It’s hard to believe, but it’s only two seasons ago that the Rangers were a playoff team. In ’16-’17, the Rangers had 102 points, won a playoff round over the Canadiens, and were bounced by the Ottawa Senators. It feels like it happened in a different lifetime. Maybe because it was just another incarnation of the same, nondescript Rangers team they’d been rolling out for a decade, filled with small, quick forwards who just aren’t THAT good and Hank. Maybe it was because they beat one garbage team in the playoffs and then lost to another. Either way, it doesn’t feel like it was in recent memory.
Credit to Jeff Gorton. Because most teams would have seen a second-round trip as a platform to keep trying to go for it, make some signings or trades, and believe you’re right there. How many have done so? The Habs haven’t even gotten that far and they keep doing it. The Senators did the same, look where they are. We could keep going.
Gorton wasn’t fooled. He had an aging team that had maxed out that was looking at a slow, painful death. Last season didn’t start out well, and that’s all the proof he needed. It’s kind of amazing how he got this past James Dolan, who has watched his basketball team limp around like incomplete roadkill for the better part of 20 years now. Then again, Dolan doesn’t give a shit about the Rangers, so you can do just about anything as the Rangers GM. Still, MSG just completed a complete renovation and you’d think ownership wouldn’t exactly be comfortable with a couple seasons of meaningless product. And yet here we are.
Gorton has done what he can so far. Rick Nash, that playoff dynamo that teams were lusting after at the deadline for reasons they’ll be recounting at the bar in five years when they’re explaining their firing, turned into Ryan Lindgren and a first-round pick as well as a couple pieces. Ryan McDonagh, the biggest bauble Gorton had to flog, turned into two prospects (Libor Hajek and Howden), another 1st round pick for this past draft, and at least a useful player in Vlad Namestnikov. Those two trades along replenished a pretty empty pipeline.
Where Gorton goes from here is a question. Clearly they want to get into Jack Hughes range, but probably have enough players and Henrik Lundqvist from getting that close. Chris Kreider is a player a lot of teams would want at the deadline. Fuck, look what Nash netted and Kreider actually bothers to breathe in the playoffs, and his value is at its peak with another year on his deal after this one. But he’s only 27 and still quite effective, and could be part of the next good Rangers team. Kevin Shattenkirk is signed for another two years at $6.6M and is 29. Right-handed, puck-movers are basically caviar at the deadline. Could he get someone to bite?
Kevin Hayes is in the last year of his contract, and you can always sell some drunk GM on a big player who can at least make a fist of it at center (and be quite drunk himself. All hail Captain Stairwell!). Mats Zucarello also will be a free agent and is 31. He can score. Everyone needs scoring, just like everyone hates birds.
At this point, if you’ve started rebuilding there’s no reason to half-ass it. That’s what their roommate in MSG have been doing, and they’re a national joke. Not that any hockey team could be a national joke, but you get the idea. They’re even timed well, because the Penguins and Capitals won’t be able to do this forever and the Jackets are about to lose their two best players. Three years from now the field could be open for the Rangers.
Good thing Dolan doesn’t care about hockey, huh?
Game #10 Preview Suite