Listening to the Ghosts of Rebuilds Past

The last decade-plus of Rangers hockey has been characterized by stability and relative success.  As summer approaches, the possibilities and paths forward for the franchise are seemingly endless.  Oodles of cap space and a bevy of draft picks mean that basically anything is on the table.

While it can be fun to discuss the minutiae of roster construction and team management, it’s also important to look at the big picture.  The front office and new head coach have spoken in generic terms about youth, development, playing style and team culture, but those are all just ideas.  What’s most important is to take those words and turn them into actions.  In many ways, the Rangers really are starting from scratch.

What’s encouraging is that this franchise has been here before, and it wasn’t all that long ago. Those past experiences may provide a blueprint the team can follow as it begins to write the next chapter of New York Rangers history.  I’m referring specifically to the 2005-06 Rangers, who were tabbed by most experts to finish last in the NHL.  Instead, they surprised the entire hockey world by nearly winning the Atlantic Division, and recaptured the hearts and minds of the city by playing scrappy, entertaining and fun hockey.  In a single season, the culture was completely transformed, and the stage was set for the forthcoming decade of success.

Yes, the circumstances are different, but the Rangers may be able to mimic some of what their 2005 forbears did and establish a new culture and identity upon which to build. 

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten

The Rangers of the late 90’s were built to thrive on star power, though always missed the mark.  Messier, Leetch and Richter gave way to Bure, Lindros and Holik, and eventually Jaromir Jagr (acquired in a trade).  But with the introduction of the salary cap after the lockout, the Rangers could no longer go that route.  So instead of installing a new cast of high-priced free agents to supplement Jagr, the Rangers were forced to reach into the bargain bin for some less exciting names: Martin Straka, Michael Nylander, and Marek Malik.  

The NHL also enacted several rule changes intended to increase scoring heading into the 2005-06 season.  The crackdown on obstruction penalties and stricter enforcement of hooking and holding meant there was more room to operate for gifted offensive players.  By some combination of foresight, scouting and dumb luck, the Rangers had assembled a team that was readymade for the new NHL.  Results followed immediately.

The 2018 Rangers won’t have these circumstances working for them, but the point stands: they need to break the mold and be willing to take risks as they build their team.  They’re seemingly off to a good start in hiring David Quinn.  But the Rangers have also tended to play it conservatively with young NHLers, and they often draft a “safe” player rather than take a risk on a player with higher upside.  It’s probably time to alter both of those approaches and take some bigger swings.

Savvy veteran acquisitions

The 05-06 Rangers were not a team built on youth, but the free agents they brought in were all the right fit.  Martin Straka was former teammate of Jagr’s, and Michael Nylander joined them to form what is to this day one of the greatest Ranger lines of all-time.  All age 33 at the start of the season, the Jagr-Nylander-Straka line could still perform at the highest level, and set the standard for the team around them.  Savvy acquisitions like Steve Rucchin, Blair Betts and Kevin Weekes solidified the veteran core and provided stability throughout the lineup.

While the priority for the current Rangers is youth, no team is able to ice a lineup consisting of just rookies or second year players.  The veterans the Rangers put around their youth will prove crucial in setting the stage for the next era of Rangers hockey.  It’s easy to look at the 05-06 blueprint and draw a direct line of comparison from Jaromir Jagr to current free agent Ilya Kovalchuk.  At age 35, Kovalchuk still has a ton to offer and would enter camp the best player on the Rangers’ roster, save for Henrik Lundqvist.  Kovalchuk serving as the new generation’s “Jagr” would be an ideal scenario.  From there, the Rangers should prioritize depth free agents, particularly along the blue line to supplement and stabilize a very young defense corps.

Have some fun

Remember the Bobby Granger ads?

The best thing about the 2005-06 Rangers was that they were fun.  The Marek Malik between-the-legs shootout goal.  The birth of the “Hen-rik” chant at MSG.  The standing ovation the team got after being swept out of the playoffs by the Devils as the clock wound down on Game 4 (yes, this happened).  Those Rangers made this fanbase love hockey again in a way it hadn’t in a long time.

By the end of last year, watching the Rangers was an excruciating experience, and it wasn’t just because they were losing.  Their play was joyless and stale (did Ryan McDonagh ever smile?), the Garden was lifeless and no one really wanted to talk about it, least of all the propaganda machine that the MSG broadcast had become.  The Rangers built their marketing campaign on “Tradition” and “Family”.  Everything got so serious.  Here’s hoping the Rangers lighten it up and try to make rooting for this team fun again when October rolls around.

That’s it from me.  As always, leave your thoughts on what you want to see from the new look Rangers in the comments below.

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  • After January 1st and the winter classic, my wife was wondering why there was no noise coming from my Ranger room/family room when I was watching the games. I told my wife I didn’t care how they did because the Rangers didn’t care how they did. I want to make some noise again and care!

      • I would definitely put all my faith in one person so this way the fall is much harder. Seems intelligent.

    • DWB

      And I thought I was the only one who was suffering from their play, and lack of emotion……….

      I suspect we are in for some major changes, just keep Sather away from the draft table, let JG do his thing!!

      Just one, best case scenero, two very good defensmen would go a long way. If Kovi comes in, and we get another talented winger, and the team plays to their capabilities, we have a winning plan going forward. Please stay away from old retreads, let them sign elsewhere, we don’t need boat anchors!!!!!!!!!

      • Special teams are not a issue over here but Zibs and Kreider’s 5 on 5 production is suspect.

        At the end of the day Drury and JG seem to be made up from the same sperm. Quinn is like their long lost brother. They all have talked about wanting character and in your face type of style with speed and skills. I think it took AV some winning to have a input on who comes over here but it sounds like Quinn’s going to get the special treatment. I’m expecting a trade for Andrew Shaw or Antoine Roussel who imo is the best character role player for the bottom 6. Scott Hartnell would be a underrated move to add but that depends on how this roster shakes out after draft day.

    • Same here. I remember not even wanting to watch games and my wife thinking something was wrong. Hoping in October it will be fun again to be a Ranger fan

  • Nice positive spin by everyone, but I am results oriented. Yes we are saying all the right things, but until the puck drops for real, all this is supposition. We need players who play with skill and intensity and coaches who are open-minded and have a system well-equipped for the 2018/19 NHL.

    Time will tell, but I do think a youth movement with the correct sprinkle of veterans is the right direction. We still need a stud.

    • Let’s see what the draft brings, and then the trading for the fill ins. Bottom line, compared to the last three seasons, this coach, the team’s approach, and the implementation of a real defensive scheme will be a vast improvement. I suspect that Vesey, along with Name, are history, and that one, or two young d-men will surface like cream coming to the top, I’m excited again!!!!!!!!!!

      • Until we get a defensive coach and see the systems they have implemented previously, I will wait and see. I think Pionk and D’Angelo need to be in the starting 6 next year.

        Still think we need a real 50 point scoring threat – and that is in addition to our current top line.

        • Won’t argue with your points,but anything in the way of a defensive scheme will be an improvement over the farce we played under, ANYTHING!!!!!!!!

        • you bring up a great point about a Defensive coach. Why is Lindy Ruff still hanging around? Also wonder who will coach special teams. It will be interesting to see who Quinn picks to join him.

          Pionk and DeAngelo both need a shot to start the season. In theory they should benefit a lot from Quinn.

  • Thanks Rob! It was such a great article!

    Good memories! But one thing to note – Kovalchuk is not Jagr and he is now at the age when Jagr actually left NYR for KHL…

  • The Rangers were boring because we had 25 guys who all played the game the same way…soft, which is what AV wanted.

    Quinn will bring an old school approach with a modern twist.

    Let’s hope the draft reflects that and the right UFA’s are signed and some of the softer players get shipped out.

    Give me one Sean Avery, one Brandon Purst, one Shea Weber and one Milan Lucic and they will drive opponents crazy, scare them to death and allow all of our skilled guys the space and freedom to succeed. Give me all the thumb downs you want…but you can’t win with 25 of the same guys.

    • Avery was a selfish fool, Prust is a self-righteous punk with one good year in an 11-year career, Weber can’t stay on the ice anymore, and the current version of Lucic is an embarrassment to what he once was in the NHL. Aside from Weber, these three are mediocre NHLers. And it’s not a coincidence that Montreal’s collapse has come after the disastrous Weber-Subban deal. What needs to change are the mentalities that fall for the lie that teams punch their way to titles in the NHL.

      • Lucic was a force for 10 years. Weber was a force 10 years. Prust gave the Rangers everything he had every second he was on the ice. Avery did every he could to get his opponent off of their games. Kovy in that playoff series is a perfect example of that I they are Corsi cute and sometimes they punch people in the face…but I would take those four guys on my team anytime.

        • Which 10-year period are you talking about with Lucic? He’s only been in the NHL for 11 years, and five of those years have been mediocre. The guy hasn’t justified his contract in the last 4 years of his career, and his last actual good season was in 2013-14. He’s been one of the most overrated players in the league throughout his career, and now he flat-out sucks.

          • You’re right..he was never good…never helped his team win cups. 25 Ray Whitneys, please.

          • Where did I say Ray Whitney was the answer? Although by himself Whitney has won as many Stanley Cups as your 4 horsemen of the Crapopalypse listed above.

            What needs to stop with the Rangers is the idea that other teams’ vets and retreads are the answer to NYR’s problems. Particularly when you talk about a schmuck like Sean Avery as being something a team needs, or taking on horrible longterm contracts like Weber’s or Lucic’s. These aren’t solutions—they are extensions of failed strategies.

          • Yes, I want Shea Weber and Milan Lucic, now and their albatross contracts. I wouldn’t mind if added Corey Perry as well.

    • This is the the. Nintendo Ice Hockey proved that. I always used one fat guy, one medium sized and one skinny guy.

  • New coach means a new direction, that’s great news. We have no idea what this team will look like in July, let alone October. This was a good article with our NYR experience, Gorton/Quinn is the “new” regime and this is a MAJOR foundation year, I just want intense and exciting back in red, white and blue.
    I’m expecting a move on the 21st and 22nd, I think a D man comes from Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton or Minnesota ( with an outside chance from the new regime in Carolina). We’ll be more active in trades than free agency. I still think we stay at # 9 pick and draft Dobson or Bouchard. Can’t wait to see what we get on paper and then on the ice. Draft in 15 days, Free agency in 23 days and Traverse City in about 3 months. Let the good times roll.

    • been thinking lately if the Rangers stay at #9 they’ll pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi…with the number of young defensemen and maybe a trade or signing they’ll think scorer first and defense later in the round or second rd

      lot of options tho…so it’ll be an interesting time

  • Last year the Rangers played with no heart, Zip, zilch, zero. That has to change this season. I am not sure the next Captain is even on the team yet. Maybe Zucc if he’s not traded, but they need a strong personality wearing the C along with a strong coach. Just coming to play every night is going to give us a better result than last year. Sprinkle in some Howden and Lindgren to the line up and I think the compete level will go up a few notches. Andersson also showed a solid compete level at the end of the season. Lack of effort can be fixed…

    • I think a veteran or two need to come on board. If Zucc goes than maybe even three veterans need to be added here. JG will have to field a team just in case that those young guys need more time to develop in the AHL. The minor league team also needs to build it’s culture up. That’s when someone like Gropp develops more smoothly, he needs to know how to play his game around a NHL worthy center while not playing in the juniors. I’m just saying if this was 2013-14 all over again and they gave D Moore a contract that pushed Andersson to the AHL because he’s not read than so be it. I hope they don’t give free passes to people who look alright at this level because even if he signed his life away as a NYR, Hank deserves better.

  • I had the same feeling about the lack of excitement watching their games, and I’ve watched almost every game for 50 years(tough times in 76 thru 78 after they got rid of my fav players but the 79 team brought me back) . When the letter went out about the rebuild I was excited to watch again, though the fact that they kept rolling out the same 4th liners (playing buch on the 4th line was crazy) drove me crazy. But the the kids on the back line were fun to watch. We are all pumped up about the next few weeks right now and then camp. Let’s hope their is something to get excited about in October. Let the kids play!

    • been about 55 years and yes, i know what you mean. the excitement needs to come back along with the desire for the players to start winning again

  • On July 11, 2013, Kovalchuk chose to quit the NHL at the age of 30. Although Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello knew that Kovalchuk had been considering retirement since before the 2012–13 shortened season, Kovalchuk’s departure came as a surprise to the public. Upon leaving, Kovalchuk had $77 million and 12 years remaining on his contract. Kovalchuk claimed that he desired to return home to Russia along with his family, though it is speculated that money had quite an influence as well, due to the higher total salary Kovalchuk will receive in Russia via the far lower Russian tax rate compared to the U.S.

    Yep, this is the perfect player to bring in to establish “accountability” for the young NY Ranger players. 36 years old. Perfect…

    • Kovalchuk’s exit was engineered by Lamoriello just as much as it was by Kovalchuk. His salary under his Devils contract would’ve crippled the Devils’ salary cap for its lengthy duration.

      If you really were a fan of hockey you’d know this fact. Also you’d know that Kovalchuk won KHL titles and for years has been the only Russian player to qualify as a leader on their Olympic and World Cup of Hockey teams. You’d also know that Kovalchuk willed a crappy Devils team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012, beating a Ranger team in the semifinals that year.

  • All I know is that I’m excited now that AV is gone. Somewhere during the course of this year (maybe last year actually) he just lost the team. Quinn will rectify that issue fast. From there, who knows.

  • The subtlety that is missing from the replies are that any veterans need to be as a leadership compliment to, or hold places for, youngsters. The problem IMHO of the Jagr Straka Nylander teams were that they were not really rebuilds, and came to rely on those 33+ year old players, like revisiting a bad habit. The mere presence of an entire line of 33+ year old players is proof itself. Yes, of course, no roster of only youngsters, but vets in their proper place as part of a true rebuild/retool/ whatever. Lets get back to a Garden that rocks. Enough Ice Capades!

  • I’m going to call a spade a spade here. The Rangers really didn’t rebuild the right way after the 04 Lockout. They got lucky they drafted a generational goaltender in the 7th round.

    • And benefitted from the last of jagr’s greatest seasons. Yup, 100%. Never had anyone else in the system even close to those two guys since then, and rode hank to a decade of relevance.

  • On TSN1260 Edmonton at 5pm said that the Oilers and the Rangers have talked about the Oilers first and Milan Lucic For Zuccarello and other moving parts with Edmonton eating some money

    • 6 years on that Lucic deal and buyout proof. I’d need 3 1st round picks to take on that contract.

      • He actually has 5 years left but either way that would be a tough sell & we’d be forced to protect him at the next expansion draft.

        • What makes you think that we have to protect him? If he’s under contract, with NMC then that may be the case, but if not, I don’t think we do??????????? It is an interesting point just the same!!!!!

          • Unless something has changed I believe that to be the case,he does have a full NMC,we would have had to protect Girardi if we didn’t buy him out & had to protect Staal , Nash & Hank in this past expansion because of their NMC.

          • NMC is in effect

            Everything I’m reading is that EDM will take a shorter term lousy contract back plus pick/prospect. Rangers lousy contracts are manageable. Edmonton is lousy at developing prospects, would need pick *and* prospect along with moving Staal.

          • Are you saying the deal is that we take Lucic, and his contract, AND give up a pick and a prospect? Are you F’ing kidding me? My memory goes back a long way, and I remember when we traded Rick Middleton for Ken Hodge, and this deal would rival that one for its idiocy. No way, Jose.

          • No, would need to get a pick and a prospect along with trading Staal.
            Even then, I probably wouldn’t do it.

          • If you think that I went from needing 3 draft picks to take on that contract to wanting to send picks to take on that contract(in the same thread), see a doctor.

  • 2005-06 Rangers also brought the Stick Salute to center ice. Quickly spread and looks like it’s here to stay as a long term NHL tradition. It gave me chills when they did that the first few times. They said we were going to suck that year, Jagr disagreed publicly, and then it felt like we were giving everyone the finger after each win together. Loved it.

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