For the past 12 years, the New York Rangers have qualified for the playoffs almost every year. Out of all of the seasons between 2005-2006 and 2016-2017, they only missed out once, in 2009-2010. Between number-one defenseman Ryan McDonagh, all-star goaltender and franchise star Henrik Lundqvist, and memorable, talented forwards like Derick Brassard and Carl Hagelin, the team was one to watch, year in and year out. Perhaps one of the best parts of this run was when the Blueshirts made it to their first Stanley Cup Final since they won their first championship in 1994, during the 2014 playoffs. But like all good things in life, and hockey, it had to come to an end. This past season, the New York Rangers missed the cut for the playoffs. This happened for the first time in seven seasons and the second time in 12 seasons.
In February of this year, the franchise released a letter to fans, basically announcing the beginning of a rebuild. They told their fanbase that, while they are proud of all of their post-season accomplishments in recent history, they are all overshadowed by the fact that they didn’t reach their “ultimate goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to New York.” Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton, president and general manager of the team, respectively, explained to fans that this season, they will be looking to reshape the team and “will be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character.” Then, Sather and Gorton added that “This may mean [the team will] lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect.” New York’s front office definitely fulfilled their promise of losing some familiar faces.
By the end of the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline, alternate captain Rick Nash, Nick Holden, captain Ryan McDonagh, and J.T. Miller, had all been shipped away to either the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for prospects and draft picks. While these deals left many fans, shocked, confused, and even upset, they were necessary for a team that is indeed rebuilding. All of those players, though valuable assets to the team, definitely aren’t as young as they used to be, and would not be in their prime when the Rangers would be ready to contend again in a few years. In addition, their skill and the fact that there is knowledge of them around the league brought back great returns, including a variety of players for the organization’s minor league squad, future draft selections, and even skilled roster players like Vladislav Namnestnikov and Ryan Spooner.
So, what now? The average age of the team has significantly dropped, and so has the experience level, along with, arguably, the talent level. Here’s the truth, though it may be hard to swallow for fans of the boys on Broadway; the New York Rangers will not be as good as we remember them next season. They most likely won’t be good for the year after that, and they will probably struggle for the campaign following that as well. After years of being one of the hottest teams in the league, this is tough to cope with. New Yorkers are used to seeing their team deep in the playoffs year after year, and that won’t be happening for a while now, but that doesn’t mean that paying attention to the New York Rangers won’t be exciting for the next few seasons.
The team made some interesting picks at the draft this year and last, bringing in talented prospects to watch, such as Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, and Vitali Kravtsov. Some of them could be called up to begin development for NHL-readiness. Additionally, players already on the team will try to improve as well. Just because the team as a whole is rebuilding and probably won’t be all too great, individual players can still have seasons for the record books. Keep an eye on players like Kevin Hayes, Mika Zibanejad, and, of course, Henrik Lundqvist, who could continue to get better despite the state of their franchise.
Finally, above all else, remember that this won’t last forever. After a few years, the organization will have (hopefully) restructured many aspects of their team and will be preparing to contend for Lord Stanley’s Cup once again. So hang in there, Ranger fans. It’s always darkest before the dawn.
When do you think the New York Rangers will compete next? What are you looking forward to in the coming years, despite a dreary rebuild on the horizon? Let us know by tweeting us @PuckItUpBlog!
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