The New York Rangers, organizationally, have been a work in progress for quite some time. The team has always been buyers, but for most of the last two decades, has been bad at evaluating and developing young talent.
The free agents signings (and missteps) piled up—Wade Redden, Scott Gomez, and Chris Drury to name a few. Other players to walk through the revolving door included Bryan McCabe, Derek Morris, and Alex Frolov. At the very least, these were attempts at improving the Rangers. In pointing the finger at management, no one could accuse the Rangers' brass of twiddling its thumbs near the cap floor.
But change was still in order.
So the team recalculated its approach, and took a more measured look at things. Jeff Gorton deserves a lot of credit in this remodeling, as does Glen Sather. They've worked in tandem to create organizational depth, while filling in the remaining holes through trading surplus talent, or taking advantage of the team's ability to spend.
All of this means evaluating the Rangers current offseason moves (or lack thereof) is twofold. New York has tried its hand at buying winning rosters, and failed in those attempts. Everything the team hasn't done since free agency began speaks more to Sather and co.'s growth, and the lessons they've learned on the job.
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Benoit Pouliot and Anton Stralman, two players who made their money through strong performances in New York, were allowed to walk this offseason. There's an argument to be made for retaining Stralman, while what's undeniable is the Rangers got great return on their investment at the price they were paying. The two players made a combined $3.1 million last year, a number they'll each both exceed now annually.
The key now for the Rangers is to resume the cycle, and bring new players into the fold who can perform the job at a cheaper rate.
It's very much like how sectors of our workforce are built, especially in times of economic recession. With companies are working with limited money (say, something like a salary cap), when employees' value become too high to retain, they're let go, only to be replaced by young, cheap laborers.
The Rangers seemed to have learned their lesson. The risk-reward in giving Pouliot $1.3 million last offseason was very evident. Mats Zuccarello was a player plucked away from the Swedish Elite League, who will only now make a cap impact. Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi are all homegrown. Some of them have begun to ink those big-money extensions, but it was always house money on the table.
With how close the Rangers came to winning a Cup this season, it's easy to say Sather should go for the jugular; that he should finagle a trade for Joe Thornton, or that he should have shed cap space to go after Paul Stastny.
There's also more at play than what's on the surface, and the dream scenarios one can plug into CapGeek. There's the likes of J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, and, in the near future, Anthony Duclair and Brady Skjei. Bringing other players into the fold only mortgages their futures, which, by the accounts of those in charge of evaluating talent for the organization, are bright. They won't all pan out, but should any of them not, they'll be a much cheaper mistake than an ill-advised splash in free agency.
What's clearest at this point is the Rangers have undergone a transformation of sorts. Sure, Dan Boyle can be considered a marquee move on the market. But not only does he constitute the team's only major transaction, but that stockpiled young talent was immediately addressed as soon as roster spots opened up. He also fills an immense need as a true power play quarterback for a team who has had power play struggles since Brian Leech was traded. That wasn't the case in the past for the franchise, which seems to be growing deeper by the year.
It's also difficult to feel content with little to no activity. Free agent signings are exciting. They mark change. Change is good when you don't accomplish your ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup. But there's a (literal) price that comes with rash decision making and overreacting to how the season ended. Improvements can certainly be made to this Rangers' team, but if they can't be made at the right value, they're not worth entertaining.
That might have been the biggest lesson the Rangers' brass needed to learn from the dark days. Now it seems like it's a lesson learned.