New York Rangers letter hurt the team
Brian Orellana, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Rangers are on the brink of being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the biggest culprits might be the duo of Jeff Gorton and Glen Sather.

The identity and structure of the New York Rangers hockey club dramatically changed on Feb. 8. That is the date the organization, led by general manager Jeff Gorton and team president Glen Sather, announced they would be breaking up the team.

The Rangers were plummeting out of playoff position and after plenty of noise from the fans, along with some very bad hockey on the ice, owner Jim Dolan signed off on the idea of a rebuilding process. In other words, the Rangers would be sellers as the trade deadline approached on Feb. 26.

At the time of the announcement, the Rangers were 25-24-4 and losers of four games in a row. They’d go 2-7 in the nine games between the announcement and the trade deadline, winning the first two by a combined score of 7-4.

In the seven losses during this stretch, the Rangers were outscored 29-20. They played five road games with a record of 1-4 and in the four home games, they were 1-3.

New York Rangers

The numbers don’t lie. The Rangers were playing flat hockey and the locker room was not a fun place to be. Instead of trying to get out of the bad habits that got them in this predicament in the first place, they were more concerned with who would be the next player to get traded. What teammate and friend would be moved to another team?

The concern and fear were overwhelming and it showed in every game the Rangers played in during the three weeks leading up to the deadline.

Mats Zuccarello admitted to the distractions of the trade rumors in an interview with TSN.

“Its’ hard to sleep sometimes,” Zuccarello said.

How could it not be hard? How can these guys be a team when they knew their heart would be ripped out within the next week?

Henrik Lundqvist also felt the pressure of the expected moves. It showed on his face and in his play as he struggled with the team’s effort and his own.

After back-to-back losses to Ottawa and Philadelphia on the weekend of Feb. 18, the Rangers fell to 5-14 since their win over the Buffalo Sabres in the Winter Classic.

The team, spiraling out of control and seemingly lost on the ice, was still a week away from the trade deadline and still waiting for players to be moved. They played with no enthusiasm or purpose.

Lundqvist told Larry Brooks of the New York Post,

“It’s terrible, absolutely terrible.”

The goaltender had no answer for his poor play, as well as the team in front of him.

“I have to start with myself [and] somehow find the energy and confidence to play [my] game, It’s hard. I talked about it [Saturday] where you try and convince yourself you’re doing the right things out there. But it’s hard to when you give up so many goals to stay confident and make that extra save — or even to be solid.”

The final straw to break the team’s back were the last three days leading up to the trade deadline. It was a known fact that Michael Grabner and Rick Nash were going to be traded.

In order to make sure these players were available for trade, the team announced that Grabner and Nash would not be in the Rangers lineup as the team played two games on the final weekend leading up to Feb. 26. As their soon to be former teammates took the ice to battle again, the Rangers leading goal scorer and one of their best forwards would be sidelined.

An empty feeling indeed. Professional or not, this was something no New York Ranger was prepared for.

Grabner was traded to New Jersey and Rick Nash was then traded to Boston, yet the players knew the organization was not done dealing yet. The Rangers continued to lose games as the rumors progressed. Then the surprise move came at 2:59 pm on Monday, Feb. 26.

Captain Ryan McDonagh, out of the lineup with an injury, was traded along with for J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The final display of the failed letter announcement took its place some 35,000 feet in the air as Miller was told of the trade while flying for a three-game road trip in Canada. Awkward to say the least.

The announcement was supposed to prepare fans, the media and the players that change was coming. Yet the team waited almost 17 days until the first deal was made. The delay in making some moves earlier cost the team plenty of important points.

The worst is over, for now

When the dust settled from the abysmal month of February the Rangers record stood at 28-30-6. The locker room was different, with the feeling that the players who suited up for the first post-trade deadline game in Vancouver had survived the purge of being traded. Well, they had, for now.

A 6-5-1 record since Feb. 26 is nothing to brag about. The team still is making mistakes in all three zones, but they have begun to look better on the ice.

The most notable difference in the team’s play was their goal production. The Rangers scored 42 goals between Feb. 28. and Mar. 24. They have registered at least three goals in each of the last seven games and in 10 of the last 11 games as of their 5-1 win over Buffalo on Saturday night.

The scoring has been coming from a range different of players on the team. Kevin Hayes and Mika Zibanejad with career highs in goals. Neal Pionk with his first NHL goal.

Most recently the newly formed top line of Chris Kreider, Ziabanejad and Jesper Fast has the Rangers playing their best hockey in recent months.

So it’s obvious that the Rangers have played better hockey since the Feb. 26 deadline has passed. Could this better hockey have been played prior to the deadline had the organization not announced trades were coming?

I would say probably not. The team hadn’t played consistent hockey all season long, but one thing is certain, the players weren’t able to play through this period of wait and see. Distractions occur during the season, but just waiting for trades to hit the team was too much.

Jeff Gorton, Glen Sather, and the entire organization chose to give the team and its fans notice of what was to come. This was the wrong way to go about it in my opinion. The organization’s responsibility is to put a good product out on the ice, not baby the team and its fan base. They were not supposed to give a warning to all involved could be ready for the inevitable. The teams play should have already done this for them.

Whats done is done now. The Rangers have played with more passion and heart than they have shown all season. The rebuild is now underway, and we all hope the organization can handle the upcoming NHL draft with my poise then it did leading up to the trade deadline.

The roller coaster ride will get more intense once the Stanley Cup Playoffs end.

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