The first step to solving any problem is admitting there is one. Putting Band-Aids on an open, flowing wound will only get you so far. The New York Rangers have been treading very dangerous waters over the past four years. We’ve chipped away at our core nucleus and overpaid aging stars for the hopes of immediate success.
Not to say there wasn’t any success. The Rangers won a President’s Trophy, fought hard to make a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, and earned the respect of the entire National Hockey League. Not too shabby. But there is a harsh reality to this: not once did we hoist that 34 1/2 lb cup of history around the streets of New York City.
Our core has slimmed exponentially. As we sliced away players like Carl Hagelin and Anthony Duclair, the Rangers faded away into bubble team territory (i.e. Vancouver Canucks), that dreaded zone that all major league teams hate to be in. We are too good for the lottery, and we are not good enough for the Cup. So, almost on cue, this year’s big name right before the trade deadline (Kevin Shattenkirk) is directly attached to the Blueshirts, leaving fans to wonder once again, which valuable asset (watch out Miller) will we send away for another sexy name to stitch on that prestigious blue jersey? This is all too familiar to Ranger fans, however this year there is a catch, and that catch is Jeff Gorton.
The rookie GM has already showed off his prowess a year and half into his tenure. With a depleted salary cap (thanks Glen!), he brought in cheap free agents who paid him off twice over in Michael Grabner (22 goals) and Brandon Pirri (5 PPG and 16 points). He made a bold move in trading fan favorite Derick Brassard (29) for Mika Zibanejad (23), a move that correlates with the move the NHL made in recent years, sporting a “younger, faster” product.
So now, presented to him is Kevin Shattenkirk (28), a right-handed offensive defenseman with a big body and high hockey I.Q. This will be his biggest test so far. Rangers’ defense has a mixture of young and old. We have two aging, contract heavy liabilities in Dan Girardi and Marc Staal (thanks Glen!), an up-and-coming youngster in Brady Skjei, an inconsistent Kevin Klein and a great find in Nick Holden. Ryan McDonagh has been trying to keep that defense on the same page all year, but with Staal and Girardi not being able to keep up with the speed, Skjei going through growing pains, Klein looking frazzled and Henrik Lundqvist no longer capable of bailing them out, disaster has ensued.
One can argue that Jeff Gorton needs to do this trade no matter the cost because this will make us better. Which is true, it will make us better, but is Kevin Shattenkirk the key to winning our first Cup in 23 years? I’m going to say no, and I want Jeff Gorton to channel that inner boldness and say no. We are no longer “one piece away”, we are several pieces away from being a Cup contender. The quicker we come to that conclusion, the better off we will be.
We need to stop pretending Derek Stepan (26) is a legitimate #1 center, even though we paid him like one. Let’s stop expecting Lundqvist to bail us out. He’s 34 years old, carried the team for 11 years, and people still want to blame him for our inconsistency. We lack size, we lack skill down the middle from puck possession to face-offs, and our defense is one bad contract away from crippling us for years to come. There have been games this year when the team has looked lost and unmotivated, something that Alain Vigneault needs to work on as a coach.
The time is now to embark on a 3 to 4 year rebuild. We have so much young talent to still build around. Mika Zibanejad (23), Jimmy Vesey (23), Pavel Buchnevich (21), J.T. Miller (23), Brady Skjei (22) are all great pieces to work with. Players like Derek Stepan (26), Mats Zuccarello (29), Rick Nash (32), and Kevin Klein (32) would have to be the trimming of the fat so to speak, as we go after picks and more picks for drafting.
Glen Sather was the GM that excited us. He was the guy we praised when we got Eric Lindros, Marcus Naslund, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Brad Richards, Rick Nash, and Martin St. Louis. He reached down into his deep pockets and made that big splash we fans craved. We need Jeff Gorton to be the GM we need. The man who has the discipline to walk away from these alluring deals and focus on structuring a team built to win a Cup. The decision will show us exactly which direction we are headed. Will Jeff Gorton continue down the dirty, beaten path laid before him by his predecessor? Or, will Jeff Gorton pave the way for a new beginning, and in time, bring the Cup back home? Let’s hope for the latter.