GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — After missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years, the New York Rangers are going all in on a makeover.
Several star players were jettisoned at the trade deadline for youngsters and draft picks, there’s tough decisions to be made with free agents, and they’re seeking a new coach to lead the way.
”We all know there’s going to be some changes during the summer,” veteran goalie Henrik Lundqvist said.
”Part of me is a little excited about what’s ahead. I hope we take some good steps in the right direction. … Whoever is going to be here, we are going to compete and be sure to have a better year.”
After a slow start to the season, the Rangers picked up their play but injuries to key players such as Chris Kreider, Kevin Shattenkirk, Kevin Hayes, Marc Staal and Mika Zibanejad hampered their ability to gain some consistency.
Then, the retooling became a certainty in early February when general manager Jeff Gorton announced the team’s moves at the trade deadline would be with an eye to the future and not to save the season.
Weeks later, Michael Grabner was dealt to New Jersey, Rick Nash to Boston, and J.T. Miller and captain Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay – with all going to teams that are in the playoffs.
The Rangers closed the season losing eight of their final 10 and finished last in the Metropolitan Division – 20 points behind the Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets, for the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference.
”It’s been a tough season for everyone – fans, players, the whole team organization,” said Mats Zuccarello, whose first year in the NHL was right after the Rangers last missed the playoffs in 2010.
”I’ve never been in this situation before. It’s been a tough season mentally, lost a lot of good friends, but at the end of the day right now it’s over.”
The lost season and resulting pivot to a youth movement cost coach Alain Vigneault his job when he was fired hours after a season-ending 5-0 loss at Philadelphia last Saturday night. The Rangers went 226-147-37 in five years under Vigneault, with a run to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season in 2013-14.
”We understand we didn’t get the job done,” Lundqvist said. ”When that happens, changes are going to happen. We had players leave, now coaches leave. We hoped and we expected more at the start of the season. Things happened along the way. … We were just not able to recover and changes were made and it was a tough stretch after that.”
Gorton said he expects to interview five to 10 candidates for the head coach vacancy, and will consider anyone with coaching experience at any level.
”We’re looking for somebody with a progressive mind, that’s thinking the game, that’s watching the game and seeing what’s going to happen next,” he said. ”Just a good person, a good leader, somebody we can work with and develop young players.”
Some other things to know as the Rangers head into the offseason:
The moves at the trade deadline gave the team a chance to look at some younger players.
Ryan Spooner, acquired from Boston in the deal for Nash, made the biggest impact with four goals and 12 assists in 20 games – nearly matching his production with the Bruins (nine goals, 16 assists).
Teenage first-round picks Lias Andersson (one goal, one assist in seven games) and Filip Chytil (one goal, two assists in nine) were also given chances to play down the stretch and could make the team out of training camp in the fall.
The Rangers could choose to hasten their rebuild with some moves in free agency, but that option may be hampered due to tough decisions to make with some of their own players.
Spooner is among the team’s eight restricted free agents, along with Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes, Brady Skjei, Vladislav Namestnikov, Rob O’Gara, John Gilmour and Ryan Sproul. Also, Paul Carey, Cody McLeod, David Desharnais and backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec are unrestricted free agents and will not likely be re-signed.
WATCH THE DRAFT BOARD
The Rangers have stockpiled draft picks this year with seven selections in the first three rounds, including three first-rounders. This will make it two straight years with multiple picks in the first round after four straight years without any.
Unless they win the draft lottery, The Rangers aren’t going to get Rasmus Dahlin. However, other strong defensemen that could be available include Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson.
NEED TO HEAL UP
In addition to the injuries that cost players time during the season, Zuccarello and Lundqvist both said they have been dealing with knee injuries throughout the season.
Zuccarello said he just had some work done on his knee and will rest up for three to four weeks. Lundqvist plans to address his issue with doctors in the coming days so he can ”do all the right things to be 100 percent when I start training and preparation for next season.”
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