State of the Rangers

Why the Rangers are rebuilding better than the Devils

Friend of the site and noted Rangers troll CJ Turtoro penned a piece about why the Devils are rebuilding better than the Rangers. CJ does bring up two good points, namely center depth and future cap constraints, but there are some holes in his arguments. As such, I’d like to counter his piece with my own. The Rangers are rebuilding better than the Devils. And quite frankly, it isn’t even close.

I’m not going to open this up by trolling the Devils. There’s no real value in pointing out that their head coach is Lindy Ruff. What’s the point in recognizing the Devils haven’t even made the playoffs eight of the last ten years? Is there any merit in discussing that they haven’t won a playoff series in nine years? That 11th ranked prospect pool isn’t bad either, considering they’ve two #1 picks in the last four years, and four top-10 picks in the last six years.

But this post isn’t going to be about trashing the Devils, even if it is fun. As CJ points out, the teams have taken completely different approaches to rebuilding. There’s no wrong way to approach a rebuild, and both have value. But it’s clear to me the Rangers are much further along and have the better outlook for the near and long term futures.

The Case for the Rangers

1) Foundational Pieces

The key to rebuilding to contending status is stockpiling youth at the NHL level. The Rangers are the second youngest team in the league (to the Devils), but have a greater impact up and down the lineup. While the Devils, on paper, have a better WAR than the Rangers with their under-23 players, the Devils are propped up by one. Jack Hughes.

The Rangers, on the other hand, have spread the love. The Rangers currently have four forwards (Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov), three defensemen (Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller), and one goalie (Igor Shesterkin) playing key roles on entry level contracts. Of that group, three are currently on the top line/pair. Another two are top-six/top-four. The other skaters are at least top-nine. Then there’s Shesterkin, who is already showing the Rangers won’t miss a beat moving to him from an all time great in Henrik Lundqvist.

When was the last Stanley Cup champion that didn’t have this kind of depth throughout the lineup? The Blackhawks come to mind, riding mostly just five players. But even the Penguins had legitimate tertiary scoring. Ditto the Kings.

What the Rangers lack, as CJ points out, is a homegrown center on a cheap contract. The Rangers also lack true prospect center depth. This we know. The Devils have Hughes and Nick Hischier. That’s a solid duo, if Hischier can get back on the ice consistently.

But outside of that duo. who else is there? Jesper Bratt is good. But the rest?


How many of the above strike fear into the opposition? Maybe Ty Smith turns into something. He’s certainly got the potential. But he’s going to be less than Fox, and likely less than Miller, especially with Ruff as his head coach. When the entire argument is predicated on one or two players, it’s hard to justify that the Devils are rebuilding better than the Rangers.

Mackenzie Blackwood as the goalie is also a concern. As pointed out, he’s given up 15 more goals than expected in his tenure with the Devils. That’s a problem. The Devils don’t have the offense to outscore Blackwood’s mistakes, nor do they have the defensive ability or coaching to limit the chances against. This is a major problem.

2) The Salary Cap Isn’t a Concern

A major talking point is the salary cap, of which the Devils have a lot more space than the Rangers. That’s fine. But that doesn’t mean the Rangers are in a bad place with the cap. In fact, they are just fine. A simple extra step in research shows the Rangers are going to be just fine with the cap.

Without rehashing the entire post from last week, this roster for next season gives the Rangers $10.7 million in cap space, barring any significant trades. Expand this to the 2022-2023 season, and the only real issue is that the Rangers will have to give Mika Zibanejad a new contract, if they do at all. The cap concerns are very largely overblown. Cap management matters, and it is why the Rangers are rebuilding better than the Devils. They’ve spent their money on high end players, not depth players.

Of the long term Rangers contracts, the focus is on Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider. These are again legitimate concerns, and it was on our minds the minute both contracts were signed. CJ points out that Panarin’s xGAR is slowly coming down. It’s hard for that argument to have merit when Panarin has posted career best numbers two years in a row. His skill set ages well, and while we do expect some slow down in the latter years of his deal, it won’t be immediate. Panarin shouldn’t fall off a cliff, and he should still be a very productive player deep into the contract.

As for Kreider, he’s another guy whose skill set ages somewhat well. He’s a bit of a freak with his speed and strength combination, but what sets him apart is his net-front ability. That doesn’t fade. Plus using the xGAR argument, he’s actually seen an uptick this season. Is there risk? Sure. Is it overblown? Maybe.

The key for the Rangers will be managing the long term contracts for their key pieces. The Rangers can do this by avoiding bridge deals for key players, specifically Fox, Shesterkin, Lafreniere, and Kakko. That quartet has the ability to get expensive quickly. For the Rangers, there’s tremendous value in locking them up immediately, before they get to the eight digit contract range.

3) The Rangers Have a Next Wave”

Often overlooked is the next wave of prospects to hit New York. Braden Schneider and Nils Lundkvist haven’t even played a game for the Rangers yet. Zac Jones is signed, but has only played a pair of games. Lauri Pajuniemi is on his way. Tarmo Reunanen is in the AHL. Karl Henriksson and Matthew Robertson will be there next year. Hunter Skinner and Will Cuylle will get full, non-COVID seasons there.

Now not all of these kids will pan out. And not all of them will be with the Rangers even if they do. But the Rangers don’t just have their current crop on the NHL roster. They have the pieces to fill in the gaps as players get too expensive. In that group are a trio of centers –Henriksson, Brett Berard, Evan Vierling– who have pretty decent ceilings if they continue to develop. They aren’t high-end, though.

Outside of Hughes, Hischier, Bratt, and maybe Smith, who do the Devils have next? Alexander Holtz is certainly a high ceiling guy. Dawson Mercer has potential as well. Is that it though? Maybe this year’s draft will go differently for the Devils.

4) The Culture of Winning

There’s a difference between winning at all costs and creating a competitive environment for prospects.. The Devils made some very ill-advised trades in a playoff push as the Rangers were tearing it down. None of them worked out, and then they tore it down themselves.

But don’t correlate trading for Jacob Trouba and signing Panarin to winning at all costs. These were rare opportunities for the Rangers to add core pieces, even if the timing wasn’t 100% in sync with the rest of the rebuild. That duo, along with Zibanejad, Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, and a resurgent Ryan Strome, has given a legitimate top-six that can score with the best of them. This allowed the Rangers to ease their kids into the lineup. It wasn’t flawless and there are certainly questions to their approach, but it’s difficult to doubt the results so far. 

The Rangers are in a “playoff race,” even if they really need a few miracles to make it. Last season, they surged and made that play-in round. This is experience their core players are getting, which helps them grow and guide that next wave. The Devils are barely holding off the Sabres for last in the division. Boy, those games must mean something.

The Caveats

Jeff Gorton and David Quinn

This is the biggest offseason in Jeff Gorton’s career. He doesn’t necessarily need to add a big piece, but he is expected to be active. The only thing that can derail this rebuild is Gorton. One bad contract extension or one bad trade can really hamper the Rangers. When betting on big deals, they need to hit, and they need to hit for at least most of the years. 

As important as this offseason is for Gorton, the 2022 offseason may be even bigger. That’s when the Rangers need to decide between Zibanejad, Strome, or both. The 2021 and 2022 offseasons are linked together though, as moves this offseason will certainly impact decisions in 2022. 

As mentioned above, keeping costs down is going to be critical as the Rangers navigate the latter years of those Panarin and Kreider deals. The Rangers don’t have a good history with locking up talent long term. You can bet they will do it this year with Fox and Shesterkin. Will they do it with their forwards too?

I’ve also been critical of David Quinn’s in-game coaching style. I dislike the neutral zone and blue line approach on defense. I also dislike four righties on PP1, with PP2 getting almost no time. The question is whether or not DQ can be the coach to get them to the next level. A lot will be unveiled next season.

Center Depth

This is a major concern for the Rangers. Most Stanley Cup champions have a legitimate 1C. The Rangers have that in Zibanejad, but that’s only guaranteed through next season. After next season, only Filip Chytil is locked into a contract.

The Rangers will make moves to address this. They will likely keep one of Zibanejad or Strome, but not both, and will need to find creative ways to address this. Morgan Barron is no guarantee. While the numbers show Chytil should be able to take the 2C role with ease, he hasn’t been given that chance because of Strome’s play. In theory, he should still be able to move up to that role, but that’s no guarantee either. 

The question though, is how much the Rangers actually need a legitimate center. The wing depth on the Rangers is tops in the NHL, and that is not an exaggeration. The Rangers can run three top-six wingers on each of their top-three lines. Centers that can be game managers will be able to produce with these wingers. Or, at least they should be able to. Nick Foles won a Super Bowl by simply managing a game, and not being a game breaker. 


This was written as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek response to CJ, as his article was very rose-colored glasses of him. He brought up great points, specifically center depth, as to where the Devils are rebuilding better than the Rangers. But that also seemed to be the argument he was hanging his hat on for the Devils. If the roles were reversed, I’d do the same thing. Jack Hughes has been spectacular this season, and I do like Nico Hischier. 

But to discount everything else the Rangers have done because they aren’t centers seemed misguided. The Rangers have, in no particular order:

  • A(nother) franchise goaltender
  • An elite defensemen
  • Three additional legitimate top-four defensemen
  • Nine top-six wingers already at the NHL level
  • One of the best players in the game
  • A true 1C
  • Bargain 2 and 3Cs
  • Five or more legitimate prospects on their way to the NHL or AHL
  • Most under the age of 26

Rebuilding isn’t just about one elite 1C. It’s about building a foundation and filling in the holes. For the Rangers, the hole is at center, and it’s not as big a hole as you might think. The Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup with Michal Handzus as their 2C. Game managing centers with top wingers are just fine.

The Rangers and the Devils have certainly taken different approaches to rebuilding. While I agree that cap flexibility does matter, and the Devils are better off, it’s because the Devils have no one on their roster. Congrats on having cap space that isn’t used on one of the best players in the league. I’ll take the long term contract risk on Panarin. He’s certainly less of a risk than Ilya Kovalchuk. 

The Rangers have the potential to be a great team with depth up and down the lineup. The only thing that can get in their way is themselves. The Rangers are much further along in the rebuild and have a better long term outlook. While that can change in a few years, mainly with how the Devils draft this year and next, it’s true at this point in time. It’s hard to argue, at least logically, that the Devils are rebuilding better than the Rangers. Perhaps I’m biased, though.

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  • I don’t think the Rangers need to make any moves this off season. I think another of experience for all the kids is more important than trading for Thomas Hertl or anyone else.

    Like I have state, numerous times…playing is New York is like no other place, Toronto and Montreal, would also fall into the category.

    Jacob Trouba was handed an 8mm a year contract before ever stepping foot on Garden ice…I think that was a critical mistake. He has been better this year but he isn’t worth that cap hit. Bread was made for the big lights…but he is a unicorn. We have seen countless times guys come here and crumble.

    Stay the course…evaluate what you have with due diligence and then make a determination. We didn’t properly evaluate Ryan Graves and it was a critical mistake, no need to repeat it.

    If they make moves…it needs to be smaller moves, maybe try adding a Keegan Kolesar, a Kurtis MacDermid, a Nicholas Deslauriers, a guy who might deter Matt Martin from smashing your top dman into the boards or at least make him understand he will have to answer the bell, the way Chara made Martin answer the bell for his aggressive hit on Raffl

    The Rangers probably have 4 guys who have more talent than Ryan Lindgren…I would never trade him…he has proven he is very comfortable being Fox’s partner in crime.

  • Wow, that Devils article is a master class in self-delusion. (That whole blog is pathetic as well, John Fischer is a truly humorless, boring writer.) Very nice rebuttal on your part, Dave. I really don’t get how anyone could rationally argue that Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier—nice players, both of them—are anywhere close to the elite class of player. The Devils’ D sucks, and who could point a finger at Trouba’s contract when their own team pays the corpse of PK Subban $9 million a year?

    In every position, the Rangers are in better shape. I’ll take Zib and Strome all day long against tiny Jack Hughes and fragile Nico Hischier. Our defense already outclasses theirs, and that’s with 3 heralded prospects yet to even arrive with the team. Shesterkin vs Blackwood favors the Rangers even more than Lundqvist vs late-career Brodeur did. And the Rangers’ wingers will be the envy of the NHL once they actually get deployed properly.

    The Devils are a garbage franchise. Their fans have their priorities in the wrong place. And New Jersey smells like rancid, harmful chemicals.

    • Late career Brodeur beat Lundqvist in a pivotal playoff series (2012) , let’s not forget.

      • Yes, you’re right. Hank also has the most reg season wins of any goalie vs NJ. He was 26-9-6, 1.72 GAA, with a .936 SV% and six shutouts against Brodeur head-to-head in the regular season. He lost in the playoffs to NJ in 2006 and 2012, beating them in 2008. And believe me I haven’t forgotten 2012. Nor has my wallet.

        I thought we were trying to troll the Devils a bit, Hatrick. Gotta get with it!!

      • Lundqvist went .931 SV% / 1.82 GAA in that playoff run while the team averaged just 2.15 goals per game.

        .918 SV / 2.18 GAA in series vs. Devils with the team scoring just 14 goals in six games, 2.33 per game.

        So while the statement is true, Hank carried the team… as he did the majority of the time in the playoffs.

      • Jay, I had no idea what you were talking about, so I looked it up, definitely info I was unaware of, I have a feeling all of the thumbs downs also have no idea what you were talking about.

  • I think you missed the net on Blackwood. He is a good goalie on a bad team. Before the floor fell out on the Devils this year he had a long run of sustained good #s. His splits before/after the Hynes debacle showed something like – top 5 goalie ratios in the league for almost a calendar year. Until the floor fell out this year (tank job), he was formidable. Not even Igor would look good in front of the current Devils roster.

    Ty Smith is another one you are overlooking. His CF% rel is a RIDICULOUS 11.2%. For comparison, Fox is 7.5% last year, 5.2% this year. No he is obviously not better than Fox but it shows he is helping that floundering team out tremendously and will show better as the team improves.

    All in all, the premise the Devils are rebuilding better than the Rangers is laughable and hardly defensible.

  • As a Devils fan, it’s a joke. The Rangers are ahead and it’s not close right now. Just a fan boy trying to make him self feel better about the state of the Devils. Hopefully it will turn around soon, but as of now, the Rangers have done it better.

  • 23 and under: Fox, Lindgren, Miller, Kravs, Kakko, Laffy, Chytl. That is serious talent either knocking on the door or already through it. Now incoming w/ Schneider, Robertson, Jones, Lundqvist, Barron, Reuanen and on and on it goes. So they have a future center issue. Plenty of time to address it.

    I am psyched for next year. As I watch the Bruins, Pens, Caps & Islanders age, it is easy to see that the Rangers (and later the Devils) are going to take over this – or whatever – division they are in.

  • The whole premise of the Devils “rebuilding better” is pretty ridiculous when you consider that the players mentioned, Hughes and Hischier, were just the consensus top picks at the time. They just happened to be centers and acquired via ping pong balls (and totally sucking) versus any “brilliance” by the Devils. The same can be said about Laff and Kakko. It’s those later picks that tell who is doing it right (which is a lot of luck, btw) and he has nothing to say there. A ten year old could have walked up to the mike to make those picks.

  • Ty Smith is and will be a very good NHL Defenceman. Not better then Fox, but so far, better then KAndre Miller. The Rangers have deeper pockets then the Devils and more depth. I believe both teams will eventually become the top teams in their division, displacing the Penguins, Caps, Bruins and Fishsticks.

  • The Rangers have done a good job of rebuilding the team. IMO, it is the correct formula to have a solid winning season but not one that’s going to get them far in the playoffs. With Zibanejad, Kakko, Chytil, Strome, Buchnevich and Panarin there is excellent skill in that group but is that group easily stopped when the game turns to physicality and grit? Tonight’s game with the Islanders will show if this is a correct analysis.

    • Not really, it’s the correct analysis regardless of what happens the rest of the way. The Islanders will be tough, for one they raise their game whenever they play us, 2) Trotz is a damn good coach, and 3) the Islanders are only going to lose so many games before they come up with a good bounce back game. The last time we played them and lost they were also coming off a couple of bad games … they’re a good team, they will respond.

  • The problem is that the Rangers will have to do a lot of bridge deals for top players because of the flat cap environment. Bottom 6? Not so much.

    As for not having 2 young C, will 2 young play driving wingers do?

    • Your last comment is spot on. Kakko and Kravtsov and Lafreniére will all end up driving play off the wings for this team.

    • Agreed reenavipul–it would see that the up and coming young wingers can all drive the play. All you need are competent centers on the lines. The Rangers already have them.

    • The flat cap is for one more year, after that it won’t stay flat …. barring another “apocalyptic” pandemic.

      • Don’t know about that Bettman seems to take pride in the fact there has been 3 work stoppages in his tenure. He thinks his tinkering has made the league more balanced when it has made salary cap more of an issue than actually getting players who make a team more competitive.

        • Again, when normalcy has returned and when the TV deals kick in, the cap will start going back up just as it’s always has.

      • The players get $2.5bn in wages this season, not pro rated.

        Owners half was something around $600mm from media rights(national & local TV & maybe $100mm from merch & basically zero from gates & concessions.

        Even with the new TV deal, it will be 4 years after this year to true up the 50/50 split.

        Of course US owners can write the Covid losses against all the other businesses these billionaires own, so in a few years team values will skyrocket.

        • Additional TV money nets out to $325mm/yr, so flat cap as far as the eye can see unless the players bite the bullet on escrow. Escrow (if everything goes well) will be 16% or $408mm next season.

  • This is why I’m a *very* happy Rangers fan. Though I will be very blue May 9, this season was about development. Really.

    And “But this post isn’t going to be about trashing the Devils, even if it is fun, “you still couldn’t resist. 🤣

    To me what value Gorton gains for the young D guys (we only have so much room), will be a key issue. I actually think it would be a good idea to get some down-the road picks, cause good chance the Rangers first Round picks will be quite low 🙂

    The other challenge is how Gorton fills the team for playoffs. I do think some of the prospects are ‘grit’ players, and he just needs to hit on one or two bottom 6 guys.

  • Center depth is important but so is Defensive depth. As stacked as we are on the wings, you can argue we are equally as stacked if not more so on Defense.

    It turned out the best players available for NJ at #1 were centers. For us at #1 and #2 was a LW and an RW. It happens. The good news is we have some pretty solid chips to lay down to trade for a center. Fox isn’t going anywhere, but with him in the fold what does that mean for Lundkvist and Jones? They can be traded for a solid center prospect. So hardly the end of the world.

    On cap space I think NJ has shown poor cap usage. (so have we for that matter with over $13 mill in dead cap space, but we seem to be learning) they high fived for getting PK Subban for some draft picks. At $9mill a year has he delivered? I read they may not protect PK in the expansion draft. Gusev turned into Goose egg. Funny thing though about cap space. When a team gets good you have much less of it. When you’re not so good cap space is usually plentiful. It’s a bit contrarian.

    As far was GAR and other advanced stats, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You win games 3-2, 4-3, 5-0 not x/GAR 60 15 to x/GAR60 10. Advanced stats are a useful guideline but not the gospel.

    The real thing that matters is where we are and where they are. They have been rebuilding longer than we have. If we are in any other division we are in the play offs. If they used the format of the top 3 teams in each division plus 2 wild cards we are also in the playoffs as of now. And NJ will be in the draft lottery hoping for another #1 pick. They have some good players and some good prospects, but we have quite a bit more.

    People can believe what they want to believe. But IMO it’s not really even close. The Rangers rebuild is going very well. The Devils on the other hand have been at it longer and appear to be further away from competing than we are.

  • I didn’t even know there was a debate on this issue until I came across that pitchfork article —- and the comments of many of their fans. I couldn’t stop laughing.

    Devil fans are like Kayla, the Game of Thrones prostitute who is one of only four women in the known world who can bend her body to the extent that she can properly perform the sexual position known as the “Meereenese Knot”. Delusional contortionists doesn’t even begin to explain what’s going on in those little brains.

    Devils have been rebuilding for years and what have they been able to achieve, “cap flexibility”? Yeah, that happens when none of the players you draft are good enough to break the bank — although if I’m Jack Hughes, I’m going to want extra pay for putting up with that crap.

  • going forward i see the focus (foci?) for the rangers as:
    – continue development of what we have in preparation for the next level (i’m not sure that quinn fits the bill here)
    – decide on the 2c whether chytll, strome or a trade (i prefer the first option)
    – and very importantly develop a fourth line that can take a regular shift when needed and provide deterence.

  • I enjoyed the article, as for me the only problem with our rebuild as I see it is trying to understand why we drafted another defenseman and winger in this past draft. Centers are more valuable and cost more to obtain then any other position in hockey. As such we should have drafted a center

  • Off topic yes ….. but let the word go forth that on this day fifty years ago, Pete Stemkowski’s 3OT goal won the sixth game of the Cup semis versus the Blackhawks. Of course the Rangers went on to lose the series in the seventh game, but that’s another story……

    This is how old I am: I was at that game as an eleven year old with my father, who had been going to NYR games with his father since 1935.

  • Couple of things I don’t think the timing of the Trouba Krieds and Bread are that off when these kids blossom because we are young the rangers won’t need to go out and add grizzled vet’s that you need for a playoff push they will already be here. So that allows you to tinker in other areas. For example Trouba who is still not at all old none of them are but now media fans etc. is calling for the rangers to add a significant veteran defenseman to help bring along the youth. Honestly I just think Smith should stay and give the kids the gel time but that’s another story. At forward we will not need to do that. Also if you go out and acquire an Eichel or Barkov your set and the rangers have all the pieces. The devil’s do not have any of those luxuries let alone who really ever desires to sign with the devils over the rangers?
    My point is the rangers should they not win in the next 4 years when the aforementioned players will show age possibly regression they would still be the guys you would trade for at a deadline to strengthen a young team for a playoff push. Rangers won’t need to do that. Perfect example why do you think the rangers were really strongly interested in Chara to add that leadership and help bring young guys along. Rangers already have that upfront. On defense maybe not so much as I stated Trouba is still young and I do like Smith also because he can play forward and defense but if they feel they can bring in a grizzled vet do it then so be it. I just don’t see how the devil’s are ahead in anything and how some people don’t get that the rangers seem to have created a great balance and other than tinkering and one major move at center which they have the depth to make they can have a revolving door for many years to come. Lastly how many draft picks do the rangers have in the next two years??? Yea devils your rebuild is better lol.

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