With Mats Zuccarello officially traded to the Dallas Stars, the New York Rangers have continued their commitment to a full rebuild. After a hot start to the season that saw the Rangers in contention for a playoff spot, many fans weren’t sure of the teams long-term plans. The Rangers essentially had three different paths they could have followed this season. The first would be to re-sign players such as Zucc and Kevin Hayes, while still moving other non-essential pieces like Adam McQuaid and Vladislav Namestnikov. This would have been the most aggressive play, indicating that they believe the assets they have accrued in the past two years plus the current core is enough. The second option would have been to trade Hayes and Zucc for young NHL players or older prospects, signaling that they believe they need to follow a quick timeline on the rebuild. The third option, which the Zucc trade confirms, is trading for picks and young prospects, signaling a complete and long-term rebuild.
Trading for a 2019 and 2020 draft pick indicates that the Rangers are committing to a long-term rebuild. Instead of a band aid that would last one, maybe two years, the Rangers seem to be collecting as many young assets as they can, regardless of how long it takes for them to come to fruition. Now, with Hayes almost certainly being traded to the Flames, what will the Rangers get in return? It seems likely the Rangers will get a 2019 first round pick, but the second piece is what tells us the Rangers long term plans. If the second piece is a prospect then maybe the Rangers do plan on putting together a competitive team in the near future. If the second piece is another 2020 draft pick, this is another indicator that the Rangers are planning to drag out the rebuild past the 2020-2021 season.
While an Adam McQuaid trade is most likely going to net a mid-round pick in the 2019 draft, the true indicator of how long this rebuild may take lies in what the Rangers do with Chris Kreider. If the Rangers truly feel that they will not build a contending team within the next three to four years then they may deem trading Kreider as necessary. This would mark a complete rebuild that gives the Rangers little to chance at competing within the next three seasons.
While there have been reports that teams have been calling about Kreider, I don’t believe the Rangers will or should trade him. While they may be looking three or four years in advance, finding a player like Kreider is difficult no matter how many first round picks you have. Also, the experience of Kreider and Zibanejad will come in big for the Rangers when they do complete the rebuild. Playoff teams are constantly mortgaging their futures to pick up veterans at the deadline, and the Rangers can save themselves from depreciating their prospect pool once again in the future by holding on to players such as Kreider.