Are The Rangers Rebuilding Or Not?

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As I was watching Thursday night’s snooze fest between the Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks, I was wondering why I was incapable of changing the channel. I mean, the game was tantamount to sitting on the Long Island Expressway at 5 pm on a Friday evening. It was the epitome of infuriating, yet I was glued to the MSG telecast.

I guess that is why we call ourselves “Die-Hard fans.” We all kind of knew that this 2018-19 campaign would be this way. After all, back in February, the hierarchy of the franchise famously told their fans about the anticipated sell-off of quality players and fan favorites. They stayed true to their word and purged the roster. The tearing down of the Rangers team that was so successful for so long was acceptable and necessary for the long-term health and stability of the Rangers.

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What is not acceptable, and what certainly was not necessary, was the re-signing of two of the veterans acquired at last season’s trade deadline. Ryan Spooner was brought in from Boston in the Rick Nash deal. Vladislav Namestnikov was the only player with NHL experience that the Rangers received from Tampa in that blockbuster trade. Both Spooner and Namestnikov played reasonably well in the dying days of the 2017-18 season. Both veteran forwards were slated to become restricted free agents.

The Rangers had a few options. They could have: A) Simply decline to offer them contracts and let them walk. B) Traded the two skilled but flawed forwards. C) Re-signed them each to one-year deals. D) Re-signed them each to multi-year deals.

Out of these four potential options, which would you have chosen? I can tell you my choice would have been to trade them. Even if the compensation wasn’t adequate for players of their “magnitude,” trading them would open up two precious spots on the roster for some of the young assets now inundating the Rangers prospect pool. I was not happy with Jeff Gorton when I read that, not only were they re-signed, but both Spooner and Namestnikov each got two-year deals.

Now, they are darn near untradeable and they will, undeservingly, continue to occupy roster spots that should have gone to prospects like Lias Andersson and Tim Gettinger. The same can be said for the blue line. There is no reason for the incredibly average Brendan Smith to be up with the big club, especially when the impressive Libor Hajek is down in Hartford waiting for his opportunity.

I like a lot of what Jeff Gorton has done as GM since taking over for Glen Sather in 2015. However, there are certainly a plethora of highly questionable transactions Gorton has made, starting with giving almost seven million dollars a year to the astonishingly overrated Kevin Shattenkirk. Yes, it was a great story. He grew up in New Rochelle loving the Rangers and loving Brian Leetch. It was a homecoming of sorts. But, Shattenkirk is quickly joining the likes of Bobby Holik, Vladimir Malakhov and Wade Redden as the worst free agent signings in team history.

Look, I am 43 years old. I have been following this franchise on various levels for almost 40 years. I have been a season ticket holder since 2006. I suffered through the Islanders dynasty in the 1980s and I endured through the Devils trifecta of championships in 1995, 2000 and 2003. I am more than willing to deal with losing for a few years if I knew for a fact that the franchise was going in the right direction. Again, Gorton has definitely made some shrewd decisions. The Rangers have a legitimate prospect pool for the first time, seemingly, since Bill Clinton was in the White House.

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And, there is more to come with at least three picks in the first two rounds of the 2019 NHL draft. Gorton deserves credit for this. However, players like Smith, Shattenkirk, Spooner, and Namestnikov are albatrosses that are hindering a true rebuild. In their stead should be Andersson, Gettinger, Hajek and DeAngelo learning, not just hockey on the NHL level, but also how to be a pro and how to resist temptation on the road, etc.

No show performances like last night are going to happen with a young team in transition. There isn’t a Rangers fan alive who wouldn’t agree with that premise. However, when I see the aforementioned veterans, who are here to keep the team above water until the kids are ready, being completely outclassed on the ice, it dampers my enthusiasm and makes me wonder if the Rangers are truly building this the right way. Sometime in the very near future, difficult decisions are going to have to be made. More fan favorites are going to have to be jettisoned. And, the 4,000-pound elephant in the room will have to be seriously discussed, I am referring to trading Lundqvist of course.

It may not be time just yet to cut bait on this current season. We are just ten games in. But, and you knew there would be a ‘but’, it would behoove Gorton to not wait until February’s trade deadline to do another roster purge. This isn’t just about maximizing the compensation for Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello and other veterans that may be on their way out of The Big Apple. This is about giving precious ice time to the youngsters who will make up the core of the next great Rangers team. Yes, we can deal with games like last night if this was a true rebuild. As of now, I am not so sure about the veracity of the rebuild. The next couple of months will be vital. I can only hope Gorton makes wise decisions.