The city of Toronto is rejoicing after hometown hero, John Tavares, agreed to a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs this past weekend, and this announcement put a damper on the plans for several NHL franchises who failed to receive a final rose from the talented forward. Often, a rejection of this nature changes the course of their offseason moves. That’s why it was refreshing to see the New York Rangers being an absent participant in the Tavares Sweepstakes as this signals a new direction in their approach to rebuilding the roster.
Easily, Tavares was the top free agent (37 goals and 84 points with the New York Islanders last season) of this summer’s class, with the attraction being for any organization the opportunity to acquire a franchise player in the prime of their career. In the past, it was a guarantee that the Rangers would be one of the usual suspects in the chase to sign a player of this caliber, and most likely, securing an agreement by out-bidding the competition based on the length and dollar amount of the deal.
The biggest fear in signing a high-profile free agent is having their on-ice production taper off in the later years of the agreement. Suddenly, the contract becomes an unnecessary burden to the team’s salary cap, which limits their ability to make the necessary changes to the lineup. The gamble could be worth it if you’re hoisting the Stanley Cup in the first or second year of the deal.
Gorton Believes in Building Through the Draft
Parity is the norm in the NHL, and Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton firmly believes that building through the entry draft is crucial to a team’s success. It’s smart to refrain from overpaying for a quality free agent unless that player is the difference in becoming an absolute cup contender. Past mistakes (Bobby Holik and Wade Redden) have proven that venturing into the free agent market is a bad decision for the Rangers as it puts immovable contracts onto the roster.
Too often, past Rangers’ front office regimes were impatient to go through a complete rebuild of the franchise, and instead, threw money at their problems to make them go away. Rolling the dice by retooling the roster with more veteran players still came with the same disappointing results.
Now, the plan is to invest the time and energy to develop the organization’s young talent into a cohesive unit that hopefully contends for multiple Stanley Cups. It never made sense to abandon this philosophy that everyone (front office, team leaders and fanbase) was in agreement needed to take place for a quick-fix approach that overpays players for past accomplishments.
The process of losing and accumulating high draft picks can become tedious until a solid core of young players have been developed. The cry in New York cannot become desperate for immediate improvement in the standings as they’re more than a few pieces away from contending.
New York Must Embrace The Rebuild
The Rangers have a rare opportunity to hit the reset button and learn from their past mistakes to rebuild the roster the right way, but the fanbase must embrace the process as well for it to be a success. Granted, watching your team rebuild can be brutal, but they cannot become a caricature of typical New York sports fans, who become frustrated because the youngsters haven’t figured out how to play winning hockey yet. It’s important to never feel there’s no hope in sight and fully support this young, inexperienced roster.
There’s a healthy buzz in New York following the recent entry draft as the Rangers welcomed their new selections to the big city for prospect development camp. The hope is for this draft class to play a major role in turning the franchise’s fortunes around, but the infusion of Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, and the young talent (Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek and Brett Howden) acquired at the trade deadline into the lineup is just as important to building a solid core.
It’s way too early to make a judgment on this group, and it might be wise to add a veteran role player to aid in their development on the ice. It’s more important for the Rangers to show some patience with them, especially when they’re going through the growing pains of adjusting to life in the NHL. If a player is struggling to find his game, then it might be better to send them back to Hartford for more seasoning rather than to force-feeding them in New York.
Ranger fans can expect to have plenty of moving parts in the lineup before rewards are shown in the win column. The harsh reality is front office jobs are on the line and continued employment is depended upon the success of this rebuild.
Well, that depends on how you define 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