The New York Rangers are at a crossroads. On the one hand, they have 35-year-old Henrik Lundqvist putting together a great season and looking like he can continue to be an impact performer for a few years yet. In that sense, they should be making a push, right?
On the other hand, they have the eighth-oldest average age in the NHL, are currently on the playoff bubble three points out of a wild-card spot, and have just three wins since Jan. 2. In that sense, they should be looking at a rebuild or re-tool.
Ever since Larry Brooks dropped a column on the hockey world suggesting the team would “blow it all up” at the deadline and into the summer, there has been non-stop speculation on just how far they’d take it. Sure, UFAs-to-be Michael Grabner and Rick Nash were obvious players to move and get future assets for, but what about players with term left, such as Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello or Chris Kreider?
Curiously, it was the Rangers themselves who announced that yes, in fact, they would be sellers at this year’s trade deadline and through the summer. In a note from team president Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton to fans of the team released on Thursday, they laid bare their plan to take a step back now, in order to come forward in the (hopefully) near future.
[blockquote]”As you know, since the 2005-06 season, we have been a highly competitive team. We have played 129 playoff games, won the Presidents’ Trophy, reached the Conference Finals three times, as well as the Stanley Cup Final. While we’re proud of all those accomplishments — we didn’t reach our ultimate foal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to New York.
“So as we do every season, we have been continuously evaluating our team, looking for areas that can be improved to enhance our chances of winning. We began the process of reshaping our team this past sumer, when we traded for assets that we believe will help us in the years to come. As we approach the trade deadline later this month and into the summer, we will be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character. This may mean we lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect. While this is part of the game, it’s never easy. Our promise to you is that our plans will be guided by our singular commitment: ensuring we are building the foundation for our next Stanley Cup contender.”[/blockquote]
Just ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft, the Rangers traded long-time centre Derek Stepan and backup goalie Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes for 22-year-old defenceman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh-overall pick, used to take Lias Andersson. Andersson, now famous for tossing his world juniors silver medal into the crowd, started the season in Sweden, but recently came to the AHL and has five points in six games. New York’s other first-round pick from 2017, Filip Chytil, started the season with the Rangers and has 22 points in 27 AHL games since being sent down.
Both Chytil and Andersson could see NHL time before this season is over, and will certainly make a push for full-time spots in training camp next season.
The Rangers also bought out defenceman Dan Girardi over the summer.
Earlier on Thursday, New York placed defenceman Brendan Smith on waivers a little more than six months after signing him to a four-year, $17.4-million contract. And to push them further towards a re-tool, the Rangers asked Rick Nash to supply a list of teams to which he would not accept a trade, as per his limited no-movement clause.
Brooks talked about the direction in which the Rangers were headed in an appearance on Hockey Central at Noon this week. While the Rangers are aiming to get younger and faster, Brooks says to not expect a full-blown, ground-up rebuild as we’ve seen from the likes of Edmonton and Buffalo in recent seasons.
“They don’t want to become one of those teams that sinks to 28th because there are 12 or 15 of them that have been at the bottom of the barrel for years and they can’t climb even if they have the second, third, fourth pick in the draft every year,” Brooks said.
“What they would like to be able to do is get young NHL players or on-the-cusp NHL players plus draft picks back for their guys. They don’t want to go into this massive rebuild where they strip everything away and they’re 29th in the league next year and 28th in the league in two years and maybe in seven years it works. That’s really not the plan.”
The Colorado Avalanche, one of the best stories in the NHL this season, turned around their fortunes in part because of a similar approach. Last season Colorado was one of the NHL’s oldest teams, but through some off-season tweaking they have become one of the youngest squads in the league and got back into the playoff hunt.