Rangers embrace rebuild, dodge questions about Vigneault

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Apparently placing Brendan Smith on waivers was a prelude to some intriguing statements from New York Rangers management, as GM Jeff Gorton and promoted-GM-now-president Glen Sather acknowledged a rebuild today.

Granted, on the team website, the term is instead “retool.” (At least they didn’t say “we don’t rebuild, we reload,” right?)

“We have not played well for a while,” Gorton said, via the Rangers website. “It’s becoming increasingly clearer as the days go on that we’re in tough as we go forward for the playoffs. It’s the reality of having to look forward and the decisions that we make going forward will be based on long term and not trying to save the season.”

One question about the team’s future is: will embattled head coach Alain Vigneault be a part of it? Gorton didn’t give a firm answer, so today wasn’t exactly a full reset.

Here’s the full presser with Sather and Gorton:

The Rangers also released an official statement from the two executives. You can read the full release here, which included some mild humble-bragging about the team’s solid success (without a Stanley Cup) before warning of potential trades:

So as we do every season, we have been continuously evaluating our team, looking for areas that can be improved to enhance our chances of winning. We began the process of reshaping our team this past summer, when we traded for assets that we believe will help us in the years to come. As we approach the trade deadline later this month and into the summer, we will be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character. This may mean we lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect. While this is part of the game, it’s never easy. Our promise to you is that our plans will be guided by our singular commitment: ensuring we are building the foundation for our next Stanley Cup contender.

Naturally, the question that fascinates us the most is: which familiar faces may they “lose?”

Most obviously, the Rangers are shopping pendings UFAs such as Rick Nash and Michael Grabner, though it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to land anywhere near the lofty assets they’re seeking. There’s also some question about players on short deals; both Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh see their deals expire after 2018-19, so would the team make the painful decision to move one or both?

(McDonagh, in particular, seems primed for a raise considering his relative bargain cap hit of $4.7 million.)

There are even questions about Henrik Lundqvist, whose $8.5M cap hit runs through 2020-21. At 35, the future Hall of Famer has to wonder how much longer he’ll be able to swing for that elusive Stanley Cup title.

It’s tough to imagine Lundqvist being moved, but beyond “King Henrik,” one has to wonder how many Rangers are safe. That’s especially true if another team would be willing to take on a problem contract like that of Smith or Marc Staal if it’s packaged with a quality young player like, say, J.T. Miller.

Rangers fans haven’t seen struggles like this in some time, and their bitterness is palpable. Fans want change, and unpopular trades could really sour the mood, especially if the team waffles regarding Vigneault.

Fans of the sport as a whole, however, must be fascinated with how all of this might pan out, and hopeful that their GMs can land some quality players, whether it means at the Feb. 26 trade deadline or during the offseason.

Buckle up.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.