By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers immediately became weaker by dealing away effective winger Carl Hagelin on Saturday. In a cap-saving move, the Rangers traded Hagelin, the 59th overall pick and the 179th overall pick to the Anaheim Ducks for 23-year-old winger Emerson Etem and the 41st overall pick.READ MORE: Gabby Petito Search: Authorities Combing Wyoming Wilderness For Missing Woman, Fiancé's Whereabouts Remain Unknown
It would have taken approximately $3.5 million for the Rangers to re-sign Hagelin, a restricted free agent, to a one-year deal. A long-term pact would have been at a higher annual average rate. The logic from the Rangers’ standpoint is that paying that sort of money to a third-line winger wouldn’t have been the best allocation of cap space, especially with RFAs Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast needing new deals.
Still, it’s going to be difficult for the Rangers to fill Hagelin’s skates. He is undoubtedly one of the league’s premier penalty killers, one of the fastest skaters on the planet and — of huge importance — a possession driver. Hagelin fit in excellently with Alain Vigneault’s uptempo system.
“With his speed, I believe he scares the opposition,” Vigneault said in October 2014. “Two strides – and boom. He’s in the hole. He is on a loose puck, first on the puck. That speed obviously backs off the opposition.”
A strong argument can be made that the Rangers should have brought back the Swede on a one-year contract near $3.5 million, then worried about finding a way to offload salaries of less-than-essential components of their Presidents’ Trophy-winning roster – namely, defenseman Kevin Klein (three years, $2.9 million AAV) and fourth-line winger Tanner Glass (two years, $1.45 million AAV).
For the past two seasons, the Rangers have been all about the win-now. Simply put, trading away a multifaceted performer in Hagelin goes against the grain of the Blueshirts’ ultimate goal of lifting Lord Stanley. If you’re going to overpay a guy, you overpay the guy that’s money in the bank like Hagelin. That’s where signing a dismal possession player in Glass to an inexplicable three-year, $1.45 million AAV contract last summer made zero sense. Perhaps there’s a team that values an agitating grinder like Glass – who, to his credit, performed his role admirably during the playoffs. But there are plenty of dime-a-dozen Glass-types that can either be elevated from the minors or signed on the cheap. Maybe the Rangers are stuck with a really bad contract that eats up valuable cap space for years to come.
Successful teams like the Rangers are in a constant hand-to-hand struggle with the salary cap. The cost of remaining among the league’s elite is that you’re going to lose valuable roster pieces. That’s life in the salary-cap world. There’s never going to be enough space to pay everyone.
Prudent cap management is crucial to whether contending teams like the Rangers will remain contenders for years to come. Last summer, the Rangers lost three important players via free agency in Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, and Benoit Pouliot. Wisely, general manager Glen Sather exercised the team’s final compliance buyout to erase Brad Richards’ burdensome $6.66 million cap hit without incurring any cap penalty.
Allowing Stralman to slip through the Blueshirts’ fingers is a rare blemish on Sather’s record in recent years. The steady, possession-driving Swede proved to be irreplaceable for the Rangers and a shining reason why the Tampa Bay Lightning took the next step as a franchise by representing the Eastern Conference in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.
“He is definitely one of those guys you do not appreciate until you have him on your team,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said during the Eastern Conference Final. “His preparation, his calm, his hockey sense, everything – it’s phenomenal. He is the total package and he can play in every situation.”
Even though the 2014-15 Rangers enjoyed a Presidents’ Trophy season and were 20 minutes away from reaching a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance, there’s a snowball effect that comes with bad cap decisions. The Glass contract is bad, they overpaid declining alternate captain Dan Girardi at a $5.5 million AAV through the 2019-20 season and they passed on the chance to re-sign a younger, more valuable Stralman at a cheaper rate.
The Rangers have now lost two possession-driving Swedes — Hagelin and Stralman — that were vital to the cause in consecutive seasons. It makes you wonder if they can keep up their success now that Hagelin calls the O.C. home.
THE LOWDOWN ON ETEMREAD MORE: Teen Stabbed To Death After Dutchess County High School Football Game, Former Student Charged
Etem has often been described as a project. He has the tools. He’s a fast skater (though not as jet-like as Hagelin) and has good hands, but his skill is raw. Etem has been an inconsistent finisher at the NHL level. He’s also a bigger body than Hagelin at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds.
The Rangers definitely see something enticing about his potential. For three seasons in Anaheim, Etem bounced between the Ducks and minor-league Norfolk. Sound familiar? Organizationally, the Rangers have done a good job of staying patient with the likes of Chris Kreider and Miller. Now they’re befitting from it. Etem’s path to the NHL was often road blocked by Anaheim’s exceptional depth. Perhaps Vigneault can harness his full potential.
Etem is an RFA without arbitration rights. He previously earned an AAV of $870,000 over three seasons with Anaheim.
With Hagelin gone, smart winger and capable penalty killer Fast will be counted on to step into a large role.
RANGERS SWING DEAL TO ACQUIRE RAANTA TO REPLACE TALBOT
After trading exceptional-performing backup Cam Talbot to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, the Rangers struck a trade to acquire his replacement hours after the completion of the 2015 draft.
New York sent 22-year-old forward Ryan Haggerty to the Chicago Blackhawks for goaltender Antti Raanta. The 26-year-old Finnish netminder posted strong numbers in 14 games with the Blackhawks last season, going 7-4-1 with a 1.89 goals against average, a .936 save percentage and two shutouts. Over parts of two seasons, Raanta is a 20-9-5 career goalie with a 2.41 GAA, a .912 SV percentage and three shutouts. Haggerty was signed by the Rangers as an undrafted free agent in March 2014 and enjoyed a solid first professional season, collecting 15 goals and 18 assists in 76 games for the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2014-15.
Raanta has one year remaining on his current deal at $800,000. His cap hit of $750,000 is a $700,000 savings compared to Talbot ($1.45M cap hit), a player who would have left the Rangers as a free agent following the 2015-16 season. After it was widely expected that the Rangers would receive a first-round pick for Talbot, he was traded along with the 209th overall pick to the Oilers for a second-round pick, a third-round pick and a seventh-round pick.
PROSPECT DEVELOPMENT CAMP STARTS ON MONDAY
The Rangers will hold their annual prospect development camp from Monday, June 29 to Friday, July 3 at MSG Training Center. Monday and Tuesday consist of on-ice and off-ice testing. The team has scheduled 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. scrimmages open to the media on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Top prospects Brady Skjei, Ryan Graves, Adam Tambellini and Brandon Halverson will all be attending. 2015 draftees Daniel Bernhardt, Ryan Gropp, Adam Huska, Robin Kovacs and Brad Morrison are also on the list.
Here is the full roster of players expected to attend development camp: Calle Andersson, Arvin Atwal, Lukas Bengtsson, Bernhardt, Zach Bratina, Daniel Brickley, Ty Comrie, Troy Donnay, Steven Fogarty, Graves, Gropp, Halverson, Christian Hilbrich, Hayden Hodgson, Huska, Keegan Iverson, Aiden Jamieson, Kasimir Kaskisuo, Kovacs, Lukas Kozak, Connor LaCouvee, Vinni Lettieri, Ryan Mantha, Drew Melanson, Stefano Momesso, Morrison, Mark Naclerio, Tyler Nanne, Richard Nejezchleb, Cristoval Nieves, Ahti Oksanen, Tyler Sikura, Skjei, Jerret Smith, Tambellini, Peter Zamorsky.
Check back later in the week for impressions and interviews from prospect camp.MORE NEWS: Man Accused Of Stealing FDNY Coat, Radio From Bronx Fire Station
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.