Let’s hope New York Rangers fans don’t mind breaking from their usual routines because there will be loads of changes coming to the Big Apple next season, especially now that Alain Vigneault was relieved of his duties following the end of a disappointing season. General manager Jeff Gorton also announced that associate coach Scott Arniel and assistant coach Darryl Williams had been let go. Assistant coach Lindy Ruff, who joined the staff at the beginning of the 2017-18 season, will remain with the team, as will longtime assistant coach and goaltending coach Benoit Allaire.
Changes however started coming around the trade deadline, when the Rangers shipped out forwards Michael Grabner and Rick Nash to the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins respectively, and T.J. Brown ended up leaving in the Ryan McDonagh blockbuster deal to the Tampa Bay Lightning. It didn’t come as a surprise as Gorton and team president Glen Sather had warned the fanbase. The Rangers were 25-24-5 for 55 points in 54 games, three points out of a wild-card spot, when they issued a letter to their fans on Feb. 8, warning that the team’s rebuild was about to begin.
Vigneault’s firing came on the second-last day of the 2017-18 NHL regular calendar and was the first of the year in the league. The rebuilding phase might be in progress but there is now a strong rumor that Ilya Kovalchuk has agreed to a “two- or three-year deal” with the Rangers. New York management seems to have a set plan, and star goalie Herink Lundqvist, who even found himself in trade chatter this season, felt obliged to comment the future in the Big Apple.
“Disappointing 2nd half of the season. Came up short and it will hurt for a while. We all have different opinions on how, why and what if…Important thing right now, where do we go from here. Step by step we WILL get closer to where we need to be. I believe it, I hope you do to.”
Lundqvist went on to thank the fans for their support. One man that gives him all the support he needs is Gorton, who told the New York Post on Monday that Lundqvist’s vision and focus on getting back to winning what was the team needed the most for next year.
“I believe what he’s saying is true. I don’t think you should be playing in the NHL if it’s not about winning,” Gorton said Monday. “We’re going to try and win every game.
“Henrik is the ultimate competitor and I’m sure he’s going to approach this offseason like he’s approached no offseason in the past. He’s going to come back, prove to everyone we can turn around this thing quickly and that he can be the guy to be the backbone for that.
“I hope everybody in our room understands that we should be about winning.”
If the focus is on winning, Gorton should also pay attention to the draft and the free agency season first. Rangers fans got a sneak peak at their two 2017 first-round draft picks, Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, at the end of the season, and could load up on some interesting picks this summer. There are also all these restricted free agents the Rangers have to make decisions on. Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes, Ryan Spooner, Vladimir Namestnikov, Brady Skjei, John Gilmour, Ryan Sproul… Who returns?
At least it seems like Lundqvist will be on board, and maybe even lead the way back to winning.