Where does Rangers’ rebuild go from here?

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Just a few weeks before the NHL trade deadline the New York Rangers told their fans that changes were coming.

Even though the team was still very much in the playoff race, it was becoming clear that it was not a Stanley Cup contender and with several veteran players nearing the end of their contracts it was probably a good opportunity to start selling off those players and trying to restock the cupboards.

Honestly, though, that restocking probably began long before that letter was sent out when the team traded Derek Stepan, a top-six center, and Antti Raanta, a very solid goalie, to the Arizona Coyotes for the No. 7 overall pick in the draft and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.

It continued over the past few days with the trading of Michael Grabner to New Jersey, Rick Nash and Nick Holden to Boston, and J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay.

It was a ton of movement.

In return for those seven players (including Stepan and Raanta) the Rangers have picked up 16 assets in return.

Here is the complete list:

  • 2017 first-round pick (from Arizona — used to select Lias Andersson)
  • 2018 first-round pick (Boston)
  • 2018 first-round pick (Tampa Bay)
  • 2018 second-round pick (New Jersey)
  • 2018 third-round pick (Boston)
  • 2019 conditional second-round pick (Tampa Bay — would become another first-round pick if Tampa Bay wins the Stanley Cup this season or next season)
  • 2019 seventh-round pick
  • Vladislav Namestnikov
  • Ryan Spooner
  • Matt Beleskey
  • Anthony DeAngelo
  • Ryan Lindgren
  • Libor Hajek
  • Brett Howden
  • Ygor Rykov
  • Rob O'Gara

That is a lot of future assets and a lot of players coming back in return. That bounty gives the Rangers seven picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft, including three in the first round.

So what do we make of this return and where the Rangers ultimately go from here?

First, there is a lot of quantity over quality here.

Other than the pick they received for Stepan and Raanta none of the draft picks are going to be prime picks. All of those teams are headed to the playoffs and when it comes to the Boston and Tampa Bay firsts those could be in the mid-20s and perhaps even later. The other picks (second, third, seventh) are basically lottery tickets. When you’re dealing with draft picks outside of the top-10 one of the best ways to find talent is to have as many picks as possible to increase your odds. Not all of those draft picks are going to land the Rangers a future NHL player. But they have at least increased their odds of finding one by giving themselves more chances.

The same is true for a lot of the prospects. Some good ones, but no real blue-chippers. They did not get back a Mikhail Sergachev or Brayden Point from Tampa Bay in the McDonagh and Miller deal.

They did not get back any organization’s top prospect, but there are still a couple of interesting players in those deals.

So, about this retooling/rebuilding. Is this it? Or do they do more in the offseason and unload players like Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider or Mika Zibanejad and really go all in on an all-out, full-blown rebuild?

That might be a tough sell with Henrik Lundqvist still hanging around — and not really seeming to have much interest in playing elsewhere — and still playing at a pretty high level. As long as he is on the roster there is going to be an incentive to want to win, and he is probably going to give them a chance simply because he might keep them in some games they may not otherwise be in.

Or, with that latter point in mind, is this more of a retooling that allows the Rangers to stockpile a lot of future assets while still trying to compete? That can be a dangerous game because you don’t want to get stuck in the NHL’s middle ground where you are not quite a contender, but you are also not quite bad enough to increase your chances of a top pick and a true franchise-changing talent in the lottery.

Plus, it’s not like they traded a bunch of players that have long-term contracts. Dealing Nash, Grabner and Holden made sense because all three were unrestricted free agents after this season. Raanta was never going to be more than a backup in New York. Miller was a restricted free agent after this season and in line for a raise, while McDonagh would have been an unrestricted free agent after next season.

The only player throughout this entire roster purge that still had several years of term left on his contract was Stepan.

Even after all of that they still have some good players on the roster, especially at forward where they could still potentially put a formidable group on the ice next season, especially with a healthy Kreider and what would hopefully be a further developed Pavel Buchnevich.

What’s interesting about the forwards is two of the bigger pieces they received in the Nash and McDonagh/Miller trades — Namestnikov and Spooner — are established NHLers, and pretty good ones.

Namestnikov may never duplicate the production he has put on the board this season while playing alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos for an extended period of time, but he has talent and has shown flashes of being a top-six player. Spooner has shown he can be a 40-50 point forward in the NHL the past couple of years. Both are RFA’s after this season and in line for raises, and even though they still have to fill out a roster next season those do not really seem like the type of forwards a team that is going to tear it all down would look to acquire.

They clearly reset things, but they haven’t totally torn it to the ground. A lot of the players traded were probably going to be gone in a few months anyway for no return if they had just simply held on to them. They still have some useful pieces in place and by shedding the salaries of Stepan and McDonagh they have a little more salary cap flexibility.

There are certainly some different directions the Rangers could go from here, and it’s not really clear which way they will take it.

They have a lot of lottery tickets and assets in their hands for the future. But they still have some interesting pieces for the present.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Simmonds to miss 2-3 weeks as Flyers’ injury woes continue

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Philadelphia Flyers are winning a lot of hockey games right now but the injury bug has taken a pretty big bite out of them over the past couple of weeks.

After running out of veteran goalies (Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both sidelined for 4-6 weeks) and needing to trade for Petr Mrazek on Monday night, the team announced on Tuesday that forward Wayne Simmonds will be sidelined for the next two-to-three weeks due to an upper body injury.

Simmonds’ absence will be a big blow to the Flyers’ power play where he has become one of the best net-front players in the league. He leads the team with 10 power play goals this season.

[Related: Flyers acquire Mrazek from Red Wings]

He played 14 minutes in the Flyers’ 7-4 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday and got into a fight with Anthony DeAngelo early in the first period.

In 59 games this season he has scored 20 goals. It is the fifth consecutive season, and sixth time in seven years, he has topped the 20-goal mark. The only time during that stretch he did not reach 20 goals was the lockout shortened 2012-13 season when he scored 15 goals in 45 games.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flyers win again but lose another goalie

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Philadelphia Flyers continued their recent hot streak on Sunday afternoon by rolling into Madison Square Garden and crushing the New York Rangers, 7-4.

It helped them keep pace with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the race for the No. 2 spot (or perhaps even the top spot) in the Metropolitan Division and was their seventh win in the past eight games. Since losing 10 in a row earlier this season the Flyers are now on a 22-8-2 run.

It was a balanced offensive attack that featured the Flyers getting goals from seven different players, including captain Claude Giroux who scored his 200th career goal.

The Flyers also received goals from Travis Konecny, Jori Lehtera, Nolan Patrick, Scott Laughton, Brandon Manning, and Andrew MacDonald.

That is the good news for the Flyers.

The bad news is the win came with a price as they lost another goalie when Michal Neuvirth had to leave the game after the first period due to a lower body injury. He was replaced by rookie Alex Lyon who went on to stop 25 of the 26 shots he faced to record his first career win.

The problem for the Flyers is going to be if Neuvirth’s injury is anything serious because they are already without starting goalie Brian Elliott for the next few weeks. That could leave them dangerously thin at one of the most important positions on the ice at the worst time of the year. If Neuvirth misses any significant time it could force general manager Ron Hextall into a trade.

Sunday’s game got off to a pretty wild start as the two teams combined for six goals and three fights in the first period.

The fighting started just 15 seconds into the game when Shayne Gostisbehere dropped the gloves for the first time in his career. It was in response to a hit from Pavel Buchnevich on Konecny. It was Buchnevich’s second career fight and came in just his second game back in the lineup after he was sidelined due to a concussion.

Ten minutes later Wayne Simmonds dropped the gloves with Anthony DeAngelo, a bout that was followed by Cody McLeod and Dale Weise fighting just one minute later.

As for the Rangers, well, this one was ugly. The only good news is that a couple of their potential trade pieces (Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello) scored goals and perhaps gave their trade value a little bit of a boost. Other than that this was an ugly, ugly game as they gave up way too many chances, looked sloppy defensively, left Henrik Lundqvist out on an island too many times, while Lundqvist himself had a rough game.

The Rangers kept Lundqvist in for all seven goals against.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers

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WATCH LIVE on NBC – 12 PM ET

PROJECTED LINES

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards
Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Jakub VoracekNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds
Michael RafflScott LaughtonJordan Weal
Jori LehteraValtteri FilppulaDale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth

New York Rangers

Forwards
Rick NashMika ZibanejadMats Zuccarello
Michael GrabnerKevin HayesJ.T. Miller
Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisJesper Fast
Paul CareyPeter HollandPavel Buchnevich

Defensemen
Brady Skjei – Neal Pionk
Nick HoldenAnthony DeAngelo
John Gilmour – Ryan Sproul

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Add the Rangers’ poor start to list of surprises early this season

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Last October, the New York Rangers were the highest scoring team during the opening month of the 2016-17 season.

Rick Nash was at the time enjoying a resurgence while Jimmy Vesey‘s pro career was off to a fine start, helping New York to a strong record out of the gate.

The Rangers started this new season almost two weeks ago, and so far they’ve experienced the opposite end of the spectrum. Goals have been difficult to come by, with New York having scored only 13 times in six games, and that has hindered their record to just 1-5-0. They’re currently sitting on a three-game losing streak with the Pittsburgh Penguins in town tomorrow night.

The start of a new season always brings about surprises.

Where do we begin?

— The New Jersey Devils are among the higher scoring clubs right now, and being led offensively by two rookies not named Nico Hischier.

— The Vegas Golden Knights have enjoyed the best five-game start for an NHL expansion franchise since 1967-68, with four wins.

— Outside of their season opener, the Edmonton Oilers so far look nothing like the team that shrugged off a lengthy playoff drought and made it to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.

— How many hat tricks have there been now?

You can add the Rangers’ start to the list as well.

Mika Zibanejad, who has been put into the No. 1 center role, has five of the team’s 13 goals so far and only one of his tallies has come at five-on-five. Meanwhile, Nash, the highest paid forward on their roster at $7.8 million this season and a pending unrestricted free agent, has just one goal through six games, albeit with a team-high 25 shots on net. So far, no points for Vesey.

After losing in the second round of the 2017 playoffs, the Rangers made a number of changes to their roster, with Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein and Oscar Lindberg all being moved through trade, buyout, retirement or the expansion draft. They brought in Kevin Shattenkirk and Anthony DeAngelo, and added diminutive center David Desharnais on a one-year deal, and there is usually an adjustment for new players in a lineup when it comes to the roles they are put into, as well as forward or defensive combinations.

Dating back to their most recent loss on Saturday, head coach Alain Vigneault liked what he saw from his team for just over half the game, but missed opportunities, costly mistakes and an opportunistic Devils team proved too much for the Rangers.

The Rangers are in the midst of a six-game home stand, with seven of the final eight games this month at Madison Square Garden. This was seen as an opportunity for them to gain early ground in the standings, but three straight losses have set them back.

It’s still probably too early to read too much into a poor start or great start for any team or player. It won’t get any easier, though, when the Rangers host the Penguins tomorrow. And another loss would only add to the growing unpleasantness of this early season surprise.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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