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Rangers turn focus to next season, beyond

Will be seller as Trade Deadline approaches; aim to get younger, faster in near future

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers are turning the page to next season and beyond.

They will be sellers before the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 26, and they expect their streak of seven consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to end.

Tweet from @NYRangers: A Message from Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton. pic.twitter.com/Q56CXS8vDc

"It has become increasingly clear as the days go on that we're in tough as we go forward for the playoffs and it's the reality of having to look forward," Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said Thursday during a press conference with president Glen Sather. "The decisions we make going forward will be based on long term and not trying to save the season."

The Rangers also sent a letter to their fans via Twitter announcing their plan and the reasoning behind it.

The Rangers are three points out of the second wild card from the Eastern Conference, but they are 0-4-0 since the All-Star break; have lost 11 of their past 15 games in regulation, seven by three or more goals; and are last in the Metropolitan Division. They have four pending unrestricted free agents in forwards Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and David Desharnais as well as defenseman Nick Holden, who could and likely will be traded before the deadline.

The future of players signed beyond this season, including captain Ryan McDonagh and forward Mats Zuccarello, is not certain. Neither is the future of coach Alain Vigneault, who is in his fifth season with the Rangers.

Gorton, wouldn't offer a definitive answer when asked if Vigneault will be back next season.

"We have 25, almost 30 games to go," Gorton said. "AV is our coach. We have a lot of faith in AV and what he's done here. We'll leave it at that."

Gorton said the decision to be sellers evolved in the past month largely because of how the team has played. He wouldn't use injuries as an excuse, even though the Rangers have five regulars out of the lineup: forwards Jimmy Vesey (concussion symptoms), Pavel Buchnevich (concussion) and Chris Kreider (blood clot), as well as defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk (knee surgery) and Marc Staal (cervical strain).

"What you're seeing on the ice is not what we hoped for," Gorton said.

Tweet from @NYRangers: Head coach Alain Vigneault on Brendan Smith, responding after last night's loss, the recall of Neal Pionk and more after #NYR practice. pic.twitter.com/LHPm666CKp

He said the Rangers haven't gelled all season or found the identity as a deep, quick team that can roll four lines and three defense pairs that carried them to previous playoff success, including three trips to the Eastern Conference Final and one to the Stanley Cup Final since 2012.

"We haven't had that identity," Gorton said. "We haven't had enough players going on a nightly basis. I think that's why we are where we are."

Gorton said the Rangers will be looking for assets in trades -- NHL players, prospects or draft picks -- that can help make them a younger, faster team quickly.

They technically started the process last summer, when they traded 27-year-old center Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes for the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and 22-year-old defenseman Tony DeAngelo. They also bought out 33-year-old defenseman Dan Girardi's contract.

The Rangers selected centers Lias Andersson (No. 7) and Filip Chytil (No. 21) in the first round. Each is part of their future, and Gorton said they could be in New York later this season.

"Chytil and Andersson have been really good and are a pretty good start to what we need to do, but obviously there is a road to come here to rebuild this," Gorton said. "Let's face it, we've had a pretty good run for a while. Many years we've had a team that at this time of year we're looking to add players and try to win the Stanley Cup. Right now, as we sit last in our division it's becoming increasingly clear that's not our team right now and that's not where we want to be. I think we have to do what we can to get assets in here that will be part of the next Stanley Cup contenders."

The Rangers gave further evidence that change is coming by placing defenseman Brendan Smith, who was celebrating his 29th birthday, on waivers Thursday and recalling 22-year-old defenseman Neal Pionk from Hartford of the American Hockey League.

Video: NYR@PIT: Smith one-times Lettieri's feed past Jarry

Smith signed a four-year, $17.4 million contract on June 29, two days before he could have become an unrestricted free agent. He likely will be sent to Hartford if he clears waivers Friday.

Pionk was paired with McDonagh in practice Thursday and is expected to make his NHL debut against the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden on Friday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, SNW, NHL.TV).

"It's a move we decided we just had to make," Gorton said.

There will be more.

"We've got to look to the future," Sather said.

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