BY JOE HITI
The Rangers currently sit 25th in the league standings, just one point from the bottom-feeding Detroit Red Wings.
After the fire sale that took place over the past two seasons — which was once touted as an overnight rebuild of the team — they find themselves nowhere near the former Eastern Conference Champions and Presidents Trophy winners of old.
The “overnight rebuild” that they have been attempting the last two seasons is proving to not be an effective strategy — as only 18 games into this season, the Blue Shirts currently boast a measly 8-8-2 record.
The dismantling began in 2018 when the Rangers traded captain Ryan McDonagh and the high-scoring JT Miller for Vladislav Namestnikov and a 2018 first-round draft pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Now, just two games into the 2019-20 season, the Rangers front office sent Namestnikov north of the border in a trade with the Ottawa Senators — a move believed to be aimed at lowering the cap hit from the contract-year player.
Heading into the season, there were reasons for hope. The signing of top forward free agent Artemi Panarin and the high draft pick of Kaapo Kakko gave fans a glimmer of optimism that they could make their return to the playoffs after missing out the past two seasons.
Yet with a terrible October — during which they went 4-5-1 — the team currently sits at 30th in the league for goals against at 3.61 per game. They are 25th for the fewest shots on goal at 29.3 per game, and — to top it all off — they are the most penalized team in the league, currently averaging 12.9 penalty minutes a game.
Panarin is currently leading the team in most major categories. He has nine goals, 23 total points, the highest plus/minus rating, with a plus nine, and the team lead in shots on goal with 57.
Of the Ranger players they acquired from trades in past seasons, only two continue to be major impacts on a nightly basis — defenseman Jacob Trouba, who leads the team with 41 blocked shots and 50 hits, and centerman Ryan Strome, who is currently second in both points and goals for the Rangers, only behind Panarin.
For a team with promising defensmen and forwards, the numbers just don’t add up — in no small part due to the lack of goaltending, which management has essentially ignored.
The Rangers have had issues putting someone solid between the pipes since Henrik Lundqvist began a steep decline over the past three seasons — as is expected from any 37-year-old netminder — posting career lows in GAA and save percentage.
A team that was so close to hoisting the Stanley Cup for the fifth time just five years ago, the Rangers are still backsliding even amid rebuilding — and the team seems incapable of stopping the bleeding.