While there’s no ironclad blueprint for how to build a Cup-contender, most hockey experts would agree that strong drafting and even two or three strategically sacrificed seasons—ordinarily referred to as “tanking”—offer a rebuilding club the highest chance of acquiring the kind of game-breaking talent needed to build a team around. Combine that with key free agent signings and/or an opportunistic trade or two, and you’re running for glory.

Yet the Rangers appear to have a much faster pace in mind. One that, for all intents and purposes, would theoretically see the team advance from eighth-worst in the league to a contender as soon as next year. It’s a lofty goal, not without significant risk, but by every measure appears to be the path they’re set on taking – consequences be damned.
Yet they’re also directly linked to Kovalchuk, and pending free agents John Tavares and Erik Karlsson. Acquiring just one would give them a jump off the line. If they could land more than one, they’d red line the team’s proverbial tachometer.

“… I don’t think we’re really going to know until the summer, after the draft and free agency, what kind of thing the Rangers are really looking at. I think there’s a chance they go for one or two bigger guys and try to fill in with the kids and see if the enthusiasm can carry them over,” [Elliotte] Friedman went on to say.
Tavares and Kovalchuk can be had for nothing more than money. Both will be unrestricted free agents (UFA) this summer. Karlsson, however, would cost the team a considerable collection of assets given he’s a full year away from free agency. It’s here, most of all, that the Rangers’ rebuild, insofar as traditional rebuilds are defined, appears to jump the shark if Karlsson remains a target heading into next year.

Youth movements require the presence of veterans, often high-priced ones, to serve in much-needed leadership roles. Not to mention the added benefit they bring in helping clubs, especially those with a high number of low-priced entry-level contracts (ELC), in meeting the salary cap floor. But acquiring Karlsson, in particular, would cost the Rangers a haul of valuable, cost-controlled assets. Assets they could otherwise keep to theoretically draft a younger version of him in June.