The first domino has fallen.
Thursday morning the Rangers placed defenseman Brendan Smith on waivers.
While the move initially caught people off guard, the Blueshirts’ plans soon became clear.
G.M. Jeff Gorton and Team President Glen Sather addressed the media following the team’s practice at the MSG Training Center near Tarrytown.
Here some excerpts from the open letter the Rangers’ high-command delivered to its’ fanbase:
“Today, we want to talk to you about the future. As you know, since the 2005-06 season, we have been a highly competitive team. We have played 129 playoff games, won the Presidents’ Trophy, reached the Conference Finals three times, as well as the Stanley Cup Final.
“While we’re proud of all those accomplishments – we didn’t reach our ultimate goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to New York.
“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 & 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.”
In essence, come February 26th, this is going to be a vastly different Rangers team.
And although it seems like the high-command has waved the proverbial “white flag,” the Blueshirts are still very much alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Entering their game against the Flames Friday night, the Broadway Blueshirts find themselves just three points back of the second Wild Card spot.
And by no means is three points an insurmountable deficit.
This team needs to regain its’ healthy.
And should the Rangers make it through the Trade Deadline within striking distance of the teams they’re chasing, then there’s still a chance their season will extend beyond the first week of April.
DEEP ROOTED CONNECTIONS
Marek Hrivik spent parts of two seasons in New York (2015-16 and 2016-17).
Kevin Hayes and Johnny Gaudreau played together at Boston College for three seasons (2011-12 – 2013-14). And for one season (2011-12) Hayes and Gaudreau were joined by Chris Kreider. The trio led the Eagles to a victory in the National Championship.
They say blood is thicker than water. We’ll find out if that’s true when cousins Kevin Hayes and Matthew Tkachuk face-off.
Mats Zuccarello: The scrappy winger is six goals away from 100 in his NHL career.
Rick Nash: The veteran winger is three points away from 800 in his illustrious NHL career.
J.T. Miller: The skilled former first-round draft pick has always shown tremendous poise with the puck. And his playmaking abilities have him closing in on 100 career assists; he’s four away.
PLAYER TO WATCH
FLAMES: JOHNNY GAUDREAU. The 24-year-old left-winger leads the team in points (61). To put it briefly; as Gaudreau goes, so do the Flames. As proof, Johnny Hockey has 20 points in his last 15 games; during which, Calgary is 9-2-4.
RANGERS: NEAL PIONK. Thursday morning the 22-year-old defenseman received his call up from Hartford; taking Brendan Smith’s roster spot. In 48 AHL games, Pionk registered 17 points (1G, 16A). With a supposed youth movement getting underway on 7th Avenue, it’s time to see what the Baby Blueshirts can do.
The Rangers continue to be short-handed as Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, Chris Kreider, Kevin Shattenkirk and Marc Staal remain out with injuries.
However, Vesey did skate Thursday in a non-contact jersey and could return soon.
And early Thursday morning, the Blueshirts placed Brendan Smith on waivers and called up defenseman Neal Pionk from Hartford to take his roster spot.
Expect Pionk to make his NHL debut as soon as Friday night against Calgary.
And Henrik Lundqvist basically admitted he’s fatigued after being pulled for the third time in six starts. So it’s possible we’ll see Ondrej Pavelec draw the start. But nothing is certain until pregame warmups.
WHERE TO WATCH
The game will be broadcast on MSG Networks at 7 pm ET. For in-game coverage check out our Twitter account @NYRBlueBulletin.
Thursday afternoon, G.M. Jeff Gorton and Team President Glen Sather made it clear wholesale changes are coming.
“It’s going to force us into some decisions now,” said Gorton. “We have to think long-term and start to try to rebuild and build a Stanley Cup contender.”