With Hayes, Zuccarello Gone, What’s Next for the Rangers?

Spring cleaning is in session, and the Rangers may have the cleanest house now. Two nights ago, fan favorite Mats Zuccarello was traded for draft picks, and then sustained an injury that will keep him off the ice for a month, and then former teammate Henrik Lundqvist had a cathartic interview subsequently after his teammate of nine seasons was traded.

Then, just hours ago earlier today, the resurgent Kevin Hayes was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for Brandon Lemieux and draft picks, fully indicating that Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton is fully fixated on building this team through the draft, as the Rangers now potentially have up to three picks in the first round this year, and eight overall.

Yet, the Blueshirts, a team that will miss the playoffs for consecutive years for the first time since the futile stretch from the 1997-1998 season to the 2003-2004 season, are projected to have close to $25 million in cap space following the conclusion of this season. So, will Jeff Gorton simply keep accruing draft capital, allow the youngsters to develop and coalesce into a competitive by, say 2021-2022, or will he attempt to hasten a rebuild by luring pending free agents such as Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone or Matt Duchene?

Perhaps Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes could be Rangers this summer, since they are also going to be able to test the free agent market for the first time. Was it all part of the plan for Jeff Gorton to acquire assets in exchange for rental players, and then re-sign two players who have been instrumental for the Blueshirts? They have the cap room to sign a marquee free agent or two, although that appears to be an improbable course of action at this juncture.

This lends credence to Gorton and his Rangers brass constituents, because they are at least attempting to put a competitive team on the ice each night instead of completely tanking, like what the Oilers did for many years until they finally unearthed Connor McDavid (hint: the Oilers are still a long ways from being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender).

Regardless of the course of action, the predominant theme for the Rangers this summer will be one small but imperative word: choice.

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