The two part Rangers rebuild isn't a hot topic, but it should be.

As discussions about the Rangers youth movement rages on, the debate about the rebuild comes into focus. The focus has been on a rebuild as a general statement, and few have brought up that this was always going to be a two part Rangers rebuild. It’s a point we’ve argued on Live From the Blue Seats for 2+ years now, and it does appear it’s starting to catch on. The Rangers were always going to go for a quick Cup before a second retool as the current core ages out.

A two part Rangers rebuild is a bit of a hard pill to swallow for fans that wanted a full tear down and build through the draft. It’s also a hard pill to swallow for those that wanted to retool and continue making the playoffs regularly. The Rangers are playing a dangerous game without fully committing to the rebuild or to the veterans. They are hedging. Hedging rarely works, but optimism will always reign supreme.

Breaking down the two part Rangers rebuild

The two part Rangers rebuild was clear as day as soon as the Rangers traded for Jacob Trouba and signed Artemi Panarin. They locked themselves into a retool and quick turnaround by adding, at the time, a top pair defenseman (emphasis on at the time) and one of the best wingers in the game. By adding Panarin and Trouba, they communicated this wasn’t going to be a full tear down like the Oilers.

The David Quinn era was a transitional era that had a pair of unexpected results. The first was that wild run through March 2020 that was cut short by Covid. The second was the Tom Wilson game that led to a change in leadership in the front office, one that owner James Dolan wanted for a bit but used that incident as the reason to force the change. Both led to a bit of a quicker transition to the win-now window, one that was going to happen anyway (more on that later).

The quick transition to contender, one that likely would have happened with Jeff Gorton and likely around this same time frame, was also fueled by the emergence of Adam Fox as a top-two defenseman in the league and Mika Zibanejad as a near 60-goal pace in that Covid shortened year. This led to re-signing Chris Kreider and his 50-goal pace, accelerating that timeline. It’s all connected to the first part of this two part Rangers build, which can also be called a retool.

So now the Rangers have a trio of high end forwards producing top line numbers, a trio of young high potential kids up front, and a solid group of role players. The one issue is that aside from the three kids, all are over 30 years old. As long as the Rangers have this high end talent up front, they are a win-now team.

That high end talent will age out though, thus part two of that two part Rangers rebuild. When those guys decline or their contracts expire, the Rangers will retool again and transition to that young core.

Is there even a young core?

Much ink has ben spilled on the lack of youth up front, which we discussed yesterday. Unfortunately the Rangers have been their own worst enemy in this regard with poor drafting and development to go with poor luck. Kaapo Kakko was the clear cut #2 after Jack Hughes. Alexis Lafreniere was the clear cut #1 ahead of either Quinton Byfield and Tim Stuetzle. Swap those lotteries, and are we even having this conversation?

But such is life, and when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. It’s not like Kakko and Laf are bad players, they are just overshadowed by slower than hoped development. But still they, along with Filip Chytil, are part of that young core. Add in Fox (25), Braden Schneider (21), K’Andre Miller (23), and possibly Ryan Lindgren (25), and you have three top pair defenseman and a top four potential, all at or under 25 years of age.

Then you factor in Brennan Othmann (20), Gabe Perreault (18), and Adam Sykora (19), you have a trio of forwards with top-six potential. Brett Berard (20) and Will Cuylle (22) are likely bottom six forwards. Zac Jones (22) is a wild card. There’s your youth movement, and there are your reinforcements for part two of the two part Rangers rebuild.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course

In theory, part one of this two part Rangers rebuild results in a Stanley Cup before we see Kreider and Zibanejad begin to slow down, along with Panarin’s contract ending. This core has three years at most left before we start to see them transition to Kakko, Lafreniere, and others. At that point, Barclay Goodrow and Vincent Trocheck have easy to move outs in their contracts and may not even be Rangers. Trouba is a wild card with an out in his contract, but as the captain he may not be moved.

There are a lot of moving pieces in this two-part Rangers rebuild, so let’s regroup and summarize.

  • The current roster is built to win now before the 30+ high end talent either ages out or has contracts that expire. The Rangers will build to win now with this group of elite talent.
  • There is enough youth on the roster, specifically on defense, to argue there is still a youth movement in progress.
  • When this current core is done, the reins will be given to the current youth on the roster.
  • Young reinforcements are already in Hartford, and will be sprinkled in over the next few seasons.

What brings the average age up is the depth that has been signed. Goodrow, Trocheck, Blake Wheeler, and Jimmy Vesey are all 30+. But these signings were necessary to keep the window open due to poor drafting in the 2013-2017 timeframe. It would have been nice to build through the draft, but they bungled the draft so badly in those years that they had to wait until their recent drafts to find young reinforcements.

Hence Wheeler, Trocheck, Vesey, etc.

It doesn’t look good on paper, and that’s fine. Perhaps finally having a head coach with a system and structure that is simple enough that can be followed will be enough. After all, the Rangers haven’t had that since John Tortorella.

This is a risky move

Without fully committing to a rebuild, the Rangers are taking a big risk. After all, there are no half measures. The Devils are the example everyone likes to use, and they did a masterful job there. They let their kids develop, and now are a top tier team in the Eastern Conference. But so are the Rangers. And so are the Carolina Hurricanes. All took different routes to get there. So there is no one size fits all.

But back to the Rangers, they hedged in trying to win now while also rebuilding. Could they, or should they, have sold Zibanejad and Kreider? Should they have traded for Trouba? It’s tough to say five years later, but remember that Zibanejad was 25 at the time of the letter. Trouba was 25 at the time of the trade. It’s not 2018 anymore.

Even if the Rangers went full tear down mode, there’s no telling that would have worked either. Just look at the Oilers. Everything is a risky move.

The two part Rangers rebuild isn’t being spoken about because it’s an approach that is somewhat new. It may work. It may not. But there is a clear plan. This is the risk of having James Dolan as an owner. He will always give his money to make the team competitive. But he expects the team to be competitive all the time. It’s a double-edged sword that we are seeing in action.


More About: