Mika Zibanejad, whose consecutive left-circle faceoff victories against Brandon Dubinsky led directly to the Rangers’ second and third, third-period power-play goals that fueled the club’s impressive 5-3 victory over the Jackets at the Garden on Monday, seems to be filling the role as No. 1 center rather seamlessly.
That opening, of course, was created by the trade of Derek Stepan to the Coyotes in which the Blueshirts received the seventh-overall pick in the draft plus young defenseman Tony DeAngelo in exchange for the core centerman and goaltender Antti Raanta.
The package somehow seemed light. But now, four-plus months after the deal and one day after 1A/1B centers Matt Duchene and Kyle Turris were traded as part of the three-way mega-deal involving Colorado, Ottawa and Nashville, we have a gauge by which to measure general manager Jeff Gorton’s return for his 1A/1B.
And the verdict is that as long as Lias Andersson turns out to be a credible selection at seventh-overall, the Rangers did quite all right for themselves.
Ottawa overpaid to a degree for Duchene, the 2009 third-overall selection who’d worn out the welcome mat in Colorado and for whom the Senators had lusted for two years, in moving out Turris; a top-10 protected first-rounder in 2018; a second-rounder in 2019; B.U. freshman center Shane Bowers, who was the 28th-overall pick last year; and back-up/minor-league goaltender Andrew Hammond.
That represents more of a haul than Gorton obtained from Arizona, but Duchene is more highly regarded, more dynamic, and a much better finisher and skater than Stepan. And remember this: As a pending free agent, Turris was six months away from leaving Ottawa for nothing. So attach an asterisk to the package going out of Ottawa.
But if Stepan and Duchene are a Big Apple to an orange, Stepan and Turris are a puck to a puck. Turris was a bear for the Rangers to handle in last year’s second-round six-game Ottawa victory, but his career numbers of 136 goals, 184 assists, and 320 points in 544 games for .59 points per game do not measure up to the former Rangers’ alternate captain’s 128, 232, and 360 in 516 games for .7 points per.
To acquire Turris, who was immediately signed to a six-year extension worth $6 million per season, the Predators traded young defenseman Samuel Girard; 21-year-old forward Vladislav Kamenev, the 42nd overall selection in the 2014 draft who is in his third AHL season; and a 2018 second rounder.
So Girard, Kamenev and a second for Turris as opposed to the seventh-overall and DeAngelo for Stepan and Raanta.
Interest in Duchene was widespread, if narrowed somewhat due to the frustration of trying to deal with Colorado GM Joe Sakic. Interest in Turris was more limited because of his pending free-agent status that was eliminated when the center agreed to a six-year extension worth $6 million per.
But there was more of a market for Turris than developed for Stepan once Gorton signaled his availability in early June. Indeed, there was a lone buyer in the market and it was located in the desert. Maybe it was because Stepan is not the fleetest afoot in a speedy league. Maybe it was because Stepan’s no-trade clause was due to kick in on July 1 and Gorton did not have time to ride it out through the summer.
Maybe the contract featuring a $6.5 million cap hit through 2020-21 was a turnoff. Perhaps Stepan’s subpar playoff performance diminished his value and turned cost-certainty over the next four years into a perceived penalty rather than a bonus.
Whatever the case, as sands ran through the hourglass approaching the June 23 draft in Chicago, the Coyotes were the only active bidders for Stepan. Thus, Gorton made the deal, acquiring the seventh-overall selection later used on Andersson, plus DeAngelo in exchange for Stepan and Raanta.
If you believe that the Blueshirts — who rallied from down 2-0 early in the second and then from down 3-2 midway in the third to get to 7-7-2 off of their fourth straight victory — made the deal in order to clear the cap space necessary to sign free-agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, then No. 22 tilts the equation.
Shattenkirk, who is still becoming comfortable with Brady Skjei as his partner at even-strength, is keying a power play that is humming as a dangerous weapon, 7-for-19 over the last five games, and is in the league’s top 10 overall. Sixteen games in, the New Rochelle Kid is as advertised when he signed that four-year free-agent deal worth $6.65 million per.
And the package in return for Stepan looks better by the day, and on a night when Zibanejad makes it sing.
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