NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — One day Keith Yandle was at a kid’s birthday party in Arizona, and way out of the Stanley Cup playoff chase.
The next, he stared down the bright lights of Broadway and stepped into the thick of the fight. The All-Star defenseman couldn’t be happier.
Yandle was acquired by the New York Rangers from the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday in a deal that should improve his new team’s power play, which was in need of a puck-moving defenseman.
“It feels great,” the 28-year-old Yandle said Monday. “The past couple of days have been crazy, but it’s special to be here.”
Yandle met the New York media for the first time, decked out in his Rangers No. 93 jersey and a pair of shorts just hours before he made his debut against the NHL-leading Nashville Predators.
After the 4-1 win, Yandle said the crowd at Madison Square Garden made him feel right at home.
“It was awesome,” Yandle said. “I had a little bit of butterflies and I was nervous a little bit just being on a new team, but the crowd did a great job of welcoming me.”
He was at a 4-year-old’s birthday party on Sunday when he got the call that he was leaving the Coyotes — who have the third-fewest points in the NHL — and coming to the Rangers, who ended Monday three points behind Eastern Conference-leading Montreal.
“My agent told me my name was in the works,” said Yandle, who spent his first eight-plus NHL seasons with Arizona. “I didn’t know where it was going to be. When I found out it was here, I was ecstatic.
“It was a tough situation in Arizona where we were having trouble winning games. It’s a new day, and for me it’s exciting.”
To get Yandle, whom team president and general manager Glen Sather said he pursued for years, the Rangers paid a hefty price. New York sent defenseman John Moore, top prospect Anthony Duclair, a conditional first-round draft pick in 2016 and a second-rounder this year to the Coyotes. The Rangers also received defenseman Chris Summers and a 2016 fourth-round pick.
Arizona retained money in the swap, allowing the Rangers to squeeze Yandle under their salary cap.
New York won’t have a first-round pick for quite some time, having sent two to Tampa Bay a year ago to acquire forward Martin St. Louis.
“It’s the market,” Sather said of the cost of draft picks. “I always think they’re valuable, but I think you have to give to get. In this case, I have been shopping for this guy for quite a while. I know he is the kind of player that I like.
“He plays the style that our team plays, he’s young, and the financial arrangement we have with Arizona makes it a perfect fit.”
Just before the opening faceoff Monday night, the Rangers announced they had agreed to terms with popular forward Mats Zuccarello on a four-year, $18 million contract extension. He could’ve become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and would’ve been a prime candidate to be traded before Monday afternoon’s deadline if a new deal wasn’t reached.
Yandle and Zuccarello were both in the starting lineup at MSG. Yandle’s introduction was greeted with exuberant applause. Zuccarello’s was met with the traditional “Zuuuucccc” chant.
“This is where I want to be, and I want to be a part of this team,” Zuccarello said after the game. “I want to try to win with this team. This is home.”
Zuccarello began the night with 12 goals and 35 points this season, and then assisted on Marc Staal’s first-period goal and set up Chris Kreider’s tally in the second. In 204 NHL games, all with the Rangers, Zuccarello has 42 goals and 130 points.
“I put on the market that we were going to trade him. Whether or not that would’ve ever happened is another story,” Sather said. “I like everything about him: his tenacity, his hard work, his seeing the ice, the way he plays, the chemistry he brings to our team, and the way he is in our dressing room. He has been a terrific player for us.”
New York also acquired 26-year-old forward James Sheppard from the San Jose Sharks on Sunday for a fourth-round draft pick in 2016.
Sheppard, who had five goals and 11 assists in 57 games with San Jose this season, participated in pregame warmups on Monday, but was held out of the lineup because he had a hectic travel day.
The Rangers like his ability to play all three forward positions, including center, where New York needed help.
“These moves have been made with a lot of thinking,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We thought we needed to upgrade ourselves a little bit on the back end as far as our puck movement, which we have done with Keith.
“We needed a little more depth at the center position, which is what we have done with Shep.”
Now the Rangers hope it will lead to a return to the Stanley Cup finals, and the championship that eluded them a year ago.
“We’ve been going for it since last year. Absolutely,” Sather said. “If we stay healthy, if we have enough depth, if everyone performs, we get the good goaltending that we think we’re going to have, you can go all the way. But a lot of things have to happen.”
If Monday’s win was any indication, the Rangers should feel confident heading into the playoffs.
“It was a good test for us to see where we are against the No. 1 team in the NHL,” Vigneault said.
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