NHL Column: The dreadful rebuild

  On Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, the New York Rangers traded forward Rick Nash as part of a multiplayer deal with the Boston Bruins. The Rangers acquired the Bruins' first-round pick in this year's draft as well as forwards Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey and a seventh-round pick in the 2019 draft. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

 On Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, the New York Rangers traded forward Rick Nash as part of a multiplayer deal with the Boston Bruins. The Rangers acquired the Bruins' first-round pick in this year's draft as well as forwards Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey and a seventh-round pick in the 2019 draft. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

General managers are a lot like college students. They have all year/week/day to make trades, but they wait until the final minutes before the deadline to submit their transactions and improve their team. At the NHL trade deadline specifically, multiple moves came in within the final minutes before the clock hit 3 p.m. on Feb. 26.

The biggest trade of the day came in these final minutes as the New York Rangers dealt star defenseman Ryan McDonagh and J.T Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a slew of prospects and draft picks. This declared the Rangers the most successful sellers of the deadline as they also dealt Rick Nash and Michael Grabner for future value.

Time will tell whether New York’s moves will be beneficial for the future well-being of their team, but the concept of dumping so many big names that are impending free agents seems smart. They can, after all, still attempt in July to sign any of the players they lost during free agency. The Rangers are embracing a rebuild, but unlike other teams, they are doing it an efficient fashion.

The term “rebuild” can be daunting to fans because it usually implies a string of miserable seasons. But it is also often necessary to culminate a championship caliber team, especially in a sport like hockey where there is a salary cap and few truly elite players become available aside from the draft.

But when a rebuild is completely mismanaged, teams face a long playoff drought. The Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers are prime examples of this. These organizations’ management preaches patience and trust, but years pass and before you know it, an endless drought ensues.

The Sabres have not made the playoffs since the 2010-2011 season and have finished near the bottom of the league each year. The Oilers missed the playoffs for 10 straight years before finally breaking in last season, but this year they are right back in the league cellar. One playoff appearance in 12 years is just unacceptable, especially when more than half of the league’s teams make it to the tournament each year.

The everlasting torment these clubs face originates from an inability to evaluate their teams. The 16-team playoff system often provides the illusion that a team is better than it actually is. A team that is on the bubble of making the playoffs is not necessarily that talented and could be trending downward as a whole. If a general manager realizes his team’s contention window is dwindling, the rebuild will begin prior to them becoming an embarrassment. This makes for a shorter losing period.

Teams that recognize the need to rebuild sooner will have the opportunity to trade some of their assets while they remain high in value. For instance, the Rangers could have kept some of their stars like Ryan McDonagh this year and gone after the playoffs. But all that does is delay an inevitable rebuild. Stringing together multiple strong seasons generally empties the cupboard in terms of prospects and draft picks. This makes it essential to flip top players for a positive future.

The grim organizations in Buffalo and Edmonton waited too long to start rebuilding and are paying for it by perpetually losing. They have reached a state where winning is so foreign to them that they do not know when to finally try to start going for the cup again. With the amount of top-10 draft picks they have had lately, they should be winning by now. But winning does not just naturally occur, of course.

Management for those organizations is reluctant to make some key trades and signings to push them toward playoff contention. They continue to struggle to properly evaluate their teams and do not seize the opportunity to become relevant. They do not realize when they finally have the chance to win, just as they did not see when they needed to start over.

Although it might take a little time before the Rangers can compete with the top members of the league again, they are being forward-minded and, thus, will be ready to win soon. The timing for rebuilds is key, and teams like the Oilers and Sabres are completely off beat.

Stars like Taylor Hall, Evander Kane, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kyle Okposo have all spent time playing in Buffalo and Edmonton, yet winning has been out of sight for them for as long as anyone can remember. Rebuilds are delicate, and management for these teams are just not being careful enough in crafting their teams. From this, they have reached the darkest place to which a rebuild can bring a team.


Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at dylan.barrett@uconn.edu.