The Rangers' retool began last offseason with the buyout of defenseman Dan Girardi and subsequent trade of Derek Stepan, and General Manager Jeff Gorton said Thursday it will continue this month with the NHL trade deadline.
"We have not played well for a while," Gorton said. "It's becoming increasingly clearer as the days go on that we're in tough as we go forward for the playoffs. It's the reality of having to look forward and the decisions that we make going forward will be based on long term and not trying to save the season."
The move last summer to move Stepan and backup goaltender Antti Raanta to Arizona for Tony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick that became Lias Andersson was the start of what the organization called its reboot.
Losing a player like Stepan removed a key piece of the lineup, which Gorton said was to be expected. But with that said, he and his staff envisioned better results than a team that is currently last in its division.
"I would say we definitely thought we'd be better than this," Gorton stated. "When we made a trade like we did in the summer time for the seventh pick overall and trading a pretty good player in Stepan, we knew we were resetting it. As the season has developed, it hasn't gone the way we wanted it to go. It's going to force us into decisions now to think long term and start to try and start to build a Stanley Cup contender."
The Rangers have been decimated by injuries to key components of their roster, including Chris Kreider, Kevin Shattenkirk and Pavel Buchnevich that followed an extended absence to center Mika Zibanejad earlier in the year.
But Gorton did not pin the blame for this year's struggles on injuries, but rather just a lack of success on the ice as a group that led to this decision.
"Injuries, obviously we have a lot of them, but to sit here and say we're in this spot because of injuries, I'm not here to say that," he said. "We're not going to say that. We haven't played well. We haven't played well on a - what you see on the ice is not what we had hoped for."
Now, the team shifts its focus entirely towards the future, one that includes current prospects Andersson and Filip Chytil, both of whom are playing - and producing - with Hartford in the American Hockey League. Others, including Vinni Lettieri and Neal Pionk, who was recalled on Thursday, have also been given looks thus far and will continue to make an impact down the stretch.
Gorton said the organization has discussed recalling Andersson and Chytil "for a while," and discussions regarding future call ups will continue as the team approaches and gets through the deadline on Feb. 26.
"We'll have those conversations as we go along here and give people a chance to see what they can do and help us make decisions moving forward."
While he did not get into specifics, Gorton did admit there was a "strong market" leading into the deadline, and stated the goal is to "get as many assets" as they can to find players the organization values.
"We want fast players. We want character players. We want players we can build our team around," Gorton said. "That's what we'll be looking for."
With the goal in mind, the work now begins, and as President Glen Sather said, the road to success will be a difficult one.
"I've been through this a few times. It's not easy," he said. "[Gorton is] going to have a lot of work ahead of him."