Staple: After a modest deadline, are these Rangers good enough to win it all?



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The goal, of course, is to win. Rangers GM Chris Drury knows that as well as anyone around here. When Rangers owner James Dolan upended the team’s four-year rebuild in the spring of 2021, firing team president John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton and installing Drury, the mandate was clear: No more losing. No more patience. Time to start winning.

So Drury has been incredibly aggressive at the trade deadline twice before. Two years ago he shrewdly used a boatload of cap space to add pieces that fit well — Frank Vatrano for a mere fourth-round pick, Andrew Copp for a conditional second that turned into a first because the Rangers made the Eastern Conference final. Even Tyler Motte and Justin Braun played small but key roles.

Last season, the marquee names got the best of Drury. Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola were good, targeted additions; Patrick Kane, at compromised health, was overkill. It didn’t work.

Drury’s current team has been in first place in the Metro since the puck dropped on the 2023-24 season. Peter Laviolette and his coaching staff have pressed many of the right buttons in the first season at the helm; a couple of Drury’s bargain veteran signings, most notably Jonathan Quick, have paid off handsomely.

But there were still obvious holes. Drury’s team needed another center when Filip Chytil went down less than a month in, then was ruled out for good after a concussion relapse in January. Blake Wheeler tried gamely to fill the top-line spot with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad but was probably heading to be replaced when he too was lost for the season last month.

Erik Gustafsson, another of those bargain July 1 signings, came out of the gate strong but has wilted a bit as the season has gone along. So the Rangers knew they needed a center, a right wing and a depth defenseman. The names, some of them bigger than others, flew around the last few weeks; Drury did his homework on all of them, as you’d expect.

And now, the haul is Alex Wennberg from Seattle to fill the No. 3 center spot; Jack Roslovic from Columbus to fill a top-nine right-side spot and Chad Ruhwedel from Pittsburgh to fill a depth defense spot, though he’s likely going to be pressed into action with Jacob Trouba sidelined 2-3 weeks by a lower-body issue.

Is that enough to fortify what was already a good but perhaps not great team? If you’re going by stats and name recognition, probably not. Wennberg is a solid center but he had nine goals despite an awful lot of prime ice time with the Kraken. He won’t be asked to do as much here, but he still needs to be a player who provides a bit of everything on a third line that hasn’t been a source of much consistency this season.

Roslovic has skill and he’s been stuck on some bad Blue Jackets teams the last three-plus seasons, but he doesn’t have the pedigree of a top-line wing that some other options do. Vatrano, whose trade to the Rangers ignited a career revival and the three-year, $10.95-million deal he’s currently on for the Ducks, was the source of plenty of conversation between Drury and Anaheim GM Pat Verbeek. But the extra year left on Vatrano’s deal made this a “first-round pick plus prospect” ask that held firm and Drury wisely said no.

Jason Zucker went for peanuts from Arizona to Nashville but his $5.3-million cap hit was prohibitive. Reilly Smith went nowhere; Max Pacioretty reportedly declined to waive his no-move clause to leave the Caps, including for the Rangers; that decision probably saved Drury from himself, since a 35-year-old Pacioretty doesn’t seem like a solution for a team already at the higher end of the aging curve.

Of course, seeing some of the lengths teams around the Rangers in the standings went to this trade season, you might wonder if the Rangers underplayed their hand here. They were “in” on Jake Guentzel all day Thursday, according to reports, but the finalized deal between the Penguins and Hurricanes makes you wonder if Drury was seriously bidding on the Pittsburgh wing. Carolina traded three middling prospects, an NHL veteran the Canes have been trying to unload for months in Michael Bunting and a conditional second-round pick. Had the Rangers offered a first-rounder and a middling prospect or two this should have been a no-brainer for Pens GM Kyle Dubas.

Carolina also took a flier on Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Panthers, the class of the East so far this season, got old Rangers friend Tarasenko, plus Kyle Okposo. The Lightning, a potential first-round Rangers opponent, added Anthony Duclair and Matt Dumba. Out west, the Golden Knights traded for basically everyone, including a guy (Tomas Hertl) no one thought was available. Vancouver made its big additions earlier this season with Elias Lindholm and Nikita Zadorov. The Avalanche made several adds.

The Rangers are a good team, led by their stars. Igor Shesterkin is still world class. Artemi Panarin is having a superb season. Zibanejad and Kreider haven’t been as dynamic as in years gone by but both are still scoring nearly a point a game. Adam Fox is back to his old self. Those players were always going to be the ones who carried this team, so Drury adding three pieces without surrendering more than a second-round pick was shrewd asset management, something Drury has accomplished every deadline.

But there’s a nagging feeling that this Rangers team needed something more. Something bolder. Drury reportedly checked in on the Sabres’ Alex Tuch, who would be a difference-maker. Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams nixed that one quickly. That would have been the sort of move to really brighten the Rangers’ Stanley Cup prospects.

As it stands now, Drury did not overpay. He filled some holes. He has a good team.

There’s still that feeling though. Perhaps this isn’t enough. And if the Rangers bow out after a round or two, the team and its fans will not look back fondly on this deadline and be happy that Drury showed restraint.

(Photo: Jared Silber / NHLI via Getty Images)





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