Rangers mailbag: Why Neil Smith faded out of the NHL

You ask, we answer. The Post is fielding questions from readers about New York’s biggest pro sports teams and getting our beat writers to answer them in a series of regularly published mailbags. In today’s installment: the Rangers.

Larry, how is it possible that Neil Smith has never really had a run as GM of another team since the Rangers fired him? What happened with him and the Islanders? Why doesn’t he get enough credit for the Cup win? — Eddie Iacobelli

Neil’s 40 days and 40 nights on Charles Wang’s ark through the early summer of 2006 represents one of the more bizarre periods of New York hockey history, the GM refusing/neglecting to sign a contract in conjunction with his authority being limited. Prior to that, there was a fair amount of resentment around the league over the way he and the Rangers — or, Ranger$, as I often referred to them — threw money around. This practice, of course, continued through the early days of Glen Sather’s regime. Do you realize that the Blueshirts of the early 2000s had a payroll higher than the current salary cap? The final three playoff-less years of Neil’s tenure left a sour taste in everyone’s mouths, but I firmly believe there is great appreciation of Smith’s work in constructing the 1994 Stanley Cup championship team and an abiding warmth for Neil among the citizens of Rangerstown.

Larry, you were on the Devils beat in 1994. So much has been written about Mark Messier’s guarantee before Game 6 of the ECF. What can you share about that game from the NJ side of things? — Michael Ray

The Devils had dominated the Rangers in Games 4 and 5, outscoring the Blueshirts by an aggregate 7-2 and were a confident group. But at the morning skate at South Mountain Arena preceding Game 6, they were annoyed at the focus on Messier’s “guarantee,” and at the request from the prying (handful of) writers seeking a response in kind. Most players brushed off the question, but from what I recall, those who answered did so with a variety of, “We don’t need to talk, we’ll just play,” comments.

Thoughts on trading (Jacob) Trouba/(Alexandar) Georgiev to Buffalo for their 1st and 2nd (or 3rd) round picks, assuming the cap is the same? I think it’s beneficial and fair for both sides. — Danny

Sorry, can’t agree with your premise. Management is seeking to solidify this group and put the Rangers in position to make a run at the Cup over the next two to three years, not to stockpile draft picks. And the Sabres are seven-deep on defense, so I can’t envision Buffalo being interested in Trouba, whom the Blueshirts are in no hurry to deal.

You mention about an ex-Ranger prospect, Ryan Graves. I always liked him. Why didn’t it pan out? — Paul Giampiccolo

I’m not sure. He was not, obviously, the same player in Hartford as he is in Colorado, and not even close, but I believe there was a fair amount of internal discussion about bringing him up for a spell in 2016-17. Remember, this is when the organization was still in contention mode, so there may have been some resistance to introducing a rookie into the lineup even for a quick look, especially one who hadn’t distinguished himself in the AHL.

Jeff Beukeboom clears the front of the net for Mike Richter in 1996.Nury Hernandez

I feel a stay-at-home defenseman that can block shots is critical to the success of the NY Rangers. We have a sufficient supply of offensive-minded forwards and some offensive-minded defensemen. What we do not have is a (Jeff) Beukeboom-style player that can clear in front of the goalie without taking a penalty. — Alan

Appropriating one of John Tortorella’s favorite expressions, “with all due respect” to shot blocking, the absence of a defenseman who excels in that area would be about the least of my concerns. Ryan Lindgren is a battler in front and Trouba forces opponents to keep their heads up. The Beukeboom model is all but extinct in this era.

As the Rangers are currently flush with defensive prospects do you see it better to keep all that become NHL caliber for now or trade one for a forward prospect who doesn’t have all the drama around them like (Lias) Andersson or (Vitali) Kravtsov? — Joe K

I don’t think the idea is to trade a prospect on defense for a prospect up-front, but rather to identify the expendable defense prospects who can be dealt for players more apt to help the team win in the next few years. When the Devils of the ’90s and early ’00s traded young defensemen Jason Smith, Cale Hulse, Chris McAlpine, Ricard Persson and Sheldon Souray, they did so in exchange for win-now players including Phil Housley, Doug Gilmour and Vladimir Malakhov.

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