Good trades and bad trades: they are a part of every sport. It’s a way of life, really. Every team you follow has made some God awful trades where you just want to scream or cry. Every team you follow has fleeced a trade partner a time or two, where it appears at first to be lopsided against you, but then those no name prospects develop into future Hall of Famers, and all is right in the world. If it weren’t for bad trades, what would we all dissect on sports talk radio? But beyond that, just think of what is at stake. When teams make trades, there are a plethora of reasons behind the motivation to make a move. Perhaps the team is mired in a slump and looking to shake up the roster, hoping to break out. Perhaps they are so close to contending for a championship, but need to pay a steep price to get that so-called missing link, that player that might put them over the top.
Sometimes it’s all a matter of trading your headache away, and receiving the other team’s headache in return. And, sometimes a trade that looks bad to you when it was made, doesn’t look so bad after a few years. Or, sometimes a trade that looked like a steal to you last year, looks downright awful a year later. Why? Well, prospects for one. They don’t always pan out. How many times have you seen it where a team refuses to give up their top few prospects, and then those same prospects fizzle and turn into nothing? It’s just the way of the sports world.
Now, how about those kinds of deals for your New York Rangers? Yes, even your beloved Broadway Blueshirts are guilty of making some bad moves, but they’ve also benefited from several exceptional moves, too. For the purpose of this discussion, we are looking at the 8 best and 7 worst moves the Rangers have ever made. And, with free agency a huge deal now, we will, for the right move, include a really prudent-or really crippling-free agent move, too. So, are you ready to rank the moves?
15. BEST: Stephane Matteau
You can question this one all you want, but Stephan Matteau landed here for one extremely clutch goal in the 1994 playoffs, a goal that enabled the Rangers to continue on in their quest to break their decades-long drought. He actually had two big goals in the Conference Finals, both game winners in the second overtime period. His most famous, of course, was the Game 7 2nd OT winner that put the Rangers over the Devils and into the Cup Finals. Now, if you wish to say he does not deserve to land in the “best” group because of the price the Rangers paid to acquire him (the Rangers sent Tony Amonte to Chicago), I would at least allow that into the debtate – because Amonte had the better overall career. However, I don’t think Rangers fans would necessarily want to trade Tony Amonte’s overall career, for the 1994 Stanley Cup.
14. WORST: Hiring Glen Sather
Initially, everyone thought Sather, previously the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, would be like a kid in a candy store (in a good way) by coming to New York. See, in Edmonton, he was the master. Small market team, no payroll, he was able to trade away stars you would never want to trade away (like, Messier and Gretzky) and somehow still get a team on the ice that could contend for a Stanley Cup. So, the thinking was, that by getting Sather in New York, where he would not ever need to shed payroll could be match made in heaven. Except that it wasn’t. He wasn’t horrible, mind you. But with more limitless funds, he didn’t need to be as creative with signings, and just because you can buy all the cool guys doesn’t mean you should. I suppose it wasn’t all bad-he drafted well at times-but while most teams would love to enjoy the kind of success the Rangers had under Sather, his tenure as GM was not nearly what they’d hoped for.
13. BEST: Trading the Rights to Mark Messier for a Pick that Became Ryan Callahan
On the one hand, it’s like, what are you, nuts? Trading away an eventual Hall of Famer? But that is a move that is en vogue in the NHL, especially following the lockouts. The idea is simple. Trade an impending free agent to an interested team, in return for whatever you can get. Sometimes the return is a meaningful player. Sometimes it’s a pick in an upcoming draft. This time around, the Rangers knew they needed to rebuild and reload, and that the aging veteran Messier wasn’t a good fit for that process. So they shipped him away ahead of the opening of the free agency period, and in return got a mid round draft pick. This one gets good because the Rangers used that pick to draft Ryan Callahan. I’d say that was a shrewd move.
12. WORST: Trading Carl Hagelin
Here’s the rub. Hagelin, a younger player, was traded for another young player plus a draft pick. So, in theory, it could have been a wash. Except it wasn’t. Hagelin was a speedy player who seemed to enjoy playing defense. And, oh yeah, in his rookie year, he was good enough to garner votes for Rookie of the Year. So, the Rangers inexplicably traded him away to Anaheim for a player who isn’t even worth mentioning, and a draft pick that hasn’t panned out yet and may never. As for Hagelin, he went from the Ducks to the Penguins, where he helped them win a Cup. So, he’s probably OK with how the trade went down.
11. BEST: Acquiring Rick Nash
Say what you want about how hyped Rick Nash was, and how he never was good enough to elevate one of his teams to the playoffs. Those would be fair criticisms of him, to a point. He’s no doubt one of those really skilled snipers who is not meant to be a centerpiece of a franchise. He can be really good sharing the leading role with some other upper echelon players, but don’t bank on him shouldering the entire load, all by himself, every night. So, as the Rangers aimed for a resurgence in the 2010s, they made the move to bring him to Broadway. While it did not result in another Stanley Cup, it was a gamble worth taking that certainly led to some exciting hockey.
10. WORST: Trading Brian Leetch
This one is here for two reasons. First of all, the Rangers actually traded him twice, something that I actually forgot (his rights to the Oilers in 2003, and then to the Maple Leafs in 2004). And second, because he’s Brian Leetch, one of the best to ever play the game. Look, I fully understand that hockey-and all sports at the professional level-are a business. So, if you can get something in return for a guy, no matter who that guy is, you do it. But, the throwback fan in me says there should be exceptions. Certain players, truly special players, should never have to be traded. There is something truly magical when you look at certain players having played their entire careers for one and only one team. That the Rangers, in both trades, got nothing of value back for Leetch just underscores why it was such a bad idea to trade the legend.
9. BEST: Getting Rid of Scott Gomez’s Contract and Acquiring Ryan McDonagh
This is one of those sneaky acquisitions, really and truly. Yes, he has played his entire professional career with the Rangers, but McDonagh did not start out as property of the New York Rangers. Nope, he was actually drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. And when the Canadiens decided to acquire Scott Gomez from the Broadway Blueshirts, McDonagh was one of those pieces added in by the Habs, and one who, unless you had followed college hockey or were a hockey scout, his name would not have even registered. Because at the time of the trade, it was all about established star Gomez. And now? Now, McDonagh has arguably eclipsed anything and everything Gomez did in his own career and then some. And, he’s really just getting started, or at least, hitting his prime. He is one of the best blue line players in all of hockey, and at the young age of 27, that should only continue for nearly another decade.
8. WORST: Trading Carpenter, Miller and Ridley to Washington
Phil Esposito was a great player. But moves like this prove that he wasn’t a great front office employee. He traded three young players to Washington for a mediocre player (Crawford) and a draft pick. While none of these were upper echelon superstars, they were all key players on Washington’s teams for over a decade. As a fan of an Eastern Conference (Wales for the Old School, or Metropolitan for the new fans) rival, you knew Mike Ridley for sure. He was a clutch and consistent player, the kind of guy you just don’t trade away. Considering the longevity they enjoyed versus how little the Rangers got back, it was a flat-out stinker of a trade, no two ways about it. If anyone wondered why Esposito wasn’t long for the general manager’s desk, this trade would have been exhibit A.
7. BEST: Wayne Gretzky
Here is another move that the New York Rangers faithful (and management and ownership) had all hoped would propel the club to another Stanley Cup Championship. Unfortunately, The Great One wasn’t great enough to add another Cup to his collection, but he did make hockey a must-see in New York on a nightly basis. His acquisition electrified Madison Square Garden, and you couldn’t help but be excited for the team. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to push them over the hump, but you can’t fault them for trying. While in New York, The Great One only managed to get the Rangers in the playoffs one time, making it to the Conference Finals where the Rangers lost, in spite of Gretzky scoring like he always did. His final two years, however, you could see he was nearing the end of the road. He did manage, in his final season, to break the all-time goals scored record, previously held by Gordie Howe. So, his time in the Big Apple was not a total bust.
6. WORST: Trading for Eric Lindros
As an admitted Flyers fan, I hated seeing Lindros go to the rival Rangers. But, it was clear he wasn’t going to play in Philadelphia anymore. That said, the Rangers gave up a handful of players and a draft pick to obtain the former number one overall pick. Now, in fairness, Lindros’ debut season with the Rangers was actually a pretty good year. He stayed healthy and scored at a pretty good clip, but even with him and other big name acquisitions, the Rangers couldn’t make things work. It wasn’t really Lindros’ fault, but he could easily be seen as the poster boy for that era in New York- good, but just not good enough to get the post-season success fans craved.
5. BEST: Drafting Henrik Lundqvist
If you want to argue about the best Rangers netminder in the past thirty years, that is a perfectly entertaining topic. You will have some that will have a soft spot for Pennsylvania born, Stanley Cup winning goalie Mike Richter-and, to be fair, they’d be fine in having that viewpoint. I mean, like I said, the man backstopped the Rangers to a Stanley Cup, so you know he’s not buying drinks in that town ever again, right? Right. But, to be fair, King Henrik actually could be, or already is, a better goalie than Richter. Blasphemy? Perhaps, but it’s a nice debate to get to have. But how did Broadway’s reigning king come to Manhattan? Well, you know how Glen Sather landed among the worst moves in Rangers history? Lundqvist is proof that not all of Sather’s moves were ill-advised. Lundqvist was perhaps one of his best draft choices.
4. WORST: Trading for Phil Esposito
If this was all about name recognition, then this would never be on the list. Esposito is one of the legends of hockey. However, the New York Rangers angled to acquire him when he was on the downside of his career (I mean, why else would the Bruins, a rival club, trade a legend like Esposito to Manhattan?). And to get Esposito, the Broadway Blueshirts shipped Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, and Joe Zanuzzi up to Boston. The notables here are Ratelle and Park. Ratelle was a good contributing player for six seasons more with Boston, and Park was one of the better defensemen in the league at the time of the trade, something he kept up at for several years. As for Esposito? He didn’t bring New York the title it craved, and he was done as a player only a couple years later. Not a complete disaster of a trade, I suppose, but one you just don’t make, hindsight being 20/20.
3. BEST: Drafting Brian Leetch
Here’s a guy who is basically one of the guys everyone thinks of when they imagine Rangers legends and Ranger greatness. And, when you think of great defensemen-of the Rangers, or in hockey history. Without Leetch, there is no Cup win in 1994, though to be fair, he didn’t do it alone. But he really was that good, and deserves to have his name remembered forever in the annals of hockey history as one of the best to lace up a pair of skates. The American born defenseman was a Rangers draft choice, getting picked ninth overall in the 1986 amateur draft. He was picked that high off the basis of a stellar high school career, which then saw him star at Boston College before he worked his way onto the 1988 United States Olympic Team which competed in Calgary. Just a few short days after the closing of the Games, Leetch made his professional debut, and he’d dominate the New York blue line for over a decade. And don’t let his position fool you-he was one of the more offensively prolific defenders ever.
2. WORST: Rick Middleton for Ken Hodge
To me, this is like the epitome of a bad trade. Rick Middleton was a young, rising star. Maybe not quite a star, but a very good player. And Ken Hodge? For Hodge, his best years were in his rear view mirror. Oh, sure, he was still good enough, but you were exchanging a guy with most of his career in front of him, in return for a guy who had maybe a couple good years left, if that. So, of course, the Rangers shipped young Middleton off to Boston, where he earned a Lady Byng Trophy and several All-Star Game appearances. As for Hodge? He lasted all of two seasons in New York, before hanging up his skates and calling it a career. That wasn’t the worst trade in the history of trades, but it was pretty bad.
1. BEST: Picking Up Mark Messier
Simply put, picking up Mark Messier could very well be the best move anyone in the New York Rangers front office ever made. Messier, a key figure in the Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s, had decided to hold out in 1991, eventually forcing a trade out of Edmonton. Rangers GM Neil Smith shipped Bernie Nicholls and a couple other assets out to Edmonton and made a move that would forever change the course of the franchise. While it did not happen in Messier’s first season in New York, he would eventually fulfill his promise of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup one more time-this time in New York, leading the Blueshirts to victory. It was perhaps one of the few times most people in the sports world actually wanted to cheer for a New York team rather than root against them, because seeing that long Cup drought end was special. For comparison, look at how folks responded to the Red Sox winning a World Series in 2002, or the Cubs in 2016. Same principle.