Impact of “The Letter” still felt by Rangers 6 years later

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

On February 8th, 2018, the New York Rangers released “The Letter” to their loyal fan base, announcing that the team would be entering a rebuild. It was an unprecedented move to go public with such a plan. But it bought the Rangers time and good will with their fans, and eventually has paid off with a team that’s one of the best in the NHL this season.

There were some difficult trades to swallow after the announcement, however. Popular players like Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, Michael Grabner, and Nick Holden were all shipped out for the supposed building blocks of the next great Rangers team.

The following season, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid, along with Jimmy Vesey and Cody McLeod, were dealt away in the second installment of the Rangers rebuild.

In a city that demands excellence, rebuilding seemed like the worst possible idea for Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton. After their press conference and the execution of several trades that saw the 2017-2018 roster torn apart, it seemed like many years of dark times were on the horizon in New York.

Related: Rangers disinterest in trading 2024 top pick has ‘zero validity’: report

Rangers rebuild paid off quicker than expected after “The Letter” was released in 2018

Surprisingly, the Rangers were able to make a very quick turnaround. After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2018 and 2019, losing in the COVID play-in in 2020, and narrowly missing in 2021, the Blueshirts finally got back on track. They seemed to go through an entire rebuild in about four years, impressive considering other teams seem to have been rebuilding for a decade now.

It is hard to say whether this was entirely due to “The Letter” and the rebuild itself. The results of many trades were mixed. But the building of the current Rangers team must be considered a success.

The Rangers did miss out with several top draft picks after “The Letter.” Selecting players like Lias Andersson, Vitali Kravtsov and Nils Lundkvist didn’t work out, seeing as they never reached their potential with the Rangers. Many young players had a hard time developing under coaches David Quinn and Gerard Gallant, looking at the players the Rangers could have drafted in many cases stings for sure. Some of the alternatives that were still on the board have made a big impact in the NHL.

That being said, the fire sale of 2018 and 2019 did provide some solid pieces that the Rangers still currently have. They acquired Ryan Lindgren as part of the Rick Nash deal with the Boston Bruins. Through draft picks, New York was able to select Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and K’Andre Miller. They also selected Braden Schneider and Will Cuylle. Each of these young and promising players have impacted the current roster in their own way.

Also, as a result of the rebuild, the Rangers had the available salary cap space to bring in Artemi Panarin, who’s on the short list of best NHL players since arriving on Broadway in 2019. Add Adam Fox into the mix, develop Igor Shesterkin to be Henrik Lundqvist’s heir apparent and follow the trade trees down to the addition of current captain Jacob Trouba, and the Rangers found themselves playing in the 2022 Eastern Conference Final, just four seasons after “The Letter”.

The 2021-22 playoff run was a special one for the Rangers. After being down three games to one and coming back to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime of Game 7, everyone could feel that something special was happening. That OT goal by Panarin will go down as one of the most electric moments in recent Madison Square Garden history.

After defeating the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games in the second round and taking a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final, the Rangers ran out of steam, losing in six to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Following that playoff run with a strong season in 2022-23 was important, and the Rangers managed to do just that. However, blowing another two-game series lead in the very first round of the playoffs sent a shock through the entire Rangers organization and brought an end to Gallant’s tenure.

Now, with Peter Laviolette at the helm, the Rangers are once again embarking on their quest for the Stanley Cup that has eluded them for 30 years. While they were ever so close in 2012, 2014, and 2015, the rebuild was necessary. The aging roster was no longer going to compete for a championship, and moves needed to be made.

Six years after “The Letter,” the Rangers are now equipped with a young, talented, and exciting roster that is among the best in the NHL. Granted their ups and downs, the building blocks put in place by the rebuild of 2018 have the chance to show that it was a necessary sacrifice.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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