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February 8, 2018

Reclaiming Our Identity

The Rangers’ general manager maps out a new plan, designed to build a contender year in and year out.

BY JEFF GORTON

At the podium a year ago. Planning ahead requires an honest assessment of where we are now. (Photo: Jared Silber/MSG Photos)

For more than 10 years now, the Rangers have put a team on the ice that we felt was capable of challenging for the Stanley Cup. We haven’t quite been able to pull it off, but it’s been a solid run  with three conference finals and a trip to the Finals four years ago, along with the Presidents’ Trophy the next year.

Now we’re facing an inevitable turning point and some hard decisions about whether this year’s team, after two-thirds of the season, is really fit to win a championship. The honest answer — that’s not where we are.

And so, as an organization, we have decided to shift gears. Rather than attempt a quick fix — always tempting — we have a longer view in mind. We want to build a new, younger foundation and again be one of the sport’s elite teams, one that can compete for the Cup year in and year out.

This is not a one-year project. Our focus now is on the next 10 years.

As general manager, this is a bittersweet task. With the trade deadline approaching at the end of the month, this is typically an exciting time, with everyone in the organization buzzing about how we’re going to win it all and what last piece we may need to make it happen.

But there is now a different type of excitement, a sense of possibility and a chance to infuse our team with new talent, even if it’s a little rawer.

 

Keeping Pace In A Faster, Younger League

To begin with, we have to reclaim our identity. Over the last several years, we were known for our speed, skill and sheer competitiveness. Teams preparing to play us knew they were in for a difficult time, that they would be pressured all over the ice. But that’s not the case any longer. We are a team without an identity, and we’ve been in search of it all year.

In a way, our rejuvenation began last  when for the first time in five years we were able to select in the first round of the draft and came away with two picks — Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, both athletic centers who will help us keep pace in a league that each year is becoming younger and faster.

We’ve been impressed by the progress they’ve shown in the recent World Juniors and with our Hartford club. While we are taking a longterm approach, and will not bring them to the NHL before they are ready, our hope is that fans will see them at Madison Square Garden before long.

Taking a step back, especially at this time of year is never an easy thing. Several years ago, when I was in the Bruins front office, we made a similar shift in approach, accumulating draft picks and becoming younger. Many of those players were part of Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup team.

Rebuilding doesn’t have to be a longterm project. Many teams have turned it around quickly with a similar approach. But the moment is right for us to take a deep breath. If it takes a little time, that’s fine, too. Middle of the road is not good enough. We have the longer haul and something bigger in mind.


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