As a follow up to my post this morning about the dangers of being prospect obsessed, I think it’s prudent to discuss how to identify a rebuild and when that rebuild has ended. For almost a year, fans have been talking about the rebuild, and how it is finally a success after 12 long months. I smile a little bit every time I read something like that, because the Rangers rebuild started long before last year. The rebuild started after the 2004 fire sale, which seems obvious enough. However, the Rangers play in New York, so they can’t rebuild in the traditional “tank five seasons in a row and hoard elite prospects” manner that the Blackhawks and Penguins mastered. The Rangers had to follow the Red Wings approach, which is draft well while attempting to compete at the same time.
The Rangers started that rebuild in 2004, but because the Rangers made the playoffs in each of the first four seasons following the lockout, it was largely ignored. That may have worked out in the long run for the front office, as the Rangers were able to quietly develop these prospects without the need to rush them to the big leagues. Where would the Rangers have been if they rushed Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan?
The thing that hid the rebuild was the success and the free agent signings. Most of those signings were on the shorter term as stop gaps (there are really only three exceptions here), designed to be place holders until some of the prospects were ready. Those prospects are now on the roster, and while there are a few prospects waiting in the wings, the core of the team has been identified, which of course brings me to the second part of this post.
With the core of the team identified, and the numbers of holes needing filling dwindling, is it safe to say that the rebuild in New York is complete? I think it is. The Rangers have a franchise goaltender, a stud defenseman with several compliments, and several core pieces at forward. Sure, there are a few high end prospects waiting, but the two main holes on this team are a legitimate top center and a puck moving defenseman. From those, the former can be addressed this offseason, and the latter may already be in the system.
The number of holes on this Rangers club has dwindled surprisingly fast due to prospect development. The Rangers may not be a Cup contender at this moment (pending offseason moves), but they should be a lock for the playoffs for the next few seasons. Once more high end talent arrive, be it in the form of Brad Richards, Chris Kreider, and/or Christian Thomas, the Rangers have incredible depth and skill. Some may argue that the rebuild isn’t over until Kreider and/or Thomas make the roster. But having them in the cupboard is enough to show that the Rangers are on the brink of being contenders. It looks like the rebuild is over, and the future is now. Time to take advantage of it.