It is rare for a talented player like John Tavares to hit free agency. When a player of his caliber does hit the open market every team in the NHL should at least call his agent and see what it would take to bring Tavares to their team. However, it leaked earlier that just five teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, and Tampa Bay Lightning were represented for in-person pitches. The New York Islanders captain is also being courted by the Islanders.
The New York Rangers are in the midst of a rebuild. However, that doesn’t mean they should sit out the Tavares sweepstakes. Rangers’ GM Jeff Gorton, however, has been quiet regarding Tavares. We all know the chances of Tavares choosing the Rangers are slim. The Islanders are loaded with young talent at forward and have made front office changes that at least indicate the Islanders are ready to move in the right direction.
Still, no offer being made to the top free agent, especially one from a rival, is just criminal. Instead, Gorton seems ready and willing to use his cap space to help a team like Dallas, Toronto, or Tampa Bay open up cap room to sign Tavares by taking back contracts.
That is like a slap in the face to Rangers’ fans. Gorton is willing to help another team sign Tavares by taking back contracts to free up space for that team but isn’t willing to make an offer to the soon-to-be 28-year-old center? Let’s be honest, Tavares on the Rangers makes them a playoff team. The Rangers could slide Mika Zibanejad to the second line and suddenly a position that looked weak last year is pretty strong. The Rangers could also trade some of their restricted free agents to open up more cap room or to acquire more assets to quicken the rebuild. Instead, the Rangers have been quiet this offseason. Though it was reported they were interested in 35-year-old winger Ilya Kovalchuk before he signed with the Los Angeles Kings.
The interest in Kovalchuk makes even less sense than their quiet approach to Tavares. Why show interest in a winger who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2013 but remain quiet when it comes to a 28-year-old center? It makes no sense.
The Rangers are selling this as a total rebuild but yet this roster still has Mats Zuccarello and Marc Staal on the roster. Which is it? None of the restricted free agents like Kevin Hayes, Vladislav Namestnikov, or Ryan Spooner were moved at the draft. In fact, the draft was a bit of a disaster in own right. The Rangers refused to budge from their board even after top talent fell to them potentially continuing a disastrous history of missing out on elite forwards in the draft.
Obviously the jury is still out on the Rangers’ rebuild but their stubborn approach to the draft, their lack of interest in an elite 28-year-old center, and their keeping Staal and Zuccarello on the team indicates they are only putting one foot in the pool. Can I be wrong about the Rangers? Certainly. But what, in recent weeks, gives Rangers’ fans any hope that this team is headed in the right direction any time soon?