For those accustomed to watching the Rangers leap head first into free agency and enjoy the fall out, they will have been disappointed as July 1st turned to the 2nd. For the rest of us, yesterday would have been a pleasant change. Ironically, as Glen Sather officially relinquished his GM duties to Jeff Gorton, yesterday also offered a change of approach by the Rangers, albeit a partially enforced one because of the aggressive moves made over the past two or three seasons.
Barring any significant changes over the next days and weeks (changes that could obviously yet happen) the Rangers core is in place for next season and the overall make-up of the roster is set. It’s better than it was a week ago. Losing Hagelin hurts, Talbot also. But the Rangers acquired solid depth in Viktor Stalberg, potential upside (and youth) in Emerson Etem and value for money in Antti Raanta.
Considering the unknowns, the main reason Rangers fans should be on tender hooks until the new season begins to play out is not because of the loading up in free agency by the Penguins or the aggressive moves by the Blue Jackets, nor the complete retooling undertaken by the Bruins. It’s because so much of the Rangers immediate future is the Rangers gambling on their own.
The Rangers are gambling on development from JT Miller, Jesper Fast, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes. They’re assuming that Mats Zuccarello will return in good health and that Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Kevin Klein (assuming they all return to the fold) can return to health and good form. In short, the Rangers are completely and utterly backing their own, backing their own judgement when other teams have gone with ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ approach. Given the successful last four years, the Rangers confidence in their own youth is the right approach. It’s a rational and reasonable thought process.
Rangers’ fans will know so much more about this team’s long term direction as well as the genuine upside of the majority of the roster by the time the year turns 2016. Right now however, this team is better. On paper this team is just as deep as it was a week ago but is younger. There is room for prospects such as Brady Skjei and Oscar Lindberg to not only make the team but to make an impact. The core is young, the franchise goaltender is arguably the best in the world and last time we checked, having a 42 goal goalscorer in your midst was never a bad thing no matter what the media say.
Key fact: depending on your opinion of Marty St Louis, the Rangers haven’t lost anyone they couldn’t or haven’t replaced. Yet they have added upside, and have allowed the transition of prospects to the big club to continue. Pittsburgh have an all-star team but one bad season and that club is in hell, regardless of Sidney Crosby. No prospects, no cap space, no depth. They better hope that Kessel meshes with Crosby – amongst other things. Even factoring in Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers aren’t reliant on one player or one area of the organisation too much. There is balance, there is depth and there is youth. One trade here or there, there may even be some cap space too. Plenty of tradeable assets on the current roster for sure…
On day one of free agency the Rangers showed restraint, they made minor depth moves at multiple levels of the organisation that required no significant commitments and so they continue into the summer with all options open to them. As the dog days of summer approach the Rangers appear well set for the new season.
*this was written Thursday morning. By the time this will have posted, the Rangers will have traded their next eleven first round picks for Joe Thornton and Chris Kreider and Ryan McDonagh will have been traded to Colorado for Jerome Iginla. Everything happens so quickly in July, right?