Eddie Eisenman The Hockey Writers
Rangers Rebuild Shouldn’t Last Long
Considering Jeff Gorton’s deadline moves last week, a fan might think that the New York Rangers are done contending for a while. A team whose defense relies on Neal Pionk and John Gilmour and whose forward core employs Cody McLeod will not be competing for a Stanley Cup, the Blueshirts are not far from dominating the Eastern Conference. With a glance at the roster as well as a thorough examination of the organization, it’s evident that there are many bright spots to entice fans for years to come.
Young and Promising Forward Core
To start, the Rangers, even with the subtraction of winger turned center JT Miller, have a young and deep group of forwards. Take a look at what the Rangers’ offense could theoretically look like next year without making a single move (aside from re-signing pending RFAs):
This lineup presumes that 2017 first-round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, who are both excelling in the American Hockey League, are able to make the jump to the NHL. None of these forwards is over the age of 30 and all of them have shown promise at some point in their professional career. Though Zuccarello could be trade at the draft for other pieces, this deep group of players would still benefit from…
Free Agent Acquisitions
The Rangers are expected to have over $25 million in cap space. If the organization decides to retain their RFAs (Ryan Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey and Kevin Hayes), this figure will be lower but still enables GM Jeff Gorton to bid on talented free agents.
James Van Riemsdyk grew up following the Rangers and could slide into Alain Vigneault’s (or whomever is coaching the team next year) rotation. A 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk, fresh off tearing up the KHL, is said to be interested in living in New York and is also an unrestricted free agent. A reunion with Rick Nash is not impossible, either.
One important characteristic of every Stanley Cup winner in the last decade is scoring depth. Teams that can generate production throughout their lineup uare usually successful in the postseason. By adding free agent talent to an already deep group of offensive players, the Rangers could quickly become a problem for their oppenent’s defense.
Retooled Farm System
Every player dealt by the Blueshirts at the deadline was on an expiring or soon to be expiring contract. Though Miller was under team control as an RFA and Ryan McDonagh still had a year and a half on his deal, the moves were as rental players. McDonagh was due for a massive pay raise in 2019 and having Spooner and Miller in the same locker room is redundant (both play a similar game).
In return, the Rangers brought in a boatload of prospects and draft picks which their barren system desperately needed. Years of contention and buying at the deadline had Rangers fans bored on draft day. Now, Gorton turned four Ranger mainstays into this:
Lightning Conditional 2nd (becomes 1st with Cup win in ’18 or ’19)
Brett Howden (19)
Ryan Spooner (26)
Vladislav Namestnikov (25)
Libor Hajek (20)
Yegor Rykov (20)
Ryan Lindgren (19)
Rob ‘O Gara
If Gordie Clarke does his job and drafts well, there should be a plethora of young talent blooming in the organization soon. In dealing Nash, Grabner, Holden, McDonagh, and Miller, all Gorton did was give up on the 2017-2018 season in order to set up the organization well for the future.
The Rangers still have arguably the greatest goaltender in the world between the Madison Square Garden pipes. Though he is 36, the Swedish legend has not lost a step this season behind a mediocre defense. Every Stanley Cup team relies on good goaltending and the ageless wonder, Henrik Lundqvist is going to be here for at least three more years.
He will always give the Rangers a chance to win and he is committed to the team that drafted him 17 years ago. His heir apparent, Prince Igor Shesterkin, has taken the KHL and SKA St. Petersburg by storm and he is anticipated to fill Lundqvist’s shoes soon. With the outstanding Benoit Allaire, the Rangers figure to have solid goaltending for years to come.
A Fixable Defense
Draft Pick/Free Agent Acquisition-Pionk/Gilmour
Shattenkirk just signed with the Rangers and was playing hurt, albeit poorly. Brady Skjei had a sophomore slump but has unbelievable potential to hold down the Rangers’ blue line. Anthony DeAngelo has tons of offensive capabilities and has played well in his return from Hartford. Marc Staal has been a pleasant surprise in 2017-2018.
With the Rangers projected to pick in the top ten of the 2018 NHL draft, there are tons of options for young defensemen who could make the NHL roster out of training camp, like Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson, Adam Boqvist, Ryan Merkeley, etc. Also, through free agency, there are plenty of attractive players like Calvin de Haan and Jack Johnson. With just a few summer moves, the Rangers defense could recuperate.
The Rangers are well-positioned to make a quick return to postseason glory. Though an exciting era of hockey is over in Manhattan, this is a young team with a deepening prospect pool, a lot of cap space, and Henrik Lundqvist. If retooling is done right, it is not hyperbolic to say that the Rangers could build a new dynasty capable of long-term success within two seasons.
If it is rushed, however, the team may get stuck in the NHL’s cellar with the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers. Gorton has many more tough decisions to make but for the first time since 2014, there is a reason for enthusiasm for those who bleed blue.
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