It’s no secret anymore. The Rangers are rebuilding. They sold off major assets at the deadline, acquired assets, and have had the luxury of five first round picks over the past two seasons. While the focus has been on the draft and the prospects, there are eyes on the current players and their contracts.
As of today, only Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, and Henrik Lundqvist are signed beyond the 2019-2020 season, two seasons from now. Only Skjei and Zibanejad (and likely Pavel Buchnevich) are signed beyond 2020-2021. While we will see some of that turnover after this season, it is after the 2019-2020 season we will see it all change. After that season, Chris Kreider, Ryan Spooner, Vlad Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey, Matt Beleskey, and Jesper Fast all become UFAs.
There are good arguments for bottoming out. A player like Jack Hughes doesn’t come along that often, and getting that elite talent and production for cheap ELC money is how teams win. Jeff Gorton and company want to go about it a different way, by having the veterans teach the next generation of talent: Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov, and the other first round picks.
It’s over the next two years we will see what comes of the next big trade chip: Mats Zuccarello. Is he in the long term plans in the leadership core? Or is he a stopgap for this season, designed to play big minutes and rack up points before being traded for a big return at the deadline?
What will Kevin Hayes’ role be this season? Is he a lame duck 2C, just waiting to be traded? Or was that one-year deal actually a bridge deal to January, like how the Rangers handled Zuccarello so many years ago?
How will Namestnikov and Spooner perform in their two-year auditions? Will they play well enough –but not too well– to be middle-six role players for the next generation? Will Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast price themselves out of bottom-six roles over the next two seasons?
It’s not all about the current roster either. Will Chytil show he is a top line talent? Will Andersson show why the Rangers took him 7th overall? Can Brett Howden crack the lineup after the deadline? When will Kravtsov make it to North America?
How about that blue line? After the next two seasons, players like Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren should be close to solidifying permanent roles. But what about Tony DeAngelo? Is he going to be worth it? How long will K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundqvist take to develop?
But the biggest is Henrik Lundqvist, who will be 38 in two years. Will Igor Shestyorkin be ready for full time duties? Will Hank still have enough in the tank for that final year on his deal?
The next two years are filled with questions, but with questions comes optimism. The Rangers have done a terrific job with their overall draft strategy. Now it’s up to the development and coaching staff to fine tune them all into quality NHLers. There’s great talent in the pipe, and the Rangers are banking on that, instead of bottoming out."Jeff Gorton is banking on rebuilding without tanking over next two years",