How Rangers will approach NHL trade deadline

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The Rangers are coming up on their fourth trade deadline since “The Letter,” which declared the official start of the organization’s rebuild, sent out on Feb. 8, 2018.

By now, the reconstruction has reached a point where the Blueshirts don’t fall into either the “Buyers” or “Sellers” categories that are commonly used to describe where franchises are in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup. They are somewhere in the middle, where they have accomplished their goal of stocking up on promising prospects and young players to build around, but are still lacking components that would make them legitimate contenders.

It’s safe to assume that by Monday’s deadline, the Rangers won’t be making any bombshell deals like the one that sent former captain Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay in exchange for a 2018 first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick in 2019, a then-25-year-old Vlad Namestnikov (now in Detroit) and two prospects in defenseman Libor Hajek and center Brett Howden who are now part of the team’s active roster.

And unless a too-good-to-pass-up deal arises (in this economy?) in which the Rangers would acquire a 1A or 1B center, don’t expect the organization to be big spenders, either.

This is a franchise that traded four consecutive first-round picks from 2013 to 2016, a time when the Rangers were the definition of a win-now organization. But this is also a team that has now used eight first-round picks from 2017 to 2020.

Times have changed. The Rangers have changed. And they likely won’t be making any groundbreaking changes until after this 56-game season of intra-divisional play is over.

“We’ve been through this, obviously this is the third year in a row that I’ve been through it, our staff has been through it and these guys have been through it the last four years,” head coach David Quinn said prior to Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Penguins. “I think we’re in a little bit of a different position this year is my guess. You just never know. Obviously, [general manager Jeff Gorton] and I talk quite a bit. But there are things that can happen unexpectedly. You just never know what can happen this time of year. I’m sure the players start talking about it a lot more over the next five, six days.

“Obviously, the Islanders make that big trade, so people start talking more about the trade deadline once one domino falls.”

Yes, the first-place Islanders – who host the Rangers Friday night – are that win-now kind of team. That trade saw Islanders acquire veteran forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the Devils in exchange for minor leaguers A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst, the Isles’ 2021 first-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022.

It was an ideal move for a team that is making a push for the Stanley Cup. The Rangers are simply not in that position at the moment.

But that doesn’t mean that the franchise hasn’t accomplished what it’s set out to do since that memorable announcement was made over three years ago.

The dismemberment of the team is complete, with McDonagh, Miller, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes all now playing for different clubs or retired in Nash’s case. A good portion of the remodeling is starting to take shape, with Igor Shesterkin, Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov and the surprise addition of 2020 first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere in place. Oh, and Artemi Panarin.

But there is still work to be done. It just may be on pause.

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