BUFFALO, N.Y.--The relationship between Keith Yandle and the Rangers may have always been destined to be a short term marriage.
Prior to the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft Friday night, Yandle spoke to reporters inside the First Niagara Center and indicated that the Rangers never presented him with a contract offer.
“It never got to that point,” said Yandle, who signed a seven-year, $44.450 million deal with the Florida Panthers Wednesday.
Florida formally announced the signing Friday morning first in a press release, then in a conference call with reporters in the early afternoon prior to Yandle’s media availability at the Draft. The signing was the culmination of a week which began with the Rangers having traded Yandle’s negotiating rights to Florida Monday in exchange for a sixth round pick in the draft and what became a fourth round pick next year once the Panthers signed the 29-year old.
“It was one of those things where we knew (the Rangers) had to move some money if something was going to happen,” Yandle said. “The big thing I wanted was the term. (The Panthers) were nice enough to give it to me. You work your whole career to get to this point and it’s a good feeling.”
The deal also ended a year’s worth of speculation whether the Rangers would sign Yandle or let him test unrestricted free agency on July 1.
The Rangers acquired Yandle from Arizona on Mar. 1, 2015, for defenseman John Moore, winger Anthony Duclair, a second round pick in the 2015 draft and a conditional first round pick which became the 20th pick Friday night.
Arizona traded the pick to Detroit along with the 53rd pick and Joe Vitale for Pavel Datsyuk and the 16th pick in the draft. The Coyotes used the 16th pick on OHL Sarnia defenseman Jakob Chychrun while the Red Wings selected BCHL Chilliwack defenseman Dennis Cholowski with the 20th overall pick.
Arizona added Chris Summers and a fourth round pick in the 2016 Draft to the package which then-General Manager Glen Sather accepted. The Coyotes also retained half of Yandle’s salary in the trade. While Yandle earned $5.750 million last season, the Rangers were only responsible for $2.785 million. The 2015-16 season was the final year of a five-year, $5.250 million deal he signed with the Coyotes.
Yandle compiled a slash line of seven goals and 51 assists for 58 points in 103 regular season games with the Rangers spanning the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. In 24 playoff games as a Ranger, Yandle recorded three goals and nine assists for 12 points while providing an offensive, puck-moving element from the back end.
Yandle’s 22 power play points in the regular season led the Rangers, and was tied for sixth most in the NHL. So from a purely hockey standpoint, it would seem as if re-signing Yandle would have been a priority. But the Rangers had little salary cap flexibility. According to industry website GeneralFanager.com, the Rangers are $16.925 million under the cap ceiling, and have to make decisions on restricted free agents Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and Dylan McIlrath. Dominic Moore, Viktor Stalberg and Dan Boyle are UFAs.
“We’re still in a lot of conversations to make our team better,” Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton said following the conclusion of the draft and the trade acquisition of defenseman Nick Holden from Colorado. “That’s our priority.”
Likely an additional factor would have been the expansion draft following the 2016-17 season. The NHL announced Wednesday Las Vegas had been granted a franchise. According to the league, teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, or eight skaters (forwards and defensemen) and a goalie. Moreover, rookies and second year players are ineligible to be made available for the expansion draft, as are players with no move contracts.
As Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal all have no-move contracts, they won’t be eligible for the expansion draft.
“It was more (the Rangers) couldn’t do anything,” Yandle said. “It was in (their) best interest to get something for me.”
The Rangers did not have a selection until the 81st pick in the draft, which was used on Mississauga Steelheads defenseman Sean Day. Finnish defenseman Tarmo Reunanen (98th), Sault St. Marie winger Timothy Gettinger (141), Rouyn-Noranda forward Gabriel Fontaine (171), Leamington goalie Tyler Wall (174) and Vancouver Giants forward Ty Ronning (201) rounded out the Rangers’ picks.
“You...hope to get good value picks,” Gorton said. “I can't stand here and say we have a player who’s going to play for us next year but we’re encouraged by some of the picks we made.”
You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman.