Where Did New York Rangers Go Wrong in Building Current Roster?

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor IDecember 4, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 21: James L. Dolan, Executive Chairman of Madison Square Garden (L), and Glen Sather, General Manager of the New York Rangers (C), congratulate Alain Vigneault, the new head coach of the New York Rangers (R) shake hands at a press conference at Radio City Music Hall on June 21, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)
Scott Levy/Getty Images

The New York Rangers have a record of 14-14-0 through the first 28 games of the season and, given the resources and aggressiveness of the front office, where did the team go wrong in building its current roster?

The simple answer is this: The Rangers brain trust of Glen Sather and company—bankrolled by James Dolan—has made some high-risk, high-reward moves that have not had the expected results.

The Rangers are playing inconsistently this year, just like they did last season. One night the team comes out on fire, and the next they look flatter than a crushed-up pizza box. The tactics used to spark the team this year are similar to last year, even though there is a new coach behind the bench.

After a poor loss against the Winnipeg Jets, bench boss Alain Vigneault made a statement that is all-too familiar.

Via Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record:

If we are going to get some traction and get past that .500 level, we need our top players to consistently play like top players. Not a period in, a period out. Not a game in, a game out. We need that core group, the leaders of this group, to perform accordingly. And we have not done that on a consistent basis and on a game to game basis. Just look at our lineup, look at our core group and look at our key guys and there’s the answer.

Before moving on, here are comments following a poor loss against the Buffalo Sabres last season.

Via Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News: “I’m not gonna give Buffalo any credit. Well, I will give their third line credit. They outplayed our top players, and that can’t happen. I couldn’t be more disgusted and disappointed with the way our top guys played, the way we handled ourselves through it.”

Those were the words of ex-bench boss John Tortorella.

Circling back to the present, the team has made some contradictory moves that have caused further transactions, and there have been some cases in which money was improperly spent.

Richards was a good player to add, but his contract is terrible.
Richards was a good player to add, but his contract is terrible.Rebecca Taylor/Getty Images

The Rangers have tried to hit home runs by throwing around big money, and the abundance of resources got the better of them.

This has been the Blueshirts' M.O. for quite some time, but the salary cap has forced them to play by the rules. Gone are the days where the Rangers can pluck up whomever they want because of their deep pockets, because now they need to field a 23-man roster while remaining cap compliant. 

The commitment of salary and term to a select group of players has prevented the Rangers from adding secondary pieces and, instead, the Blueshirts have signed lower-tier free agents over the past two summers.

The Rangers have one of the richest owners in league, but they have not done a good job managing the salary cap. The Brad Richards contract comes to mind, not because of the cap hit, but because of the length.

A yearly salary of $6.6 million for Richards makes sense, but a nine-year term does not. Each of the big moves the Rangers have made have some consequences, and they will be detailed below.

Ultimately, the Rangers are struggling this year, but given the makeup of their roster; no one should be surprised. 

Critics will bring up the Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Wade Redden signings, but the Rangers were able to get out of those contracts. Instead, moves like the signing of Brad Richards, the acquisition of Rick Nash and the trade of Marian Gaborik have had some adverse effects.

To understand where the team went wrong, it is important to take a look at the team's biggest moves over the recent years and the impact each move had on the roster.

Moves That Have Impacted Rangers' Roster
MovePersonContract DetailsDateWhy Moves Was MadeImpact of Move
SigningBrad RichardsNine Years,$6.6 Million per seasonJuly 2, 2011Team needed a No. 1 center and power-play quarterback.Added a burdensome veteran contract to salary cap, that has impacted team's ability to sign free agents.
TradeRick NashFive Years, $7.8 Million per seasonJuly 23. 2012Team needed another elite goal scorer.Trade depleted some of team's depth, forced team to make move during the next season.
TradeMarian GaborikTwo Years, $7.5 Million per seasonApril 3, 2013Team needed depth, Gaborik wasn't producing with Tortorella behind bench.Loss of an elite goal scorer, and team is still struggling to score goals.
Cap Geek

The above three moves have had the biggest impact on the construction of the Rangers' current roster, and it explains why they are in their current predicament. In hindsight, the Rangers' signing of Richards was brilliant.

During his time with the Dallas Stars, he was a point-per-game player, he had a proven track record under John Tortorella and he filled the Rangers' biggest need.

He was a solid contributor during his first season on Broadway, and his playoff proficiency enabled the Rangers to make the conference finals. After Year One, the Richards signing looked good, but it was clear that the Blueshirts needed more talent to win the Stanley Cup.

During the summer of 2012, Zach Parise was the top forward on the market, and he got a huge bounty from the Minnesota Wild. Adding Parise would have been optimal for the Blueshirts, but he wasn't interested in signing with them.

There were no hard feelings, and the Rangers went out and got Nash. The trade for Nash seemed like a major win at first because the Blueshirts only parted with Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon.

Brandon Dubinsky wasn't getting it done during his last year with the Rangers, but he would be a welcomed addition to the current roster.
Brandon Dubinsky wasn't getting it done during his last year with the Rangers, but he would be a welcomed addition to the current roster.Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Neither player has lit the world on fire since leaving the team, but each served an important role with the Rangers. It was assumed that Chris Kreider was going to step in and exceed Dubinsky's production at left wing, but that never happened. 

Then Richards struggled mightily to start the 2012-13 campaign, and the Blueshirts' center depth became Derek Stepan and Brian Boyle in top-six. Had Anisimov been on the roster, the team would have been in better shape, but that wasn't the case.

The lack of overall depth prompted the Blueshirts to make yet another deal, one they may end up regretting.

This time the Rangers dealt from their assumed surplus of goal scoring by shipping Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Derick Brassard, John Moore and Derek Dorsett.

The deal sent a 40-goal scorer from a team devoid of scoring talent to a team that had considerable depth. Tortorella and Gaborik's relationship had become sour, and it was a rare instance in which the coach won out over a player.

Tortorella was eventually fired, and that made this deal sting even more in hindsight.

At the time, the deal was viewed as questionable, but the transaction helped the Blueshirts end the year strong heading into the playoffs. However, the Boston Bruins eventually eliminated the Rangers in five games, John Tortorella was fired and Alain Vigneault was hired.

The so-called action and reaction of the Nash and Gaborik trades have been explained, but the Richards deal has not been thoroughly explained yet.

While signing Richards made sense at the time, the contract did not. It was a cheap tactic to dilute his cap hit, and contracts like his are now punished by the current CBA. When he struggled last year there was talk about buying out his contract, but the Blueshirts decided to keep him.

The side effects of keeping Richards included a major cap crunch that resulted in Derek Stepan not being re-signed until the end of the preseason. It also restricted the team from adding some players that could help their roster, so the biggest free-agent move of the summer ended up being the addition of Benoit Pouliot.

Pouliot has been a bust this year for the Blueshirts.
Pouliot has been a bust this year for the Blueshirts.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Pouliot was signed because of his size and top-six upside, but he has been a major bust so far. Had the Blueshirts bought out Richards, they could have re-signed all of their key players, and then there would have been money left over to shape the roster in Vigneault's image. 

But instead, the roster was not strengthened, and the Rangers find themselves in a familiar position.

As I said earlier in the year:

Part of the problem for the Rangers' failure thus far involves personnel. The players get no reprieve for lack of execution, but Vigneault gets a pass for doing the best he can with the current roster.

The current identity of this team, based on statistics, is still Tortorellian in nature. Players are still blocking shots, they are hitting and they aren't generating offense. Could it be that this team isn't good enough to play for Vigneault?

This may be the reality facing the Rangers and, if that is the case, the team needs to act now. The clock is ticking on this current roster given the amount of players up for a new contract next season, so things could get interesting if the team continues to remain inconsistent.


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