Rangers’ off-season plan can quickly shift from ‘the process’ to winning

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Call it a “rebuild,” a “re-tooling” or a “reshaping,” but what the New York Rangers are going through as they prepare for the future won’t last very long. The pain will be temporary.

When general manager Jeff Gorton sent that February letter to season-ticket holders about turning the page on this season and getting assets for veterans while incorporating youngsters, it was a welcomed sign. The brass knew the roster they had likely wouldn’t find success in the postseason, if they even found a way in, so might as well cash-in and turn the page.

But benefiting the Rangers is that they’re an organization that will spend, and with Henrik Lundqvist still solid in goal and with three more years left on his contract, now’s not the time to tear it completely down. The goaltender himself is adamant he wants a return to contender status next season.

“Next year has to be about winning and nothing else,” Lundqvist told Larry Brooks of the New York Post this week. “I understand that the end now has been about the young guys getting used to the league and getting confidence, but next year is not about the process. It’s about winning games.”

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Gorton has a busy summer ahead of him. The Rangers have seven picks in the first three rounds of the June entry draft and $24 million in cap space, per Cap Friendly, to play with this summer — and that’s before the expected rise of the ceiling, which could go up between $3-5 million. Some of that money will go towards new contracts for the likes of restricted free agents Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey and Brady Skjei. 

The leftover cap room? Well, those Ilya Kovalchuk rumors will begin to heat up once his season ends in the KHL and who knows, maybe Rick Nash and Michael Grabner make a return to New York? Plus some of those seven early round picks and maybe one or two of their RFAs could be dangled as trade bait in exchange for impact players for next season. Add in the experience that Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, John Gilmour, Rob O’Gara and Neal Pionk have been getting these last few weeks and the wait for a playoff return may not be very long.

“When you see the progress of the group, especially the young players,” said Lundqvist last month, “that gives you hope for what’s ahead of us.”

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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.