Morning Skate: How long will it take for the New York Rangers to become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders again?
Greg Wyshynski: For me, the first signal that the Rangers were in a transition was the trade of Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes last summer for Anthony DeAngelo and Arizona's first-round pick, which they used on center Lias Andersson.
It was a salary dump in a way, with Stepan signed through 2021 at a $5 million cap hit. It was a chance to grab a seventh overall pick, which the Rangers used on Andersson, the highest they've drafted since 2004 and the first time they've drafted in the first round since 2012. But the real signal is what the Rangers didn't do: Replace Stepan in any meaningful way, in a league where going at least two-deep at center is a basic requirement.
So the fact that the Rangers sent a letter to their faithful indicating that a time of painful decisions and fan favorites leaving town has arrived is a shock only because of its timing. The writing's been on the wall, even if New York's distance from the playoff bubble has overshadowed it.
How long before the Rangers are Stanley Cup contenders again? A lot depends on how deep into the tank they go. Andersson and fellow 2017 draft pick Filip Chytil could be the future. Depending on the rebuild and the lottery odds, perhaps so could be Rasmus Dahlin in 2018 or Jack Hughes in 2019, both of whom are franchise-altering talents. The Rangers should also get a boost from the picks and prospects they acquire in this sell-off.
So the general answer is that it won't take long. Not in a league where turnarounds can happen quickly, thanks to the ever-giving gift of parity.
Of course, "contender" is different than "winner," as any Rangers fan will tell you.
Emily Kaplan: Henrik Lundqvist is under contract through the 2020-21 season. The optimist in me wants to believe that this team can contend while the King is still in net, but realistically, it's going to be hard. Ideally, the Rangers can adopt some lessons from the Boston Bruins -- yes the team that shellacked New York 6-1 on Wednesday night, directly preceding the Rangers' admission that a fire sale was impending. The Bruins were supposed to be rebuilding this season. Instead, they're on their way to ruling the Eastern Conference. They've maintained that balance by blending their veteran core with youngsters, and the results have been encouraging.
But there's a big difference between the Bruins and Rangers. Boston dipped into its talented pool of prospects. Not only did the Bruins hit on some midround picks, like 2014 fourth-rounder Danton Heinen and 2014 fifth-rounder Anders Bjork, but they had a lot of top selections, too. Charlie McAvoy (a first-rounder in 2016), David Pastrnak (first round, 2014) and Jake DeBrusk (first round, 2015) have all played significant roles for the Bruins this season. New York, on the other hand, didn't have a first-round pick between 2012 and 2017. The Rangers mortgaged their future in an attempt to win in the present. (On one hand, New York has made the playoffs in 11 of the past 12 seasons, including winning a Presidents' Trophy and making a trip to the Cup Final in 2014; on the other hand, the Rangers didn't win a Cup during that span and are left wondering: Were the additions of Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis and Keith Yandle worth it?).
I find some hope in the core that might withstand the next two or three difficult seasons. Mika Zibanejad is under contract through 2021-22; he's been one of the highest-performing and skilled Rangers this season. Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich's entry-level contracts expire in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and hopefully the Rangers can commit to them long term. J.T. Miller and Brady Skjei (restricted free agents in 2018-19) should also be a priority. These guys will turn into the veterans as a crop of young players are integrated into the mix until they gel into a cohesive and talented team together. So now we're looking at the 2021-22 season, and prospect Igor Shestyorkin could very well be in the net for New York by then.
Chris Peters: It's amazing how the climate has changed in professional sports. When a team waves the white flag on a season, it is no longer portrayed as negatively as such a thing used to be. Now, it's simply accepted as a route to progress. More and more cases show that process to be an effective one. Now it looks like the Rangers will be the next team to go through this "reboot," as they're calling it.
The good news is that the Rangers don't have to rip their entire roster apart. This isn't a wholly broken team, like some others that need to overhaul everything. As Emily noted, there are young players on this Rangers roster who can still be a big part of the franchise's future. They also have some veterans whom they can keep around for the longer term as well and not disrupt the rebuilding process. No one should be safe if the right deal is out there, but they need to have a few of those guys who have been around to help hold younger players accountable.
It's tough to say at this point how long the Rangers will need. We're going to have to see who gets traded and for what. I think following a model similar to that of the Toronto Maple Leafs, in terms of the fire-sale portion of the reboot, isn't a bad idea. New York can't bank on winning the lottery and landing an Auston Matthews-type player, which is the key piece of Toronto's turnaround, but it can at least give itself a number of assets -- and options -- by selling off veteran players of value. The Rangers have quite a few of those, so the chances for good returns could be significant.
The asset-collecting portion of the rebuild, which the Rangers are prepared to enter, is so important. The more important part is what you do with those assets once you get them. Even though we don't know the breadth of the sale at this point, I think Emily's estimate is a good one. The Rangers will need three years to start seeing positive results -- and four or five years before they rejoin the contender conversation.
Ben Arledge: I'd like to think they get it turned around in three years' time, allowing Lundqvist one more run at the elusive Cup. It's doable, but it depends on how far GM Jeff Gorton breaks it down at the deadline and during the offseason. This is really a fool's errand to guess at this until we know exactly who Gorton moves. Will it be Nash and a few other guys? More? Time will tell, but without a true measure of how far the rebuild goes, three years is my best prediction for a return to contention. I mean, whether Lundqvist is even still in New York come fall is a whole other question.
The Rangers have some good young pieces in Zibanejad, Miller, Buchnevich, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Skjei and Vesey, and as Emily pointed out, Igor Shestyorkin is in the pipeline in net. Centermen Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil are raw and still have a good amount of developing to do, but they should also be in the mix for the Rangers in the next few years. Chytil even made the team out of camp this season. The foundation is already here for New York to build around. There's reason to believe it can remain in the playoff mix and perhaps be a contender of sorts within three seasons. I don't think they really disappear in the way that the New Jersey Devils did over the past few campaigns, but I also don't see them making a ton of noise with a broken down roster in a uber-crowded Metropolitan Division.
Let's not kid ourselves, though. The Rangers haven't looked like true contenders since the 2014-15 season. Sure, they made the playoffs in the two seasons since, but did anyone actually view them as serious Cup threats? Sending this roster to the body shop for some serious work is the right thing to do at this point. This breakdown has been a long time coming, and it's nice to see the organization commit to it, rather than get stuck guessing between contention and rebuilding. I got the Rangers being back by the onset of the 2020-21 season.