Top Shelf: Rangers go all in

Philadelphia, PA ( – The 2014-15 edition of the NHL trade
deadline was short on dramatic moves designed to take a shot at the big prize.

One exception, however, involved the New York Rangers, a team that is left
wanting more after its trip to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring.

On Sunday afternoon, about 24 hours shy of the deadline, Rangers general
manager Glen Sather gave up a boatload to acquire Keith Yandle from the
Arizona Coyotes. In theory, the move gives New York a missing ingredient, a
dynamic offensive defenseman.

In order to land Yandle, who was finally dealt after being dangled as trade
bait by the Coyotes for years, the Rangers surrendered a sizeable chunk of
future assets, but it’s clear Sather is more focused on the next few months
rather than the next several years.

New York sent the Coyotes defenseman John Moore, who played in 21 games for
the Blueshirts during last spring’s playoffs, Anthony Duclair, a blue-chip
forward prospect, as well as two draft picks — a 2016 first-rounder and a
second-round selection at the upcoming draft.

In return, the Rangers received Yandle, defenseman Chris Summers, a 27-year-
old who has played in only 64 NHL games, and a fourth-round pick in 2016.
Obviously for Sather, it was all about acquiring Yandle, a player with enough
offensive upside to make people look past his flaws in the defensive end.

One could argue New York didn’t need to do much at all in order to get back to
the Cup Finals in 2015, but it’s obvious Sather doesn’t want to leave anything
to chance. His team has weathered the recent storm without franchise goaltender
Henrik Lundqvist, who has been sidelined since early February with a vascular
issue in his throat and neck but is due back in time for the postseason. The
club also could have an eye on a Western Conference field that is strong but
maybe not unbeatable as was believed to be the case just a few months back.

Although the defending Eastern Conference champions are tied for first place
in the Metropolitan Division and flying high with a 9-1-1 mark over the last 11
games despite playing without the services of Lundqvist, the GM felt the club
was missing a certain component in order to reach the top of the mountain. If
he’s right, it could make the Rangers the team to beat in the East and possibly
the entire NHL.

The Rangers had a handful of well-rounded blueliners before Yandle entered the
picture, but the newcomer brings a puck-moving prowess that even guys like
Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal sit back and envy. Yandle won’t be
asked to equal those defensemen in terms of minutes and shut-down
responsibilities. Instead, he’ll be tasked with improving the club’s
transition game and finding better ways to get the disc up ice to New York’s
stable of speedy forwards.

There also is the memory of last spring’s struggles with the man advantage.
The Rangers made it to the Cup Finals to face Los Angeles in spite of their
power-play unit, hitting on just 12.6 percent of their opportunities. The
Kings, meanwhile, were at 23.5 percent for the postseason and potted seven
more power-play markers in the playoffs than New York.

Sather initially thought he addressed this problem by signing veteran Dan
Boyle to a two-year, $9 million contract last summer, but the 38-year-old
blueliner has largely been a disappointment. Unlike Boyle, Yandle has never
won a Stanley Cup and only has a fraction of Boyle’s playoff experience, but
the ex-Coyote is a decade younger and hungry to prove he can be part of a

Yandle was part of a victory in his Rangers debut Monday evening – a 4-1
triumph over the NHL-leading Nashville Predators. The new guy logged 19
minutes, 41 seconds of ice time and was active in the offensive zone, putting
three shots on goal. Yandle did add another minus to his season stats, bringing
his total to minus-33, a number that can be thrown out the window now that he’s
left the dysfunctional Coyotes behind.

And it’s OK if Yandle continues to struggle on defense because he wasn’t
brought in to be a shut-down guy. He was called upon to play that role in
Arizona because of serious depth issues, but on Broadway there are plenty of
other options who can limit the opposition’s scoring chances.

Yandle’s job is to make the Rangers even more dangerous on offense. They
already possess a potent scoring attack, ranking second in the league with
3.11 goals per game, but offense has a funny way of drying up come playoff
time. Yandle gives Sather’s head coach Alain Vigneault one more weapon just in
case the scoring slows down when it matters most.

Sather knows he is giving up a great deal for what amounts to a one-
dimensional player, but he did his homework on Yandle and believes he will be
worth the cost.

“It’s a calculated risk whenever you do a deal,” Sather said. “But this was
the kind of player I wanted, the kind of player I was watching for a long

Of course, the only way he’ll be worth it is if the Rangers can claim the Cup
for their own. Barring a contract extension with his new club, Yandle has
through the 2015-16 season to prove Sather’s gamble with the future was the
right kind of risk.