The New York Rangers are currently rebuilding their roster.
James Mirtle wrote an article the other day on the relative age of NHL teams. Currently, the average age of the Rangers is 26.8. To give you some perspective, they are pretty much in the middle of the spectrum. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Arizona Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning have roughly the same average age as the Rangers.
While the Rangers don’t necessarily have an old team, they should look to move some of their veterans. They began moving veterans last season when Jeff Gorton, general manager of the Rangers dealt Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and Nick Holden. With the trades that Gorton made, the Rangers were able to stockpile draft picks and prospects.
Even though they moved a few veterans, they aren’t done. This Rangers team needs to focus on rebuilding for the next two years. I know it’s challenging since the New York sports market doesn’t take losing kindly, but it’s in the best interests of the Rangers to continue their rebuild. They could technically stop rebuilding and trade prospects/draft picks for star caliber players to bolster their roster, but all the Rangers would be doing is just prolonging the inevitable.
This is going to be difficult for Rangers fans to hear, but it’s the truth. While it might seem like the end of the word, it’s not. Plenty of teams rebuild and come out stronger. Just look at the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. The Maple Leafs decided to trade key veteran pieces like Phil Kessel and hold onto their draft picks. With the rebuild in place in Toronto, the Maple Leafs were able to reconstruct their roster by getting draft picks in return for studs and then proceeded to draft top caliber prospects. Over the past few drafts, the Maple Leafs have been able to successfully rebuild their franchise by adding players like Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Travis Dermott and the list goes on and on.
Similarly, the Buffalo Sabres have adopted the Toronto Maple Leafs’ strategy and have drafted outstanding prospects over the past couple of years. Since the 2013, the Sabres have drafted Rasmus Ristolainen, Jack Eichel, Alexander Nylander, Casey Mittelstadt, Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen, Rasmus Dahlin and Mattias Samuelsson. While the Sabres rebuild isn’t completely over, there is light at the end of the tunnel and the Sabres will likely be a contender in a couple of years.
At this juncture, the Rangers need to continue to emulate the Sabres and Maple Leafs’ blueprint. The Rangers should consider trading Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Shattenkirk prior to the trade deadline.
Last season was a rough one for Kreider. The former star from Boston University had a rib resection surgery that kept him out of the lineup for 5-7 weeks. Although when he was in the lineup, he was already making his presence felt. In 58 games played, he registered 16 goals and 21 assists. In terms of his contract, he’s in his second to last year of his current deal and carries a $4.625 million USD cap hit. If Kreider can stay healthy, he’d be a solid addition for a contender looking to add some firepower. Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I could see Kreider potentially being a fit with the Boston Bruins. The Bruins are always looking for veteran wingers at the deadline. It would also be an opportunity for the 27 year old to come home as he grew up in Boxford, Massachusetts.
Next is Zuccarello. The long time Ranger has been nothing but excellent for the Broadway Blue Shirts in the past, but he’s getting up there in age. The 31 year old is in the final year of his current deal and carries a $4.5 million USD cap hit. This past summer, we saw 30+ year old forwards get a decent amount of money in the free agency market. Zuccarello witnessed a decline in his game last season as he had 0.69 Goals/60 and 0.95 Total Assists/60. It’s safe to say that I can’t visualize Gorton offering Zuccarello the type of deal that he’d want. Zuccarello might command a similar contract to the one that James Neal received from the Calgary Flames and if that’s the case it’s time to pull the plug.
The last man standing is Shattenkirk. He’s a 29 year old right handed defenseman who grew up in New Rochelle, New York. Kevin is on the hook till the end of the 2020-21 campaign and carries a 6.65 million USD cap hit. The only issue with this particular player is that he has a modified no-trade clause. Out of the three players, Shattenkirk would net the most value as teams are always looking to add a talented two-way defenseman to their core. Unfortunately, last season was a rough one for him. In 46 games played, he had 5 goals, 18 assists, a 20:16 ATOI and a 47.5 CF%. Yet, he’s still one of the most talented blue-liners on the Rangers and will have a resurgence this season.
By moving these veterans, the Rangers can stockpile draft picks and add to their growing farm system.
While the Rangers farm system isn’t shabby, it’s going to get better. Currently, the Rangers’ top prospects include Lias Andersson, Brett Howden, Filip Chytil, Timothy Gettinger, Ty Ronning, Vitali Kravtsov, Libor Hajek, K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist. With the Rangers likely to have a top five pick in both the 2019 and the 2020 NHL Entry Drafts, there is a chance that Gorton can add two more studs like Jack Hughes and/or Alexis Lafrenière. Just imagine a farm system with those two elite prospects and the current group of Rangers prospects. The Rangers would have one of the deepest depth charts in the NHL and could be a contender year after year.