Hockey News and Discussions
On February 8, 2018, Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton of the New York Rangers published a press release expressing their thoughts about their team’s future to Rangers fans.
The link to the post is here:
Reactions to the post have been mixed and a few people have asked me for my opinion of it, so I wanted to give my thoughts on it.
For starters, I really like the idea of it. As highlighted by the Rangers themselves, NYR has been a competitive team for over a decade now. During that time, Henrik Lundqvist has become one of the best goalies of this era, despite the lack of Stanley Cup on his resume.
Unfortunately for New York, that time is over. The Rangers, on paper, have been a strong team for a long time, but have just not been able to get over the playoff hump and win the championship. And now the window is closed. Rangers fans have been wondering “is this the year?” for a while now and they deserve to be told of a new direction with the team, especially after everything they’ve endured. This brings me to my next point.
Second, it signifies the complete rebuild. I think it is important that the Rangers management recognizes this. In American professional team sports, if you’re not going forward, you’re going backwards. Cursed are the teams who are stuck in playoff mediocrity. Never good enough to get deeper than a few rounds, but too good to win some luck in the NHL Draft lottery. In the modern NHL, it takes a high draft choice to create dynasties and while some fantastic players, including Hall of Famers, have been drafted in later rounds, you cannot stay on top without elite superstars. Scouting has greatly improved and the Red Wings tactic of consistently finding hidden gems in Europe is no longer practical in 2018.
Chicago’s rough years earned them Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal, and Evgeni Malkin in the top 3. The Kings selected Drew Doughty with the second pick. The Rangers need to find their future star at the top of the draft.
Third, it makes sense from an organizational perspective. A good retool is always a good way to come back strong (ask the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, and Pittsburgh Penguins about it), but the team has to have a core before they can retool. To me, the Rangers haven’t had an elite center in a long time (again, ask Chicago, Pittsburgh and LA about the importance of center depth). While Derek Stepan, Derrick Brassard, Brandon Dubinsky, and Mika Zibanejad are capable of playing on the top line, it doesn’t mean that they should be. I see all of those players as fantastic number 2 centermen, at least on a Cup contending team. The Rangers would need a great 1C to stay competitive in their division, which is comprised of fantastic centers. Washington has Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Pittsburgh has Crosby and Malkin, and the Islanders have John Tavares and Matthew Barzal. Additionally, the rest of the division is developing good centers: New Jersey has Nico Hieschier, Columbus has Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alex Wennberg, and Philadelphia has Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick.
The consequence of playing in the toughest division in hockey is that one must always ice the best possible team. The Rangers are currently last in the division and the tear down is necessary. A lot of their most promising players are still young (J.T. Miller, Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast, Jimmy Vesey, and Brady Skjei) and Rangers fans should be really excited about Lias Andersson. If they keep all of them together and build on what they have with more young talent, the Rangers will have an exciting team in 3-4 years.
Lastly, the press release is important for fan morale. When General Managers do not have a good reputation among the fan base, it can get ugly. Just look at Mike Gillis with the Vancouver Canucks. If Jeff Gorton wants to stay credible with the Rangers fan base, letters like this are important in maintaining their relationship.
Fortunately, as of writing this, Gorton seems like he could see the Rangers through this rebuild since he received a nice return for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. However, the NHL is very much as “what have they done lately?” league and just one bad trade can have fans calling for their General Manager’s head (See George McPhee and Filip Forsberg). The Rangers have all of their picks in the upcoming drafts (except a 7th round pick in 2018) and if Gorton can fetch a nice return for Ryan McDonaugh, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, and Mats Zuccarello (whether or not they trade Lundqvist remains to be seen), and select wisely in the 2018 NHL Draft, things will smooth out sooner, rather than later.