“We will be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character,” it said. “This may mean we lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect.”
The briefing coincided with the unexpected waiving of the high-priced defenseman Brendan Smith, who was acquired late last season, excelled in the playoffs and then signed a four-year, $17.4 million contract in late June.
Gorton offered few specifics on why the decision was made to drop Smith, 29, who played 44 games this season and was scratched 10 times.
“He just hasn’t played well,” Gorton said. “At this time it’s best for him to go on waivers, see what happens and go from there.”
The Rangers (25-24-5) have been hampered by injuries to Chris Kreider, Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich.
But they have also been exposed as insufficient on many levels when Lundqvist is not at his best. The Rangers have scored four goals total in their last four games, and their defense is inadequate without Shattenkirk, their major off-season signing. Disorganized play up front has caught up to them in recent weeks.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, the team’s captain, was exasperated after the latest debacle in which the Bruins blitzed the Rangers with six consecutive goals after Rick Nash, who is likely to be traded in the coming days, gave them an early lead.
“It’s probably one of the worst games of my career and one of the worst games I’ve ever been a part of in my Rangers career,” McDonagh said. “We need a lot better from everybody and definitely myself.”
Mats Zuccarello, the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons and in three of last four, has only eight goals, and none since Dec. 16. He is as frustrated as McDonagh with the team’s shoddy play.
“These are tough times right now,” he said hours before the loss to the Bruins. “Everyone knows that. No one is happy about that and how we’re playing.”
The regular season has two months left, and the Rangers are only three points out of a playoff position. But the overwhelming sense is they will be sellers by the trade deadline. The last time they made wholesale late-season changes was in 2004, when Sather gutted the roster, including trades of Brian Leetch, Alexei Kovalev and Petr Nedved.
“We all know what’s going on and we all know what we have to do,” said Sather, who ceded the general manager role to Gorton in July 2015. “We’re going to try to do the right thing. It’s not easy.”
Coach Alain Vigneault did not mince words on Wednesday as he searched for answers for his underperforming squad.
“We stopped doing our jobs on the ice,” he said.
Gorton did not delve into Vigneault’s future on Thursday. Vigneault, who is in his fifth season with the team, took the Rangers to the 2014 Stanley Cup finals in his first year and to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in his second.
“I wouldn’t want to answer that today,” Gorton said. “A.V. is our coach. He’s been a good coach for the Rangers. We have a lot of faith in A.V. We’ll leave it at that.”
The Rangers’ swoon has myriad causes, starting with their lack of depth at the center position since trading Derek Stepan to Arizona in June. They also failed to replace Dan Girardi, the stalwart defenseman in front of Lundqvist for the past decade, whose contract was bought out after last season.
The new-look squad started 3-7-2 before turning it around. The next two months produced better results, thanks mostly to Lundqvist, 35, the team’s lone All-Star. From Oct. 31 to Jan. 1, when the Rangers edged the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, in the Winter Classic at Citi Field, the Rangers were 18-6-3 and seemed to be moving in the right direction despite their flaws.
Since then, their fortunes have fallen because of injuries and slumps by key players.
They lost Kreider to a blood clot in his shoulder in late December. Then Shattenkirk announced on Jan. 19 that he had been hampered by a left knee issue since training camp and would need surgery to fix a torn meniscus.
Buchnevich, who has 13 goals in 50 games, sustained a concussion in a 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 1, then Vesey (concussion) and Staal (neck injury) were hurt in a 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators two nights later.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. Nash, whose contract is expiring, is expected to be the first to go. McDonagh has been mentioned in trade rumors, as has Zuccarello and the free-agent-to-be Michael Grabner, who leads the Rangers with 21 goals.
“It’s nothing I can control,” Zuccarello said. “But we’re human beings, so it’s normal that when everyone else is talking, it’s in your mind. Hopefully you’re going to be here. If not, it’s going to be a sad day.”
Continue reading the main story