Competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs is a very powerful drug, especially when you’ve had a taste of it before. It’s the type of motivation you thought could flip the switch for the New York Rangers, who have plenty to prove in the final third of the 2017-18 season.
The hope was for the Rangers to play with more urgency and intensity, and string a couple of wins together to quell the trade rumors. However, their continued struggles coming out of the All-Star break has made apparent that the window of opportunity to contend for a Stanley Cup has closed for this core group of players. Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton seems poised to unload unrestricted free agents, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and Nick Holden, either prior to or at the trade deadline on Feb. 26.
What the Rangers Gain from a Fire Sale
It’s time to shock the system and make the right trades that help the organization rebuild or retool for the future. Gorton has the type of trade assets that will garner enough interest from other organizations, which should allow him to sell high in what appears to be an active trade market.
Conventional thinking would have Gorton dealing away one or two of the above names to a contender for a combination of high draft picks and quality prospects, and don’t be surprised if Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello are also auctioned off to the highest bidder.
The time is right for a housecleaning as it’s obvious that the Rangers cannot compete with the other Eastern Conference Stanley Cup contending teams, especially in a grueling playoff series. No question, the Rangers have been successful over the last six seasons, with three Conference Final appearances and one Cup Finals appearance, but the flaws have been exposed all season, and the organization has sunk to the bottom of the conference standings.
The Flaws Are Too Much to Overcome
The defense has trouble clearing the puck out of their zone and the roster depth has been challenged all year by the amount of injuries sustained by key members (Chris Kreider out with a blood clot in his right arm and Kevin Shattenkirk out with a torn meniscus in his left knee) of the starting lineup. The quality of play has suffered because of it and no solution or reinforcements seems to be in sight.
Even an eternal optimist who still believes the Rangers have the talent to secure a playoff berth must be concerned with the team’s recent downward spiral. Soon, everyone will realize that the preseason expectations are fading with each loss. It’s time to close the door on this season and begin the task of rebuilding the roster, with the hope the Rangers can reach the playoffs in the 2018-19 season.
Better days are ahead for the Blueshirts as the improved play of JT Miller, Kevin Hayes and Brady Skjei have established them as the cornerstones for the organization’s bright future. It’s important for the Rangers to become younger and more athletic by removing the dead weight. This can be accomplished by stockpiling draft choices and prospects in exchange for players who are likely leaving the organization via free agency this summer.
Despite all of their struggles, give Gorton and his staff credit for recognizing the chemistry isn’t there to propel this group of players into a memorable playoff run. The direction of the organization should be clear by the end of the trade deadline.
Patience will be key, but all Ranger fans must embrace the rebuild for it to be a success.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy