GM Glen Sather was able to channel his inner Harry Houdini at the NHL Trade Deadline after all. With limited cap space going into the final days of trading, the 71-year-old Slats wheeled-and-dealed like a GM half his age. Granted the price was steep, but it had to be if Sather wanted to land an impact player – while managing a payroll with little salary cap flexibility.

With the acquisition of Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes, Sather pushed all of chips to the middle of table and declared himself all-in. Only time will tell if Slats is playing with a royal flush or if he was bluffing. The one thing we do know is that the Rangers are a better team now after the deadline than they were before it.

I have to admit that my first thought on the Yandle deal was the Rangers gave up too much of their future. After having some time to digest the ramifications of the trade, I still believe that. However, when you look closer at the Rangers you realize that they are a team whose future is now.

While they have enough young players to get them beyond the next couple of years, time is not on the side of Henrik Lundqvist. The King just turned 33-years-old and, while that is not ancient in terms of goaltenders, he is on the backend of his career and his (and the Rangers) window to win is closing.

While his injury was a freak one, it does show how fragile the Rangers window of opportunity is. As well as Cam Talbot has played, the Blueshirts need Lundqvist in goal, at his best, come playoff time.

The core of the Rangers have already experienced two visits to the Eastern Conference Final and one to the Stanley Cup Final. There comes a time when an organization needs to make one final push in order to get over that final hurdle and reach the promised land of a championship.

Rangers fans only need to look back at the Emile Francis Rangers of the late 60s and early 70s. As good (and sometimes great) as those teams were, they were unable to take the final step(s) and win the Stanley Cup.

Their best chance came in 1971-1972 when Jean Ratelle’s broken ankle prevented the Rangers from taking on the Boston Bruins at 100% capacity.

At the same time, Francis never could identify that missing piece or two that would have vaulted the Rangers from also-rans to champions.

In 1994, Neil Smith gambled on restructuring the roster of what was the best team in hockey at the trade deadline. The Blueshirts paid a price in terms of losing prospects and young/talented players, but that was not on any Rangers fans minds at 10:58pm on June 14, 1994.

That is where the Rangers stand now, except Sather went for broke without turning over his roster like Smith did in 1994.

Sather was able to acquire Yandle, James Sheppard, Carl Klingberg and Chris Summers without too much disruption to his regular lineup. John Moore never quite took ownership of the sixth d-men spot and Lee Stempniak’s spot in the lineup was tenuous at best so trading him cleared a little salary space.

Actually if the figures at NHLNumbers.com are correct, the Rangers have about $750, 000 worth of cap space open.

This year Klingberg and Summers will provide the Hartford Wolf Pack with some experience and serve as a modicum of insurance if the injury bug hits the Blueshirts in a bad way.

It goes without saying that Yandle is the key to Sather’s deadline dealings. Most hockey experts point to the offensive defenseman as being the reason why the Rangers appear to be big winners (at least in the present tense) at the trade deadline. When you have noted Rangers dissenters like Mike Milbury and Greg Wyshynski praising your moves, you know you have done something right.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen listed the Rangers first among NHL teams when reviewing the deadline transactions. Allen wrote, “General manager Glen Sather landed the biggest difference-maker in the marketplace when he acquired offensively gifted defenseman Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes. He is among the NHL’s best puck movers and power play point men. Sather paid a heavy price, but this gives the Rangers a defense that includes Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, Dan Boyle and Yandle. No Eastern Conference team has a more skilled defense than the Rangers.”

Much has been made about Yandle’s horrible plus/minus numbers with the Coyotes. Fortunately for me, I take those number with a grain of salt. If four players on the ice are doing their job defensively and one player misses a defensive assignment – everyone one the ice gets a minus.

If plus/minus is such a great stat then explain to me how Marek Malik led the NHL in plus/minus during the 2003/2004 season. Actually, he tied for the lead with future Ranger Martin St. Louis – both players were +35.

If plus/minus is such a great stat then that must mean Calgary’s T.J. Brodie is the best defenseman in the NHL because his +23 is tops in the league.

The other thing to remember is that Yandle was probably matched up against the opposing team’s best line. That will not often be the case with the Rangers.

Yandle’s acquisition does show that Sather swung and missed with his signing of Dan Boyle. Whether it was his early season health problems and broken hand, Boyle has not given the Rangers the kind of play they were looking for – especially on the power play. They expected him to struggle in the defensive end, but not as much as he has offensively.

If Sather is going to address his cadre of UFAs and RFAs he might have to look to trade Boyle during the summer. He could probably swap Boyle for another veteran UFA-to-be blueliner who is making similar money ($4.5 million), but that doesn’t help the Rangers achieve salary cap space.

It is possible Sather can move Boyle in a salary dump, but that is going to require the team to include prospects and/or draft picks as an enticement.

That is the case in the Yandle deal. Yes, losing Anthony Duclair and the conditional 2016 first round draft pick is a hefty price for a team whose next first round draft pick will most likely be made by a GM not named Sather, but it was a necessary evil in order to get Arizona to retain half of his salary cap hit for the remaining year and change on Yandle’s contract. Heck, if next season turns out to be a disaster, Yandle will become a very hot bargaining chip with a cap hit of about $2.6 million.

Sheppard’s acquisition really came out of nowhere – a lot like Yandle’s when you really think about it. The Rangers were linked to the likes of Antoine Vermette, Mike Santorelli and Tyler Bozak.

While Sheppard was playing on San Jose’s third line, you can expect that he will start out on the fourth line given the success the Carl Hagelin-J.T. Miller-Kevin Hayes line has been having. Sheppard can play any of the forward positions and has won 50% of his faceoffs this year.

Originally drafted 9th overall by Minnesota in 2006, Sheppard is now on his third NHL team. While has proven to be better than expected defensively, he has been a disappointment offensively (he is more of playmaker than goal scorer) and he needs to use his size (6-1/215) more than he does. You figure he will be highly motivated because he is an UFA at the end of the season.

International Scouting Service rated him as their 7th best prospect in the 2006 NHL Draft and compared his style of play to Joe Thornton. The praised his poise, leadership and overall hockey sense but cautioned his skating needed work.

Looking to next year, Klingberg and Summers could serve as cheap members of the “Black Aces”. Klingberg is a RFA with a relatively low cap hit this year ($650, 000) while Summers has one more year on a deal that carries a $600, 000 cap hit.

Klingberg was a 2nd round pick (#34) in 2009 of the then Atlanta Thrashers. ISS rated him as their 32nd best prospect and praised him for his size, physical play and his shot. They characterized him as a playmaking power forward whose style of play compared to that of Ryan Getzlaf. ISS also listed him second only to Zack Kassian among prospects in the “Tough as Nails” category. The 6-3/205 can play either wing.

Summers was drafted in the 4th round (#105) in 2005 by the Coyotes. ISS rated the center/defenseman as their 70th best prospect. While playing forward and defense as part of the U.S. National Development Team, ISS projected 6-2/209 blueliner as an offensive d-man who needed to work on his defensive zone coverage.

Scouting reports (from The Hockey News) on the four newest Rangers can be found at the end of this article.

In addition to all of the scouting the Rangers did in reference to the four newcomers, the Blueshirts have additional connections to three of the four players. Ulf Samuelsson was Yandle’s coach with the Coyotes from 2006 through 2011 and Ulf also worked with Summers while they were in Phoenix.

One additional connection the Rangers have to the two former Coyotes is that Rangers consultant Mike Barnett was the GM who drafted both players for the Coyotes.

The team has another connection with Summers who was a teammate of Carl Hagelin at the University of Michigan from 2007/08 through 2009/10.

Doug Risebrough, currently a consultant to GM Glen Sather, was the GM of the Wild when Sheppard was drafted in the first round by Minnesota.

With the Rangers trading away so many draft picks, the team will have to be even more aggressive when it comes to undrafted free agency. There is additional pressure on the Blueshirts scouts to find the next Kevin Hayes in collegiate hockey, the next Dan Girardi in Major Juniors and the next Mats Zuccarello in Europe.

Sather pointed to Hayes’ development as one of the reasons why he believed he could include Duclair in the Yandle trade.

When all is said and done, in terms of the moves made at the 2015 Trade Deadline, I will say now what I said in 1994 – the Rangers had better win the Stanley Cup.

CARL KLINGBERG (RW)
Assets: Oozes a power forward mentality and some sound scoring acumen. Has good size and work ethic. Is adept at playing sound defensively from either wing position.
Flaws: While he has scoring ability, the jury is still out on his long-range upside as a point producer at the highest level. Also needs to bring more consistency to his game.
Career Potential: Big depth winger with a little upside.

CHRIS SUMMERS (D)
Assets: Displays shutdown ability and has a good frame for the blueline position in the NHL. Is at his best when he keeps the game safe and simple.
Flaws: Doesn’t have high-end offensive talent, so he needs to continue adding more strength to better handle his defensive responsibilities.
Career Potential: Depth defensive defenseman.

JAMES SHEPPARD (F)
Assets: Has good size and reach. Can line up either at center or wing. Displays the ability to excel in all three zones and provide leadership at lower levels.
Flaws: Injuries have stunted his NHL development. Is woefully inconsistent in the offensive zone and can take shifts off. Doesn’t use his 6-1 frame enough.
Career Potential: Versatile forward with a little upside, when healthy.

KEITH YANDLE (D)
Assets: Has explosive skating ability, superior offensive instincts, great puckhandling skills and a lethal one-timer. Is very adept at playing the point on the power play. Competes hard, initiates attacks and is everywhere on the ice.
Flaws: Needs to continue adding more bulk, since he can struggle when opposed to the NHL’s biggest forwards. Must tighten up his play without the puck and avoid some occasional bad decisions when he has it (and is pressured).
Career Potential: Excellent offensive defenseman with great mobility.

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