Between the Devils’ first Cup in 1995 and their third in 2003, general manager Lou Lamoriello made trades to bolster the team’s roster, including Jaroslav Modry, Cal Hulse, Chris McAlpine, Jason Smith, Sheldon Souray, and Mike Commodore.
These cited defensemen were all between the ages of 22 and 25 when they were sent away, some for rentals, and they played a total of 4,112 NHL games, ranging from McAlpine’s 289 to Smith’s 1,008 NHL games.
The Devils’ blue line, however, was well-stocked, beginning with the Great Scotts, Stevens and Niedermayer, who were supplemented by Ken Daneyko, Brian Rafalski, Colin White, Bruce Driver, Tommy Albelin, and short-term acquisitions Shawn Chambers, Vlad Malakhov, and Oleg Tverdovsky during their Era of Excellence.
When 16W off the New Jersey Turnpike was known as the Exit of Champions, there was no salary limit. Perhaps a new world would have resulted from the economic constraints. However, since the Devils had too many contestants and too few seats to fill, management (in the person of Lamoriello) had to make difficult decisions in order to thin the herd.
And that is what Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton will be charged with doing over the next few months and years, with the advice and approval of president John Davidson and assistant GM Chris Drury.
In an age where there is not only a hard limit, but also a relatively flat cap for the near future, the organization’s replenishment of the pipeline, especially on the blue line, will force crucial personnel decisions and generate the need for accurate early assessments of prospects.
True, there isn’t a Stevens or a Niedermayer on Broadway, but there is an Adam Fox and a Jacob Trouba, both of whom have a complete no-move through 2023-24. Those are simple calls. Even though K’Andre Miller has gone about his rookie season with the promise of a player who could rock the Blueshirt for the next decade, and even though Ryan Lindgren has shown the on-ice persona of a guy who will almost certainly have a stitched-on letter in his future, the rest aren’t.
And that’s because even younger players are crowding in from below, starting with Zac Jones, a 20-year-old who was on the ice at the Blueshirts’ practice facility Tuesday morning after signing his entry-level deal three days after winning the NCAA championship at UMass.
Jones drove to New York and tested negative for COVID-19, so he won’t have to wait any longer. Jones is a skilled lefty who can play both ends of the ice. Jones will work out with the club and be given a shot when David Quinn considers him fit.
Yes, the Rangers are concentrating on the playoff race — they’re four points behind the Bruins, who have 17 games left to the Blueshirts’ 15 — but if the coaching staff thinks he can provide more value than current third left defenseman Libor Hajek, he’ll play. By the way, Hajek, who is 23 years old, has made great strides in his first professional season while avoiding a major injury.
“Obviously there’s a familiarity with him from my end of it, but this is a guy we’ve thought a lot of since we drafted him and then suddenly went on to have a great college career,” Quinn said of the 2019, 68th-overall third-rounder drafted out of the USHL Tri-City Storm. “We’ll see how it goes.
“It’s day by day, we’ll see how he adapts, see how he adjusts. There’s not a lot of practice time, so it’s going to be hard to evaluate him in a lot of ways at the pro level but we’re going to do the best we can and if we feel he gives us an indication he can help us, he’ll play.”
Jones, like the Rangers, isn’t concerned with the present. Jones is here, and Matthew Robertson, 20, is on his way (selected 19 slots ahead of Jones in 2019). On the other hand, assuming the club can sign the brilliant 20-year Swede, Nils Lundkvist (28th overall in 2018) will be here next season, with Jeff Beukeboom-esque 19-year-old Braden Schneider (19th overall in 2020) close behind. They aren’t the only ones who think this way.
However, not all of them will play for the Rangers. As a result, management would have to dice and slice with an open mind. What if, for example, a Grade A center is only available if Miller is part of the package? You will all recoil at the prospect of reassigning No. 79, but what if Jones is superior? Do you believe the Devils were really interested in trading Souray?
There will be some difficult choices to make. Maybe not today, tomorrow, or even next week, but soon.