Montreal Canadiens Host New York Rangers Who Are Proof “Resets” Can Work Quickly

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 06: Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on December 06, 2019 in New York City. The Canadiens defeated the Rangers 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 06: Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on December 06, 2019 in New York City. The Canadiens defeated the Rangers 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens host the New York Rangers tonight at the Bell Centre. The Rangers are an interesting team for the Habs to emulate in the coming seasons.

The Montreal Canadiens play host to the New York Rangers tonight at the Bell Centre. The Habs have been the most gracious of hosts in the National Hockey League all year long. Their 13-15-6 record on home ice is better than the Detroit Red Wings home record. But the other 29 teams in the league.

That is not good news if you are cheering for a Canadiens win tonight, especially when you consider the Rangers are 17-11-2 on the road this season. The Rangers have quietly gone on a tear in the recent few weeks and are right in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

It was not long ago that the Rangers were sending a letter out to their fans to explain why they were not competing for a playoff spot and that they would be selling a few assets in an effort to reset the roster and compete for a Stanley Cup down the road.

In fact, that was just two years ago. The Rangers competing for a playoff spot already is proof that teams do not have to tear their organization down to the studs in order to build a winner. Ever since the Pittsburgh Penguins built a great team around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Chicago Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and the Los Angeles Kings won with Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty leading the way, the common refrain around the NHL is you have to tank to win.

This of course, ignores the fact the Kings and Blackhawks were awful for about a decade before they selected Toews and Kane. The Penguins were laughingstocks for less than a decade but they bottomed out long before Crosby arrived. This also obviously ignores that these teams made great trades, drafted terrific players in the third round or later and signed some free agents that helped them along the way.

Anyway, back to the Rangers. They are bearing fruit from a reset that began just two years ago. At that time, they decided it would be shrewd to move out pending unrestricted free agents, even if they were big names and try to build from within and focus on youth.

That trade deadline, the Rangers dealt J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Rick Nash was moved to the Boston Bruins. Last year they dealt Kevin Hayes and Mats Zucarello. All of those players were moved for draft picks and prospects and all of them, aside from Miller were pending unrestricted free agents during that season.

So, the Rangers didn’t exactly tear everything down and start over. There was no gasoline poured on this roster and match thrown on top to get rid of everything. Yes, they moved some big name players, but they only really moved out players that were free agents the following summer.

They kept Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. They just re-signed Chris Kreider. They hung on to their aging, veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. They still have veterans Marc Staal and Brendan Smith playing defence.

Most importantly, if you look at the standings, they never had to completely bottom out like the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings have done recently. In 2017-18, the year the Rangers sent out a letter to tell everyone they were resetting the roster, they finished with 77 points and were 24th in league standings. They drafted Vitaly Kravtsov 9th overall that June.

The following year, last season, the Rangers finished 26th in the 31 team standings. They did get some lottery luck to jump to second overall and draft Kappo Kaako. He is finding his way as a rookie NHL player but is not carrying the team by any stretch of the imagination.

The Rangers find themselves just four points back of the final playoff spot and have played three less games than the Columbus Blue Jackets who hold that final wildcard spot. They got back to playoff contention without selling off all of their assets and dropping to the bottom of the standings.

How did they get back to playoff contention? They cleared out a few veterans who were going to be free agents and used their cap space to pounce on Artemi Panarin when he became a free agent. They moved out those veterans and allowed young players from their great prospect pool like Tony DeAngelo, Filip Chytil, Adam Fox, Buchnevich and Igor Shesterkin take on bigger roles. They made a few good trades to pick up Jacob Trouba and Ryan Strome.

They didn’t have to trade their great, veteran goaltender to get here. they didn’t have to get rid of every good veteran on the team.

What can the Habs learn from this?

Well, they have already been clearing out veterans who were going to be free agents. The traded away Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and Andrew Shaw to reset things and open cap space. They Rangers used that to sign Panarin, could the Habs use their to sign Taylor Hall? The Rangers allowed their good young player to take on bigger roles. The Habs have Nick Suzuki playing first line center and have Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov coming soon.

The Canadiens certainly don’t have to trade away Carey Price and Shea Weber to start a rebuild like many fans want to see. They just need to be patient with their young prospect pool that is among the league’s best. They need to use their quantity of draft picks and turn it into a couple of quality players.

The arrival of Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Caufield, Romanov mixed with good young players like Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, Phillip Danault sticking around and being surrounded by terrific leaders like Price, Weber, Jeff Petry and Tomas Tatar will lead to good things.

The Rangers were supposed to be awful last season and again this year. They are proving reseting a roster and getting back into playoff contention it doesn’t take as long as the Sabres, Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers would lead you to believe. They are showing the Habs they could be back in the postseason as soon as next year.