What to Make of the New York Rangers
The once-mighty New York Rangers are now mired in mediocrity, with the postseason out of reach for a second consecutive season. To be fair, Rangers management admitted last year that the franchise is rebuilding. But for a fan base that's grown used to winning, it's still difficult to accept multiple lost seasons.
The Rangers as currently constructed are not an entirely bad team per se. They still have a surefire Hall of Famer manning the goal posts in Henrik Lundqvist. Jimmy Vessey, Chris Kreider, and Pavel Buchnevich, meanwhile, are no pushovers. That's not to say there's any illusion that this is an All-Star team of any kind, but it's a solid enough roster for the team to avoid the bottom of the standings - or ought to be.
The problem, though, is with the players the Rangers no longer have - not the ones they do. The team traded captain Ryan McDonagh and standout winger J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and both have helped propel their new team to the league’s best record (and by a wide margin). While much can still change between now and the Stanley Cup, U.S.-based prognosticators are pegging the Lightning to win it all in their betting odds - a bit of a hard pill for some Rangers fans to swallow. To this point, McDonagh has led the NHL in plus/minus numbers, and while Miller's impact isn't as easily measured, he's been a valuable part of Tampa's sensational season. In return for these players the Rangers received Vladislav Namestnikov, along with prospects Brett Howden and Libor Hajek - promising pieces, particularly in the cases of Namestnikov and Howden, but still pennies on the dollar for the time being.
There are additional issues with the team, however. For instance, while we cited Lundqvist as a positive, and he's certainly still thought of that way by many, he's also 37 years old and not the impenetrable wall he used to be at his best. He's been shaky enough to garner calls for a trade at times this season, and particularly given the team's stated intent to rebuild it's hard to imagine exactly where he fits in moving forward.
By no means are the current struggles all on Lundqvist's shoulders though. Scoring has been an issue as well, and at times has essentially negated decent performances on the defensive side of the puck. Or at least, that was sometimes the case earlier in the season. Now, with the team struggling both offensively and defensively, things look about as rough as they have in this recent, still-unfamiliar stretch of losing.
With all this said, the Rangers are - again - rebuilding. In a way it's exciting to know that the team is at least intentionally angling for future success, though even this isn't a guarantee. The team isn't exactly flush with trade chips, save for possibly Lundqvist if there's a contender in need of a veteran, or the intriguing Filip Chytil, who's been a healthy scratchtoo often to be a true blue-chip trade candidate. Beyond those two, there really aren't players that would fetch significant returns, which means the rebuild might not start with significant trades, as so many do.
All things considered, this Rangers rebuild will be difficult, and it will take some time. It's a shame, because Rangers fans deserve better. But sometimes even the proudest and most successful franchises have to have a few years like this.