By Sean Hartnett
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Go big or go home. This is the philosophy of the win-now Rangers.
General manager Glen Sather has never been afraid of making tough calls. At this time last year, Sather swapped popular captain Ryan Callahan for playoff dynamo Martin St. Louis. The easy move would have been caving to Callahan’s demand of a no-trade clause and appeasing the many fans who wished for him to remain a Ranger for life.
From a competitive standpoint, Sather’s decision was a no-brainer. St. Louis backed Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman into a corner. His no-movement clause forced Yzerman to deal St. Louis to the only team he wanted to join – the Rangers.
Including last season’s run, St. Louis has recorded 83 points (41 goals, 42 assists) in 88 career playoff games. The Rangers would have not reached the 2014 Stanley Cup Final if not for St. Louis’ inspiration and clutch performances. He finished the playoffs with a team-leading eight goals and his 15 points tied for second-highest among all Rangers.
The night before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, Sather went all-in again, parting with super-prospect Anthony Duclair, 24-year-old defenseman John Moore, a conditional first-round pick in 2016 and a 2015 second-round pick to acquire a highly-skilled, point-producing defenseman in 28-year-old Keith Yandle. The Coyotes will retain 50 percent of Yandle’s remaining annual cap hit of $5.25 million through the 2015-16 season. The Rangers also received minor-league defenseman Chris Summers and a 2016 fourth-round pick.
Like the St. Louis trade, this was a move that the Rangers had to make. Yandle is an excellent skater, a superb puck-mover and a force on the power play. His creativity and rocket one-timer should add more bite to the Rangers’ 11th-ranked, 18.8 percent power play. The 28-year-old is tied for the NHL lead with 26 power-play assists this season. He comes to New York with 41 points (four goals, 37 assists), which only trails Rick Nash, Derick Brasard, St. Louis and Derek Stepan.
Coyotes general manager Don Maloney believes Yandle could complete the Rangers’ puzzle.
“I think Yandle could be the final piece of a Stanley Cup-winning team,” Maloney said in a Sunday conference call. “When you look at that defense there, he comes underneath a couple strong defenders in Marc Staal and (Ryan) McDonagh. Wow, that is dynamic.”
There will be plenty of Rangers fans shocked upon learning that Duclair is heading to Arizona. The supremely skilled and lightning-quick 19-year-old has the tools to one day become an elite player in this league.
“Glen came back to me for a serious offer for Keith, and when he put Duclair’s name in as part of the deal, that got our attention,” Maloney said.
But the Rangers are all about now. The acquisition of Yandle gives the Rangers three defensive pairs as strong as any team in the league and should significantly boost their power play success.
Before the Yandle deal, the Rangers were among the list of genuine Eastern Conference contenders. His arrival might put the Rangers over the top and back into the Stanley Cup Final.
RANGERS ALSO ACQUIRE KLINGBERG, SHEPPARD
The Rangers made two additional moves on Sunday. Veteran winger Lee Stempniak was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets for minor-league forward Carl Klingberg.
Klingberg will be immediately sent to the minors. His $650,000 salary will not count against the cap. Trading away Stempniak freed up $900,000 in cap space and paved the way for the Rangers’ next move.
Sather traded a 2016 fourth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for versatile forward James Sheppard. The 26-year-old forward was drafted ninth overall at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Sheppard has collected 16 points through 57 games this season. His career has been plagued with injuries and offensive inconsistency.
He’s not a particularly smooth skater, but is a solid positional forward with a defensive smarts. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Sheppard has the body to win battles along the walls.
He can play either at center or on the wing and should solidify the Rangers’ bottom six. Sheppard is earning $1.3 million and is a pending unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
Follow Sean on Twitter – @HartnettHockey.