Whenever they first start, a rebuild always makes logical sense. A team ages out and doesn’t have the prospects to restock the roster. The New York Rangers are 12 months in and seem a long way off from competing. When does it become an issue?
Make no mistake about it, outside of Filip Chytil, the New York Rangers rebuilding effort has born few results. Granted, it’s less than 12 months into this experiment and the organization has around 12 prospects in the pipeline that it feels could be perspective NHL talent with the right development process.
It made sense based on where the team was last year leading up to the deadline to take a step back. There was little to gain from forcing its way into an eight seed in the east only to have the Tampa Bay Lightning steamroll them in four or five games. It’s never easy to admit that losing would be better than winning in the interim, but the lottery system predicates it as such.
Being that the Rangers are only a year into this experiment, it’s hard to judge with too fine a measuring stick. The aforementioned prospect pool has players ranging from 18-years-old to those in the early 20s waiting to break through in Hartford. The simple fact is that players need years not weeks to develop into professionals.
The concern, of course, is that this becomes a self-defeating cycle in which the front office orchestrates a full-scale sell-off of anyone not on a rookie contract. This leads to a barren wasteland of production in which talented young players are the only ones to carry the load and it stunts development.
But, as Casey Stengel famously said, “See that fella over there? He’s 20 years old. In ten years he’s got a chance to be a star. Now that fella over there, he’s 20 years old too. In ten years he’s got a chance to be 30.”
This is the major concern that most have when it comes to the Rangers’ rebuild. The team has plenty of prospects, but there’s no guarantee that any of them turn into anything at the NHL level. Talent evaluation is an art form, not a science. There is no clear cut list of developmental level benchmarks to indicate success at the NHL level.
The Libor Hajek example
Now, before getting to this point, it’s important to note that Libor Hajek is only 20-years-old and in his first season post junior hockey. But, the former 37th overall pick of the 2016 entry draft was considered the most valuable piece that the Rangers were receiving in the Ryan McDonagh trade at last year’s deadline.
Yet, the Czech defenseman struggled in the first half of the season at the AHL level. Take the fact that the front office elected to call up Ryan Lindgren over Hajek last week as a sign that front offices are as good at evaluating talent as someone sitting on the Chase Bridge after several adult beverages.
The simple fact is that the Rangers need to start assembling a roster for the future, not just a laundry list of prospects. Even Chytil, who has looked the best of the team’s prospects, was extremely inconsistent in the first half of the season.
The major issue is that there is no clear path forward to success for the Rangers. Everyone can have their own individual theory as to what could work. Drafting in the top five this year, signing Artemi Panarin and hoping that Vitali Kravtsov makes the jump to North America is only an idea.
Hinging success on the results of free agency is a fools errand. Just ask the Rangers co-tenant, the New York Knicks about how the courtship of LeBron James went back in the summer of 2010.