out of the lockout. Even under John Tortorella he would have gotten precious little ice time because the new Rangers coach does not roll four lines. As a third line player, Prucha would have been hurt by the new system and would still not have produced very much. Additionally, Prucha is a small player and gets knocked around a lot. Though Petr can hit the corners when he gets open in the slot, the Rangers need more players who can crash the net and put pucks in the net from just outside the crease.
Nigel Dawes is a similar player to Prucha, minus the grit. He could be described as soft and streaky, and though he showed flashes of brilliance with the Rangers, he is no more than a career third line player. He would have been hurt by the new ice time system under Tortorella and his paltry production over the course of the season may have caused him to end up in the press box before long. Again, he is a fairly talented player but not what the Rangers need now nor in the future.
Dmitri Kalinin is the defenseman the Rangers let go, though he provides less defense than a rotting plywood fence. His $2.1 million salary only added injury to the embarrassment. He was clearly a throw away and good riddance. The Rangers could have gotten anybody for him and it would have been an improvement. Am I being a bit harsh?
Replacing these three players is Nik Antropov, Sean Avery and Derek Morris. Though Antropov was acquired through a different trade with Toronto in return for draft picks, and Avery was claimed off waivers, they still count as a change in personnel and are evalutated as incoming players at the trade deadline.
Nik Antropov is a scorer. Ask any fan of the game what the Rangers most lacked and they will tell you they desperately needed someone who could put the biscut in the basket. The answer is a guy who has over 60 goals over the last three seasons and is on pace for a career year. This is not to mention that he adds a 6'6", 230 lb frame to a team that lacks size. He can play in the corners and around the net, something that Prucha and Dawes were not capable of doing. The Rangers never seem to find the rebound in front but Antropov can change that. He can also help to screen the goaltender on power plays, and when a team is 27th in PP efficiency they will take all the help they can get. As Dave Maloney elucidated during last night's Rangers Radio Broadcast, the Rangers are a team that scores by committee and they have just added another member.
Sean Avery is the blender that stirs the shake. And though this Rangers team is vanilla, he can turn it into a solid smoothie...I didn't just say that. Epic failure on the analogy. It is undeniable that the Rangers don't have much character. You don't see a lot of fire on the ice (no pun intended) when the Broadway Blueshirts are playing. But even a rehabbed Avery adds intensity to the locker room and the bench when he is around. His presence is enough to get a team going, and when he starts using his talented oral orifice things can come to a boil. He will score a few goals here and there but essentially his role is motivation, and like when he arrived two years ago, this team needs his services immediately.
Finally, the man who came over for such youth is Derek Morris. Honestly, I know very little about him but from what I have heard he is a solid defenseman who can make a good first pass. He is a good addition to the back end and solidifies what has become a slightly shaky defense. Now that the Rangers are shifting to a more offensive gameplan, his skills will be put to work when the aggression results in more chances for the opposition.
The Rangers have gotten rid of players who produced very little and had slim hope to succeed in the new system. Replacing them are bigger, more talented, gritty players who address the need of an offensively and physically challenged team. Additionally, Avery is the only player of the six involved who is signed through next year. Seeing that Dawes was the only player the Rangers were planning on re-signing, it was a very minimal loss. Antropov is essentially an experiment and depending on his production and offseason demands, the Rangers may want to lock him up. If not, that leaves over more money to re-sign key players like Zherdev and Mara. Morris is not going to return next year but his absence will give the Rangers $4 million of cap room and make room for prospects like Michael del Zotto and Bobby Sanguinetti to join the NHL roster.
So in the short term the Rangers have found players who can fix the team;s offensive ineptitude. Long term, the Rangers have increased their options by adding an experimental forward and moving slightly successful draftees to make way for possible great ones. All of this comes at the start of a new era, and that is what the Rangers need more than anything. It is off to a great start, with the Rangers winning two in a row for the first time since January, scoring ten goals and three power play markers in that span. And for the first time since October, Rangers fans can dare to dream of a playoff run.