The Blueshirts appear to be waving the white flag.
The New York Rangers released an open letter from team president Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton last week announcing the team’s intention to start rebuilding ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
“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,” the letter read in part.
“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’re building the foundation for our next Stanley Cup contender.”
The letter was a rare show of transparency and came at a surprising time.
The Rangers (26-24-5, 57 points) are last in the Metropolitan Division and 3-7 in their past 10 games.
But entering Saturday’s action, they were only three points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild card in the hotly contested Eastern Conference.
Veteran forward Rick Nash, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, was asked last week by the team to submit his no-trade list. The Predators, Stars, Blues, Sharks, Penguins and Blue Jackets have been mentioned as possible landing spots.
Forward Michael Grabner and defenseman Nick Holden also are set to become UFAs and rumored to be part of the purge.
Even defenseman Ryan McDonagh, the team’s captain, and forward Mats Zuccarello appear to be expendable at this stage.
The team previously waived defenseman Brendan Smith, who disappointed after signing a four-year, $17 million contract.
The Rangers have qualified for the postseason 11 of the past 12 seasons and reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2014. They won at least 45 games every season under fifth-year coach Alain Vigneault.
“The decisions we make going forward will be based on long term and not trying to save the season,” Gorton told reporters in New York. “Let’s face it, we’ve had a pretty good run for a while; many years we’ve had a team where we were looking to add at this time of year. Right now, as we sit last in our division, it’s become increasingly clear that’s not our team right now.”
The Rangers aren’t the only team expected to be active on the trade market, with Montreal (Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty) and Ottawa (Mike Hoffman and Zack Smith) being heavily scouted by the rest of the league.
Buffalo forward Evander Kane, Detroit defenseman Mike Green and Edmonton forward Patrick Maroon continue to be mentioned as likely deadline rentals.
Also, Columbus center Boone Jenner and Carolina wing Jeff Skinner, a three-time 30-goal scorer, surfaced recently as players who reportedly could be moved.
Buffalo center Ryan O’Reilly appears to be staying put, according to Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman.
No hard feelings
The Chicago Blackhawks are facing the possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
But Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock isn’t about to feel bad for Blackhawks counterpart Joel Quenneville, who has won three of the past eight Stanley Cups.
“Empathize with Joel Quenneville?” Hitchcock responded to reporters. “He can give me his rings all he wants. I don’t give a damn. Competition is competition. He’s had his day in the sun. He’s a great coach, but you can’t feel for anybody. Those are the things you can do in the summer, when you get together, you talk to a guy on the phone, when he’s facing personal adversity. But during competition you’re in your own group and you hope the other group fails like crazy.”
Three stars of the week
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton — The reigning Hart Trophy winner had eight points (five goals, three assists) in three games, including a four-goal outburst in a win over Tampa Bay.
2. Corey Perry, Anaheim — The wing posted six points (two goals, four assists) to help the Ducks go 2-1. He had four assists in a loss to Toronto.
3. Ben Bishop, Dallas — The goaltender went 2-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .958 save percentage for the Stars.