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The Hudson River Rivalry is Back, and the Devils Have the Early Lead

Armed with trade assets, acquisitions, and the top 2 picks of the draft, this old rivalry has new life. And New Jersey is in the driver seat.

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Lotto Day

The day is April 9th. The AAtJ writers are getting an early jump on researching the best names in the 2019 draft that aren’t Hughes and Kakko. I turn on the NHL draft lottery to figure out where everyone ends up. NHL Deputy Commmisioner, Bill Daly, stands at a podium with a stack of 15 placards that some schmuck got printed at Staples. He’s a stocky, bald, man wearing glasses with no frame one the bottom that would look sleek and modern on a younger, thinner man. He goes through the first few names without a hitch — Montreal, Arizona, Florida.

We get to the 12th pick where the Blackhawks should have been and their name isn’t there —- indicating they’ve jumped up to the top 3. I’m barely in my seat yet and the Devils are already bumped into the 4th spot. Whatever, 4 is still good and, honestly, if you’re no in the top two this year for Hughes and Kakko, it doesn’t matter all that much.

Daly powers through a few more of these cardboard rectangles before approaching 7 where the New York Rangers should be. Instead of their logo, Daly shows the Buffalo Sabres... so, yeah. I am now ... inconsolable. I was watching on the off chance (11.5%) that the Devils would end up at 1 ... I didn’t stop to remind myself the Rangers, just babies in their rebuild compared to us, could get a shot in the arm the need from this event as well.The only thing stopping the tear that had accumulated and pooled on my lower eyelid from trickling down my cheek was the fact that the Devils name was still to come.

At this point the remaining teams should be Detroit, us, LA — and there is just one spot left in the top 3. The first card is up — Detroit. Okay at least we didn’t get passed over AGAIN and drop out of the top 5. The next comes up and its ... the ,*hallelujiah chorus* it’s the Kings! The Devils are in the top 3.

We now wait to find out who is where. The Blackhawks are 3rd and are you freaking kidding me ... it’s now down to the Devils and Rangers. Needless to say, I was tense and I wasn’t alone. Ray Shero and Ranger’s GM Jeff Gorton stand their side by side — two men as stunningly nondescript as the cueball announcing the picks — each representing a vision for each side of a storied rivalry. Gorton had, only slightly over a year ago, essentially told his fans they were gonna suck for a little while. Devils fans were given no such warning, and then were teased with a playoff appearance before plummeting lifelessly back to the cellar of the league. One of these men is going to be responsible for picking their favorite of the 2 stud prospects. The catch? Their rival will get the other ...

The Devils logo is revealed, indicating that the Devils will have the first overall selection in the 2019 draft.

Rebuilds Built?

The Rangers had their most eventful offseason in quite some time after trading for the biggest available D name in Jacob Trouba ($8M x 7 years), signing the biggest UFA in Artemi Panrin ($11.6M x 7 years), and drafting highly-touted Kakko at #2 overall.

So it must really suck that they didn’t even have the best offseason in their own metro area.

The Devils drafted Jack Hughes one spot ahead of Kakko, were able to acquire former Norris-winner P.K. Subban on day 2 of the draft to shore up the blueline, and acquire rights to (and sign) KHL MVP Nikita Gusev to two years at $4.5M. The Devils were able to go shot for shot with the Rangers in transactions, and UNLIKE the Rangers, are not in a particularly dire cap circumstance as a result.

As John said after his Butcher piece ...

They made moves to get under for some RFAs and even that was not enough. They bought out Shattenkirk out of necessity and all for what? To commit $35 million to six players in three seasons including the aforementioned Trouba and Panarin? Sure there will be a lot more relief in two seasons but it hampers what they can do now, which is the point. The Rangers “went for it” and “it” may not be ready until then – by that point, a whole bunch of young guys need new deals with Kakko’s extension looming. “Enjoy” your situation, Gorton.

Yup. The Rangers —who got 78 points last year, and aren’t projected to be much better this year — have about $1M left in cap space this offseason, with two decent RFAs still to sign ... AFTER buying out Shattenkirk, who, himself was formerly a prized UFA acquisition who took a pay cut to play for his hometown team. Doesn’t that story just give you the warm-n-fuzzies?

By contrast, the Devils are projected to be significantly better while having $8.7M left this year. The cap will be a little more of a consideration looking ahead, but as of right now, we improved team that started out better, by more, for less than the Rangers.

Both of these were rebuilding teams. The Devils took their time, and currently have all the pieces in place, and only one contract with over 3 years (Severson). The Rangers rushed the rebuild after getting the 2nd overall pick and got the biggest names money and prestige(?) could by.

So next, we race against the clock. The Rangers have a lot of talent now, but it’s going to be hard to build around that talent once they all have contracts — the most obvious nominee for when this would be is when Kakko’s ELC expires. They’re a young team and will likely take another year or two to ascend. That 3rd year, they will likely want to compete. By that time, virtually the entire Devils core will be entering their prime. At that point, and even before then, we could be in for some of the greatest years in the history of this rivalry.

Neither team is likely to make a strong run this year (although the Devils are much closer), but how they play will give us a pretty good idea of who won the 2019 draft and how the rebuilds are comparing.

We Are Witnesses

I attend 10-12 games every year and in order to do so I normally do a flex plan where I pick a set of 12 (weekends and Rangers, normally). This season, our representative tells us that you are now only allowed 1 Ranger game per flex package — all others must be bought at individual game price. On the one hand I’m irate that I need to 1) buy games I don’t want to attend to fill the flex package and 2) spend extra for rangers tickets. On the other hand, I totally get it.

We are entering the next great era of this rivalry, one that will be decorated with banners of Hughes vs Kakko, Hall vs Panarin, Blackwood vs Shestyorkin/Geogiev. A new book is being written and I want to be here to see every chapter.