Rangers are the rebuild no one is talking about

Ryan Lambert

Admittedly, the Ottawa Senators suck up a lot of oxygen when you talk about teams on clear rebuild paths with pending unrestricted free agents to offload.

When you have talents on par with Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, another guy in Ryan Dzingel who’s having a career year, add in the fact that it’s a Canadian team, and cover everything with a layer of “going to the race track to see the wrecks,” that’s always going to draw a lot of eyes in this league.

Less often discussed, however, is the fact that the New York Rangers seem to be in utter disarray and have a surfeit of attractive players of their own to offer up. The conventional wisdom has been that both Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello have been on the trade docket pretty much all season; it was always a question of “when” and not “if” with both of them. More recently, you’ve seen Chris Kreider’s name get brought up as well, even as he’s signed through the end of next season.

None of them have Stone’s overall quality or Duchene’s star power, but they’re all better than Dzingel. All have comparable levels of production to Dzingel, sure, but generally much better underlying numbers and certainly longer track records. This despite the fact that Hayes and Kreider are about the same age as Dzingel. Zuccarello, obviously, is on the wrong side of 30 but still scoring at a high level.

Will these two see the other side of a Rangers rebuild? (Getty)
Will these two see the other side of a Rangers rebuild? (Getty)

Any of them would be good adds for a contending team. Not game-breakers like Stone or high-end second-line players like Duchene (that is, high-end on an already-good team), but certainly guys who are going to move the needle for you.

And yet, the entire hockey world is focused only on Ottawa, perhaps because of the will-they-won’t-they saga surrounding all three of these trades, and the fact that everyone — including NHL executives — is incredulous that it’s dragged on this long. The fact that Zuccarello was saying for months, “Yeah I know I’m getting traded and that’s fine I guess,” kinda killed the drama on that one for the Rangers.

But the reason it’s strange that this isn’t being talked about is because, unlike the Senators, the Rangers don’t really have a particularly intriguing crop of young players available to them. There’s no Brady Tkachuk there. Certainly no Thomas Chabot. Maybe not even a Logan Brown.

Filip Chytil intrigues but has been healthy-scratched a little too often for reasons that are hard to fully understand (something about playing too many games in a season?). Vitali Kravstov hasn’t really impressed as a rookie in the KHL but he’s also barely 19. Lias Andersson, who knows, but the early NHL track record isn’t great. Maybe there’s room to get excited about Alex Georgiev, who’s been a little less than average this season, but how many games can we reasonably expect him to get in the next two or three years unless Henrik Lundqvist starts summering on Robidas Island?

And so this deadline is a big one for the Rangers. Try to get two first-round picks out of those guys, and failing that maybe a second or three. You can also see what’s out there for a guy like Adam McQuaid (probably nothing) or maybe even Mika Zibanejad (probably a lot, given that he’s playing at a point a game, looks great, and is signed for four more years at an affordable price).

The point is the Rangers have done a pretty good job of scouting and developing talent in recent years, but the rebuild began with the McDonagh/Miller double-trade. The Rangers get Tampa’s first-round pick if the Bolts win the Cup this year (fairly likely) but that’s obviously capped at No. 31. It stays a late second-round pick if they don’t.

The thing you need from a rebuild, which the team has broadly acknowledged both in word and deed, is an elite talent or three. The Rangers don’t have that. Their poor finish in the standings this year — they’re 21st in points percentage — will help ensure they get a decent crack at it, but they need to get worse to have the best possible chance at a Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes.

Sell these guys off and that starts to get you closer, as well as providing you with a few extra lottery tickets. The Rangers should have started the process of selling off Hayes and Zuccarello a month ago to maximize their odds. Unfortunately, the market has been stalled while the Sens make a big kabuki show dithering over whether they’ll re-sign guys they almost certainly won’t re-sign.

Which, hey, that’s life and it’s not like the Rangers are going to keep these guys, regardless of whether the Sens push all their high-profile pending UFAs to market.

But still, the Rangers continue to be what they shouldn’t: Bad, but not bad enough to get a high chance at drafting elite talent. Instead, you watch this team and it seems like they’re currently just on a path to be the 10th-worst team in the league for the next few years.

Which isn’t really a rebuild at all. At least, not the right kind.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.

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