It has become clear the New York Rangers are no longer slumping. This is much, much worse.
The Rangers have transformed from a potential six seed who might surprise an unsuspecting three seed into a team that might not even make the cut to be a top-10 team in the Eastern Conference. Think about that for a moment, the Rangers might well end up in 11th or even 12th place if this play continues.
Now that the Rangers are tailspinning the typical "cliff jumpers" are starting to pop up again. Yes, the Rangers are in serious trouble. No one is debating otherwise. But what most fans seem to be forgetting is that they asked for this.
The same people who have been screaming for youth and demanded that Glen Sather do nothing at the deadline are now irate that this team seems posed to miss the playoffs. The same fans who have been blasting Chris Drury to retire, who wanted to take the "C" away from him are now scratching their heads over the lack of leadership on the ice. The same fans who want to rebuild are engraged that they have to wait for a team to contend.
It doesn't work both ways.
If you are a fan of youth, if you are a fan who likes having Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, Mike Sauer and Artem Anisimov on the team nightly, then you must be able to accept the possibility of the Rangers missing the playoffs this year.
You just have to.
Join me after the jump for more.
It is a refreshing sign that Sather didn't make a major move this deadline, to try to save a season that shouldn't be saved. There was no reason to overpay for four extra months of Brad Richards, nor was there any need to overpay for an aging veteran; even if that player could propel the Rangers to the playoffs.
Don't be fooled, Sather did a masterful job this deadline. He looked at all the temptations on the market, and believe me there were a ton of them, and he made the right moves. Rangers' fans love to blast Sather every chance they can get, but he's done a fantastic job the past few years with this team.
Like it or not, the new Rangers reality is to run with their youth. And if that includes taking back-to-back playoff-less seasons, then so be it. If that means watching this team lose every other game this season by one goal, then let's get it over with. It was always going to get worse before it got better.
Evan after the lockout when Jaromir Jagr was carrying the Rangers into the playoffs, they were never Stanley Cup contenders. The other problem? They weren't on pace to become Stanley Cup contenders either.
There had to be some change to the team's chemistry in order to put them on right path. And Sather has taken care of that, by forcing youth down your throats.
Here's the best part about the current New York Rangers: Most of the team is youth that still has upside and room to grow. And in the case of Stepan, McDonagh, Zuccarello, Sauer and Anisimov they haven't even hit the tip of the iceberg in potential.
Then don't discourage the likes of Evgeny Grachev, Chris Kreider, Ethan Werek, Christian Thomas and Dyllan MacIlrath in the wings. Also don't forget to count in the fact that missing the playoffs would merit the Rangers a better draft pick to help pump even more nuggets of gold into the pipelines.
This is how teams rebuild properly. The pieces that you add need to be either young with upside (Wojtek Wolski) or a hardened veteran who can teach the youth (Bryan McCabe).
The Rangers are in a rare position. They can miss the playoffs and actually get better next year anyway. That's how much young upside this team possesses on its roster. That's why it would be OK if the Rangers flop and miss the playoffs this year.
Is it any surprise that the Rangers, who have lost more one-goal games then I care to count, have started losing these games once the youth started to struggle? (Forgetting the Ottawa and Philadelphia win) Stepan, who has played very well during this stretch despite not putting up points, has only scored two goals in his last 10 games. Zuccarello only has three assists in his last 12 games. Anisimov only has three goals and an assist in his last 13 games.
Noticing a pattern?
Now, I'm not saying that these three players are the only offensive forces on the team, but it's no surprise that their slumps are harmonizing with the teams recent struggles. But there is a massive silver lining here. Despite their struggles, they are still playing over 16 minutes minutes a night daily.
This season, as I've said before, isn't about winning the cup. This season is about laying the foundation for a potential dynasty, for future Stanley Cup runs that last longer than just a year (cough, cough, Chicago--though they are on a tear and could make a run in the playoffs).
So, in closing, be prepared to spend April on the links. And if you (and the Rangers) do, it's OK. The best is yet to come, no matter what happens this year.