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So yes, with 15 games to go and a tournament berth still within the realm of possibility if you believe in divine intervention, of course the Rangers hierarchy sees the value of qualifying for the postseason.
But not to the extent of adopting a Playoffs or Bust mentality at Monday’s trade deadline. Not to the extent of sacrificing a potential piece of the future in exchange for an immediate fix. Not to the extent of deviating from the plan the organization adopted three years ago.
There has been enough short-term pain through three consecutive playoff misses — likely to become four — not to put the blueprint in the shredder in the hopes of some short-term gain.
“I see that most of the trades were in the rental market and the focus really was not going for rentals,” said general manager Jeff Gorton, whose team plays its first of four straight against the Devils on Tuesday night in New Jersey. “I really wasn’t interested in renting players.
“I feel like if you look at our team right now, there’s a lot of good things happening, a lot of people are getting added ice time and doing well with it. I didn’t want to bring in players to take from that.
“Our focus has been on trying to get better all the time. We’re trying to play as many meaningful games as we can, take it one day at a time and then let the chips fall where they may,” the GM said. “We’re in a very difficult division and we’ve hung in there pretty well.
“We have 15 games to go, we have a big week coming up so we’ll focus on that but I’m happy that our games are meaningful, our guys are developing, you’ve seen these young kids get better and I feel like our team is playing as [well] as we have maybe all year.”
Disappointing efforts have largely obscured the more encouraging ones, but the fact of the matter is that the Rangers have gone 9-4-3 over 16 games dating back to March 13 for a .656 winning percentage that is tied for seventh best in the NHL over that span. They are four points behind Boston, with the Taylor Hall-augmented B’s (we’ll see about that) holding a pair of games in hand for the final playoff invite.
The Rangers were good, albeit not perfect, in taking three points in two weekend games against the Islanders, who are tied at the top of the East with the Caps. The Blueshirts have an aggregate 6-4-1 record against the co-division leaders.
“Based on the two games against the Islanders, I’m really happy with the way things are going,” Gorton said. “Like I said, the young kids, you’re seeing the strides they’re making and the opportunities they’re getting and it’s hard not to feel good about the Rangers’ future and where we’re headed.
“As a whole I really believe our team is moving in the right direction and there’s a lot to be excited about.”
Gorton said there was no recent action regarding Tony DeAngelo, whom the Rangers will expose to Seattle in the expansion draft and then will buy out (at the cost of $383,333 in dead space next season and $883,333 of dead space in 2022-23) if the Kraken doesn’t bite. There apparently wasn’t a lot of action regarding Brendan Smith, whom the Rangers didn’t particularly want to move, anyway.
So they will go the rest of the way pretty much with the squad that brought them here, except with supplements coming from college or down below. Zac Jones, the 20-year-old sophomore defenseman from national champion UMass, is on the verge of leaving school to sign a contract with the Blueshirts and would be expected to play at some point. Morgan Barron, the 22-year-old center who has spent his first pro season with the Wolf Pack, should also get some NHL games.
Gorton deferred comment on Jones, a 2019 third-rounder at 68th overall, until he signs. But regarding Barron, the GM said, “I think Morgan has played extremely well and we’d be hopeful to get him an opportunity or anyone there who deserves it.
“We’ll keep him there for now, see how he does, but he’s certainly opened our eyes with what he’s done, so we’re looking at that.”
The Rangers still need to get to there from here. But they’re not looking for any Rosie Ruiz shortcuts to the finish line. The March 2018 letter was not signed with disappearing ink.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Gorton said. “There’s a lot to be thankful for and to be excited about going forward.”
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