Exiting the rebuild and re-entering playoff mode

Rebuilds are a tricky beast. On one hand, there is a need to blow up aging rosters, restock the prospect cupboard, hope you get lucky, and then try again. On the other hand, there is an inherent risk of remaining in a rebuild forever due to a multitude of reasons. Much like hanging on for one last run is flawed, a rebuild can be flawed as well.

I take you to the Edmonton Oilers, who have been in rebuild mode for the better part of a decade now. The Oilers had top pick after top pick, and nailed most of them. However management’s inability to fill up the roster with viable support has led to their never ending spiral around the proverbial toilet.

There is also the case of the Islanders. The Isles had a bunch of top picks as well. They made a major trade to acquire Thomas Vanek that bit them hard, and then didn’t make any significant moves other than taking advantage of a stupid Oilers team that gave them Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome. The Isles came out of their rebuild almost by accident, and never fully committed to filling the roster around their stars. John Tavares has left them. Eberle is next. And they are banking on Robin Lehner continuing a Vezina like performance to keep them relevant. There’s a solid chance this team is a flash in the pan and sink to mediocrity next season.

Both are traps that GM Jeff Gorton is looking to avoid. You can’t rebuild forever, or else you wind up like the Islanders. You can’t make silly moves to accelerate a rebuild or else you wind up like the Oilers. There’s a delicate balance, and it’s a fine line that Gorton must ride.

The move out of the rebuild really began with landing Kaapo Kakko. The infusion of elite talent that he and Vitali Kravtsov may bring to the forwards next year can be a one-two punch we haven’t seen on Broadway in a decade. With not one, but two elite level talents coming to New York, Gorton pulled the trigger on Adam Fox, sacrificing quantity for quality as the next phase in contending begins. That, of course, is retooling the blue line.

This is where evaluating blue line talent at the NHL level is going to play a critical factor. The Rangers are not historically good at this, and a misstep can lead to mediocrity instead of glory. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a Hall for Larsson type misstep either. It can be, very simply, believing that Neal Pionk is a 1RD. Or that Marc Staal – albeit incredibly unmoveable – is a part of the solution.

Larry Brooks is beating the drum on trading Kevin Shattenkirk because of the Fox acquisition. Shatty has a NMC that protects against expansion and demotion, but not against trades. He has a limited NTC where he can still be traded to 20 teams. Now there is certainly some political blow back when it comes to trading Shattenkirk, but there’s a good chance the Rangers actually make their blue line worse by trading him. That is, of course, unless they replace him with Erik Karlsson. And trading Shattenkirk still doesn’t address the larger issue of Staal’s play and ice time, and Brendan Smith’s current status.

The Rangers are going to come out of the rebuild for the 2019-2020 season, which means the rebuild will have lasted, for all intents and purposes, for about 1.5 seasons. In that span, the Rangers will have made 26 draft picks, barring any future trades. They nailed the important picks too and now have a prospect pool filled with talent.

In making the decision to accelerate the rebuild now, the Rangers are sending a message to the current squad that they believe in them, which is certainly a nice boost. They are sending a message to the fans that they are going to make another push with Henrik Lundqvist on the roster. But most importantly, they are sending a message that they aren’t afraid to make moves and believe they are ready for the next step.

It looks like Jeff Gorton has avoided the Islanders’ dilemma. Now let’s see if he avoids the Oilers’ dilemma.

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  • Agreed Dave, while I do not believe that the Rangers will do something stupid like go for Karlsson, I do believe that Panarin and Trouba are offseason targets.

    Plus I do believe that there will be teams in cap hell that will be forced to trade good players, which we could be recipients of.

    While this team will be stocked with young players, I think that there will be a mix of vets with the idea of making the playoffs this coming year, without doing something completely stupid. Gorton has a lot of leverage this offseason, with picks and cap space.

  • id like to see them draft a couple more skilled wings (with the wpg pick?) , before I can conclusively say they have left rebuild mode.

    im firmly in favor of keeping Kreider.

    is trouba really worth what he’ll cost in assets? he has had one 50 pt year.

    as drury discusses in the athletic they are definitely searching for number 1 pair guys stil so I highly doubt they consider pionk a 1rd.

  • I actually think Lundqvistis becoming an after thought here. They cannot trade him–but they will play him a lot less. And they have no illusions abo.ut winning any Stanley Cups with him.

    • If the Rangers want to mess up their rebuild, the best way to do that would be to sign an aging injury prone dman like Karlsson. Better they stay the course with drafting and developing their Blueline. As these young Dmen make the step into NHL, the veterans will attrite out. This process needs to allowed to happen without management pressing the panic button.

  • “It looks like Jeff Gorton has avoided the Islanders’ dilemma. Now let’s see if he avoids the Oilers’ dilemma.”

    Yes this may well be the case, and one has to be grateful of the fact that this turn around was so quickly accomplished. This is what a good team looks like, starting from the top, JG is a top notch GM, and hopefully Jim Dolan let’s him do his job without his interference.

    The defense will be considerably better when we rid ourselves of both Shatty, and Staal. I could live with Smith, worst case scenario, because he can play both sides on the D, and fill in at the forward position in case of an emergency. Staal was a gallant warrior, but since his eye injury, and concussion, he is a shell of the player he was. Shatty never could play a lick of defense, and now that his offensive contribution is reduced, how can we justify keeping him, especially with that cap hit. Man did I hate that move even before it happened.

    Going after Trouba may well be an expensive proposition, acquiring, and signing him long term, but he may be the answer to our first pair problem. He could be paired with Skjei, Hajek with ADA, and Lindgren with Fox, that’s not a bad defense if you ask me. Please stay as far away from Karlsson, he will be the next Shatty mark my words.

    Folks, let’s not forget that this is a very deep draft, and we possess two #1 picks. Everyone knows what the first pick will be, but we don’t know who will be our second #1 pick is. There may well be a stud d-man, who will be available????? I think we go after scoring wings, but I thought I’d say what I did to make people think about other options.

    I can’t wait until July 1st, by then the draft would be over, and if JG decides to sign a UFA, or make trades, we will have a better idea of what this team will look like next season!!!!!!! LGR…….

    • There is nothing wrong with going after a player like Trouba, just don’t get sucked in and overpay. If it doesn’t fit then walk away. But I have heard that Mrs. Trouba wants NYC to enhance her own business so it’s worth a phone call or 2.

  • I have a very bad feeling about our not hearing from E3, especially since he was always against a youth movement. Ed, if your out there post, and give us your input. Also MIA is Doc Paul, and Fotiu, miss your posts as well. Everyone have a good day………….

    • yeah, we both have been asking for him in the past, with no response. 🙁

      we pray that he is ok…

      • I may be wrong about this, but we need to include our email addresses and I would think that Dave could find us and drop us an email if he chose to do so. Now there are privacy issues of course, but it is only a small incursion to write someone like Eddie and ask if it is okay to update the group – or to update some of us. Personally I would be okay with such a note from Dave if I disappeared, not that people would care very much. Alas, as my values don’t mesh too closely with the rest of the world, this doesn’t mean much. OTOH, with Eddie and the two previous commenters in this thread, it is a different story.

    • Walt/Richter1994, I and many others echo your thoughts and prayers for our long time bloggers, praying they are OK!

  • We are a rebuilding team until we restock the defense with very good talent and add scoring to the front line. Remember, Kakko and Kraftsov may need 30 games at the AHL level before they are ready. Fox might need 20. Slow and steady with what we have but be proactive with free agents and trades. Take advantage of our Cap situation and use that leverage to get better.

    We are closer to being a contender for the playoffs, but still need a “go-to” guy to add to Zibby. TO me, July 15th is about the date we know what our new team will look like. We need to be better in close games. I think we are a potential playoff team, and as we know from this year, once you make the playoffs, anything can happen.

    • they have spoken about “accelerating” the rebuild and in my mind they have taken 2 steps in towards that initative (luck def involved, u gotta have some) and were not even out of the second playoff round yet. question will be how aggressive they’ll be the rest of the summer. I don’t think its fair to expect the generation ‘k’. to be the go to guys off the bat .. but ultimately they are who you want to end up in those roles.

  • Give it one more year under the rebuild premise to see how all the new young acquisitions fare. Let them get one year in the NHL to get through the indoctrination phase, see who shakes out with all the young D, and get an idea on if the few roster vets are worth resigning (Kreider, Fast, Strome).
    There is going to be a TON of new faces on the team next year in Krav, Kaako, Fox as well as all the rookies from this past year getting their first full NHL seasons in. It feels one year too early to start the roster filling with trades/FA signings. I expected a 2+ year rebuild, I won’t be heartbroken if they miss the playoffs one more year for another lottery shot at one more elite talent.

  • If the Rangers can rid themselves of Smith and Staal’s (Buyout) roster spots, and full and partial salaries respectively, then I don’t see the harm in going after both Panarin and Trouba as long as we don’t give up too much for the latter. I think Shattenkirk’s spot should be dependent on whether we get Trouba. Would also prefer Strome or Vesey included in any trade for Trouba as we may not have roster spots from either of them anyway. If we don’t get Panarin nor Trouba then I think I can stomach one more year of a couple bloated D contracts and dispensable forwards in order to retain picks and prospects in trying to fill those voids. The biggest problem with that is we need the young D getting playing time. I also wonder how deep into the Top 10 we could move in order to get another NHL ready player by moving our 18th and another pick. If so and that choice is a pure Center then that will say a lot about their view on Chytil and/or Howden as a 2nd line center going forward. In that case I think Cozens or Zegras (DQ’s BU recruit) will be their targets. Certainly one of the more interesting and complex draft/off-seasons for the Rangers in a very long time.

  • I don’t think we’re out of rebuild mode, I think we’re looking to accelerate and this may very well be the last year of it but it isn’t over … not by a long shot.

    Forget Trouba … I’m sick of Trouba and I see no reason to throw assets at the Jets for him.

    I’m basically against signing Panarin, but I won’t go crazy if they sign him — as long as it isn’t for some foolish amount of cap space like $11-12m per for 7 years with a full NTC/NMC. At least Panarin comes for free and doesn’t require the expenditure of assets.

    No, I think you stay the course and look to push forward by getting rid of at least one of Staal, Smith and Shattenkirk. Retain salary if you have to (you will) … look to have another strong draft next year and look to move a second out of that group by next summer.

    No worries, we’re not the Oilers. Sure they made a few good picks in the Top 3 year after year but they never did more than that in their rebuild. Top to bottom they were a bit of a disaster … they had no direction, there never seemed to be a real plan aside from drafting elite talent in the top of the 1st round. Their GMs have done a terrible job, their coaching staffs as well.

  • I don’t think that they are exiting the rebuild quite yet David. Sure, Kakko and Kravtsov might make the team out of camp, but, they are a couple of 18 year-olds who have been playing in Europe and Russia, not the North American game. One or both could need some time in the AHL. We won’t really know that until they play in the camp. They are both very valuable assets and I expect that the Rangers will be cautious with them.

    Fox is a little older and he might make the NHL squad, but it is possible that he will need a little AHL time too. We will see.

    They have a lot of kids in the system and will be drafting more. All this means to me that they are rebuilding at least during the coming season. If they make the playoffs playing three 18 year-olds and a couple of 20 year-olds, that would be awesome. What I do not want to see is the club signing players such as Karlsson or even Panarin if they are going to pay through the nose and tie up a lot of cap space. Trouba is young and is more in line with that I believe they should be going, but lets not sell the farm to get him.

    Patience grasshopper. Patience.

  • I am also against the theme of this treastise that the rebuild is over. Here are my problems with it:

    1. We are not out of the rebuild mode, as Tanto says. Most of our high end prospects are in their teens or early 20’s. They are not going to be good next year, just trending upwards. We will have elite talent – but talent that needs a few years to get there.

    2. With that in mind we are better off not buying anyone out and paying for it, salary cap wise, when we are ready to compete. We really don’t even have high end D prospects being blocked by Staal and Smith. There is a spot for Fox and Hajek already. No one else is ready or needs to play on D. Perhaps Lindgren but he is really a C prospect anyway – probably 3rd pair is his realistic high end; so not a big deal. Pionk should be traded if anyone sees value in him.

    3. The Islanders are not really out of their rebuild; just over achieved this year like the Devils last year. They are not a flash in the pan. They have one of the strongest farm systems in the league. And their young Dmen on their roster have performed well.

    4. I fully understand the pent up demand to say the rebuild is over is, IMHO, not correct. That is the trap to be avoided.

  • I’m with Peter. I believe we should stay away from the big free agent names this year. No Panarin, and for heaven’s sake no Karlsson, not this year and not ever. Haven’t we learned our lesson with Boyle and Shatty? Although Panarin is world class talent, this isn’t the year. As far as the love fest with Trouba, IF, and it’s a big IF, we do not have to mortgage the future then ok. But if the cost is too high, then pass.
    I’d love to see the new faces that make the club settle in and we actually evaluate what we have. By doing that, then we can accurately see what we need.
    So far I think JG has done a fantastic job. And yep he had a bit of luck when he took my fellow brother’s shield with him to the lottery. However, that one piece of luck aside just look at the jump we have taken in the prospect polls.
    Stay the course JG and don’t get happy pants. Continue this year in rebuild and evaluation mode.

    And Walt, I hope all is well with Maria…………

  • The only Free Agent I would consider adding and it depends on term of course…is Michael Ferland. We will have too many kids that will need protection…unless we can trade for Josh Anderson. Panarin will cost way too much and after that….hard pass on everyone.

  • Where are we in the rebuild? We have no information yet.

    Seriously, we just lost two of our top forwards in Zuccarello and Hayes. The heralded entries of Kakko and Kravtsov may or may not replace them, but the forward group is certainly not much better than it was – and it was terrible. And it likely is worse. Fox may provide an upgrade on defense, but he is only one player and not viewed as elite. This is not a playoff team.

    Could it be a playoff team with the right UFA acquisitions? Maybe, but we simply don’t know what will happen. Bottom line: if the Rangers sign Panarin and/or Karlsson – or maybe a few other splashy players, the rebuild is being accelerated. However, if JG sits on his hands in July, he is staying the course. Right now, we just don’t know.

    The events of the last three months have been mechanical and easy for the most part. Trade Hayes and Zucc for picks, get lucky with the #2 pick, and grab what falls in your lap (Fox). The hard choices lie ahead.

    • “if the Rangers sign Panarin and/or Karlsson – or maybe a few other splashy players, the rebuild is being accelerated. ”
      Ray, I could not disagree more with your perception of what accelerated means. I believe the Fox trade and signing is the definition of what Gorton was talking about when he said the term. You use your assets to improve your team with youth that is NHL ready. I don’t think Gorton is done yet, either. If they do what you determine the definition is, that is just a reach and is counter productive to the rebuild process. It is just more of the same nonsense that the Rangers have used in the past that has not worked. I.E. signing over aged FA to try to push you over the top. That could work, but you need to be near the top to begin with. The Rangers are not there yet. It would be foolish to bring these players in now, before you are ready to compete. Then allow them to strangle you and your options when, indeed you are ready.

      • I suspect you misunderstand me. I did not advocate any fancy signings – at least in this comment. The rebuild has a certain timetable. Accelerating the rebuild means trying to rush things and get there a little more quickly. That might be appropriate or it may be rash (haste makes waste). I do not believe the definition of the word accelerated leaves any wiggle room.

        My point was that JG has not accelerated the rebuild at all. He has simply stayed the course (which I think is a strategy that you agree with). He may yet accelerate by signing UFAs or trading picks or young talent for players that are closer to ready, but the time for that (should it happen) is this summer, not now.

        • I did misunderstand. My apologies, I thought you were advocating now for splashy signings. Yes, I believe he should stay the course. Thanks for the clarification.

  • I would rather grab a Panarin caliber forward now (for no picks or players) rather than us trade a typical Rangers’ ransom for someone like that in two years time when perhaps we have a legitimate run at something. Playoffs should be next year’s goal and someone made a good point in that Kakko/Kratsov in place of Hayes/Zucc doesn’t all of a sudden make us a better team today.

    • That would make us much worse, not better. Lets use Mikko Rantanen as a model for Kakko and Kratsov. Rantanen is basically a super star and the scouting reports indicate Kakko could be another Rantanen, Rantanen had 38 points his first year. That would be a realistic goal for Kakko and Kratsov for their first year in the NHL. So they will probably score at 60% of what Hayes & Zuc can and do. Look at how Chytil struggled this year. The young elite prospects still need a year or two to acclimate to the higher league, different style play and develop more. That is why, IMHO, the rebuild should not be accelerated. We are not going to be contenders next year with developing prospects, a mediocre defense, and league average goaltending.

      Keep rebuilding and developing!

      • I agree Orland. They are accumulating the assets but those assets need to be developed. Patience is required but it will bear fruit if they pick the right people and develop them well.

    • Other Panarin-like (elitish) players should become available over the course of the next few years. Last year it was Tavares, this year it’s Panarin and maybe one could argue Duchene and Skinner (Stone might have even been available if not for being traded to Vegas specifically).

      Besides, it’s best to see what we really need after some development of these players. Will Chytil be best as a center? Will Kakko or Kravtsov be best at center? I mean sure, we all have ideas about that, but if we wait a couple of years we’ll know for sure. Heck, maybe we’ll need a better LD in 2 years.

      Again, I won’t cry and have a temper tantrum if they sign Panarin (well, it depends on the terms of the K), but I’ll probably be happier if they skip all the expensive UFA’s this year.

      • I think it would be a mistake to sign Panarin, even if it would be fun to watch him @ MSG. He’s 6 months younger than Kreider and most of the fan base want Kreider traded because he going to be on the downside when the team starts peaking. Of course Kreider is no Bread Man but he doesn’t require a 7 year 11 million per commitment either.

        We still do not have even one candidate for first pair dman. And the only realistic prospect for 1st pair is Miller who is at least 3 years away given his development status. And K’Andre may be a long shot for that, but he at least appears to have the tools.

        And that is a good point – before filling in the “last” missing piece we need to know what we have. And right now it’s all a guess. But if we get Kakko we will be set at Right Wing for a long time with Kratsov, Buch and Kakko. The smart move is to be patient and not jump the gun for the hot flavor of the moment.

  • There was of course a non-full blow-up path available to this team. Lets not forget that this organization was unlucky/AV messed it up against a decent Senators team (Karlsson, Stone, etc). Additionally, there have been multiple elite players that have been moved the past couple of seasons (e.g. RoR was traded for actual garbage by the Sabres; can you imagine how elite a Zib/RoR 1/2 punch is? Or even Dougie Hamilton), yet for galaxy braining reasons the FO never decided to seriously consider these players because WE HAD OUR PATH.

    Now having said that, Gorton almost messed it up, because the group he assembled this year was actually better than the team last year, and the only reason our record is where it is is because Quinn managed to micro-manage Buch into oblivion for most of the year (KZB was an elite line last year, yet our coach didn’t re-assemble it until the final month of the year; how does that make sense; anybody who acted surprised that Zib is elite was not watching or paying attention last year; his GAR stats were incredible), and then also tanked the year by playing Staal-Pionk (Rob Luker has shown repeatedly how much our expected goal stats basically aligned with these two horrific deployment decisions).

    Now of course we have had luck. Igor seems great. We got lucky in the draft last year with Krav and K’Andre (most analysts would have picked other players at those slots), and then we got lucky with the second pick this year (lets hope we pick the right guy!). All of that luck goes a long way for us not to continue sucking. And yet, none of these players are going to be contributors this coming season, and probably marginal players the year after (unless they blow up quickly). So the question then is what decisions do Gorton and co make. This is what will differentiate us from Edmonton/Buffalo, etc. If this FO rolls out the following defense we are not making the playoffs: Skjei-Pionk; Staal-ADA; Libor-Fox.

    It will be one of the worst groups in the NHL, and probably bottom three if not outright the worst. Similarly there is a very strong case that Gorton extends Strome and Quinn slots him as the 2C thus once again acting as a progress stopper to Chytil who should be our 2C. Strome is not good at all and had crazy shooting statistics. He should be traded immediately.

    Basically my basecase for this off-season is: 1. trade/buyout Shatt; 2. Keep Staal; 3. extend Pionk to some dumb deal; 4. keep Vesey despite Brooks saying he’s gone and then give him a shot in a more prominent role despite not warranting it; 5. possibly sign Panarin (I think the Florida will ultimately get him); 6. extend Strome to some dumb deal; and 7. not extend Kreider and trade him for spare parts at the deadline.

    This is just my guess based on the FO’s track record. But if something like this occurs then we are definitely not making the playoffs this year (an absurd three year PO gap), and unless a bunch of kids blow up to superstars to make up for the dim lights in the FO, we will be in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for a fourth year as well.

    Lets pray this does not happen.

  • I do want to take issue with the KZB myth. Over the last two years, the number of goals per minute that the Rangers have scored at even strength with KZB on the ice is less than the number of goals per minute scored when Marc Staal is on the ice. (something like 12 goals in 380 minutes versus 110 goals in 2800 or 2900). And I am not even correcting for Marc’s PK time. And no, KZB has not been more successful than Voros-Dubinsky-Zherdev.

    There is a difference between a good line and three good hockey players. There is also a difference between a talented hockey player and a good hockey player. I think Chityl may be the most talented forward the Rangers have – certainly top three. But I did not like what I saw this year. He doesn’t seem to play every shift. And Buchnevich is also talented, so talented in fact that I would be very interested in what he would net in trade.

    • I agree about the way Chytil played this year but he is so young and playing in a new and higher end league. It is not unusual for a young talented player to need to be coached up about battle level. It seems that is what DQ was able to do with Buch & Namesnikov this year.

      I think the jury is still out on Chytil. Very talented but not a certainty to put it all together in this league. But that is the case for many young talented prospects. Also unclear if he can play center here, which I believe is his natural position.

      • I don’t know about Buch and Namestnikov. Names scored 31 points after 48 each of the two previous years while Buch scored 38 in 64 games after 43 in 74 last year. Taking into account the power play, Buch had 26 ES points each year and Names’s numbers look better too, but I don’t see serious improvement in either case. Of course, you may be talking more about their approach to the game than production; unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to see enough games to tell.

        Honestly, I really like the way Zibanejad developed into the player it always seemed he could be but never quite was AND I really liked the advances made by DeAngelo (a talented kid I had mostly written off), but otherwise, I just don’t see that DQ got anything unexpected out of anyone.

        And yes, the jury is still out on Chityl.

    • Sheesh Ray, the kid is 19 and you expect him to be consistent every shift?

      Re: Buchnevich, unless he gets you a Top 5 pick why would you trade him for someone that “might” be better without having a distinct reason to trade him in the first place? I mean if he was under some level of cost control and you were unsure about his future on the team, then I can see looking to possibly move him … but now is definitely not the time.

  • Personally, I never had any athletic ability, but I think the concept of trying my hardest at eight. 19 is an excuse for mistakes, not an excuse for taking shifts off.

    I would consider trading Buchnevich because he is not very good and probably will never be very good. Given that so many people are high on him, I sense he is overvalued and might net a good price. that said, I would not trade him for a third rounder or a player I didn’t want. The point though is that in a rebuild, one should not just trade garbage. In a trade, you transform an asset into another asset and if a deal makes the team better, it is worth considering.

    • “I would consider trading Buchnevich because he is not very good and probably will never be very good.”

      How do you come to these opinions Raymond? Asking for a friend.

      • The first clause is relative and the second is speculation. Buchnevich has 81 points over the last two years. Obviously that is somewhat good, but miles from elite. You don’t send such a player to the AHL, but neither do you build your team around him – sort of a respectable middle six player. He just isn’t the player BSB portrays him as — and the KZB line has a 1.9 GF/60 over two years.

        As for what lies ahead, most thnk Buch who is young will get better and I don’t — and if he plateus at 45-50 points a season, I am more right than you are. If he is 60 point guy, I am wrong. My gauge for the future was his rookie year when he was beaten out for a starting job by Tanner Glass. My take (and it is only my take) is that Buch can be really good if everything breaks his way, but he does not have what it takes to be a good player when he is hurt – and hockey players are usually hurt.

        We just disagree. However, this is a key point – and this is more about attitude than Buchnevich. I am more interested in trading Buchnevich than in trading Nieves for one simple reason (even though Buch is better). Since you think Buch is great – and many feel as you do – I can get a lot for him. And you don’t trade your bad players, you trade your overvalued players because they have the best return.

        • I didn’t say Buch was elite, but even his less than good play generates a pretty good pts per 60 5 on 5.

          And that’s with being jerked around in and out of the line up. He’s bought in and will be a force this year.

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