Rangers fans for years, clamoured for a re-build. Fans wanted home grown players to provide the core. Well, Rangers fans got their wish. Next season, while the team will be led offensively by expensive free agents like Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, the team will be a vastly home grown one. However this year’s free agency period (but not exclusively evidenced by free agents) has shown a new, greater emphasis on experience throughout the league. Teams are looking to add experience even if it costs them good quality prospects and draft picks. More than ever, teams are looking to win now.
If you are lucky your team will have done it the right way; build a core and add to it. This is what the Rangers have done. They have added 3 cup winners this off season by retaining Fedotenko, recruiting Mike Rupp and winning the Richards sweepstakes. 2 of those players have scored cup winning goals and Richards is a Conn Smythe winner – impressive experience. We recently discussed the differences (and similarities) between the Rangers the Bruins. One of the things we identified was the extra playoff experience the Bruins enjoyed. This summer, the Rangers addressed that. However it is a growing trend around the league.
Example 1: San Jose
The Sharks have been a cup contender for several years and their better players are getting older. Is the Sharks’ window to win closing? With a core in place the Sharks gave up some serious youth when they traded the likes of top prospect Charlie Coyle and young winger Devin Setoguchi to bring in Brent Burns and earlier this week they moved Danny Heatley to acquire Martin Havlat. The Sharks also added veterans such as Michael Handzus and have prioritised the experience Burns and Handzus bring over having patience in waiting for kids like Coyle to arrive. Is this win now?
Example 2: Washington
If you’re a Capitals fan you probably feel like you’ve hit the jackpot. The Caps had a stable of young goaltenders but like San Jose, seemingly began to crave experience over youth. Luckily for the Caps they too benefit from a great core so the risk of prioritising experience over youth is less. Having bagged a surprising return of picks for young goaltender Semyon Varlamov from the re-building Avalanche, the Caps went out and added veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun for the bargain rate of $1.5m. Vokoun gives them a huge upgrade in experience and skill at a position of need for the Caps. The Caps however already began to crave more veteran presence last season when they added Jason Arnott at the deadline while they also acquired Marc Sturm and Scott Hannan – all experienced players.
There are several examples throughout the league to evidence that more than ever experience is back in fashion and highly sought after. Veterans are not an afterthought but are becoming a priority. Simon Gagne is taking his impressive career and big game experience to ambitious LA for two years, Chicago looked for some experience and added it in Andrew Brunette, the Pens added veteran presence with Steve Sullivan, while the Florida Panthers went crazy and added some quality, plenty of quantity and a lot of experience with players such as Ed Jovanovski, Jose Theodore and Tomas Fleischmann.
It seems the Rangers may be at the forefront of an increasing trend in the league but most importantly, thanks to a solid few years building they are doing it the right way. They’re following a successful blue print. The Rangers have a core in place, they have several more talented picks on their way in the system but have now added crucial experience as they look to take the next step. Hopefully they take that next step next season.