When Suit wrote about the Rangers and their inability to find consistency, it struck a chord with me. I realized that despite management’s best efforts, this is a Rangers club that has had significant turnover year in and year out for quite some time. We know about the constant turnover from the teams mostly built through free agency from 2006-2010 while the farm was rebuilding. But once that core is in place, the turnover is supposed to stop.
But the problem is that the turnover hasn’t stopped. Just six skaters (Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Brian Boyle) remain from the 2010-2011 club. Another three (Brad Richards, Anton Stralman, Carl Hagelin) join them from the 2011-2012 club that went to the Stanley Cup Finals. Another three (Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, John Moore) played significant time with the Rangers during the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
All told, just 12 of 18 skaters were on the team last year. That number is cut in half when you go just two seasons prior.
The top teams in the league, the ones that compete for Lord Stanley year after year, have had their cores in place for years. Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston have had the same core for as long as I can remember. St. Louis has had their core in place for at least three years. Even Washington has had the same players suit up from year to year.
But the Rangers are following a different path. The core that John Tortorella spoke about after the 2011-2012 season was gutted. Brandon Prust was too expensive. Management decided to go a different route with Ruslan Fedotenko and John Mitchell. Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov were sent to Columbus. Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay. Those are six players that were a core group under Tortorella.
But now Tortorella is gone, and the roster turnover appears to be commencing once again.
That’s not a shot at Alain Vigneault by any means. He needs the appropriate personnel to execute his more creative system. AV isn’t a coach that is going to play your Black-and-Blueshirts style. That’s okay.
Guys like Zuccarello, Stepan, Nash, Richards, and Martin St. Louis are guys that AV can use to generate offense. But that’s where the roster turnover rears its ugly head. Of those guys, Stepan is the only one who played regularly with the Rangers starting in 2010 (Zuccarello played 50 games over two seasons). All this leads to inconsistency.
The Rangers have a window to win, and it’s closing very fast. But what could be coming even faster is the next significant roster blow up. Just six forwards (five if you assume a Richards buyout) are signed for next year. Three are RFAs (Zuccarello, Kreider, Brassard), and only two are locks to be re-signed. The current group of prospects has only been playing with each other for one season. They didn’t grow up together like Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan. The chemistry there will take time as well.
This isn’t to say that I disagree with the decisions made to ship some of these guys out either. Prust priced himself out of New York. I’d still make that Dubi/Anisimov for Nash trade. The Marian Gaborik trade was a coup. I don’t like it, but the Cally trade had to be made from a business standpoint. But all these moves are risky moves that have had mixed results.
Regardless of where this team is headed this year and next, the new core of this team needs to be identified and locked up. The blue line is in good shape, but with just one forward signed beyond next season (again assuming a Richards buyout), the forwards are a big area for concern. That kind of turnover doesn’t bode well for successful teams.