Mar 24, 2018; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) smiles during the third period  against the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 24, 2018; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) smiles during the third period against the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Always Look On The Bright Side

The chances of the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup, let alone making the playoffs appear relatively remote this season.  The first officially sanctioned team rebuild is well underway, and the roster looks more akin to a team that is simply running the season down at the end of the year, than one that is entering a full 82 schedule.

The franchise goaltender is 36 and a few years removed from his best performances, backed up by a rookie who barely has around one hundred games of experience in his entire career, with just a handful of those in North America.

As for the blueline, it features a collection of question marks.  Marc Staal stabilized his play somewhat last year following several years of injuries and declining play.  Brendan Smith, by contrast, proved to be a liability in his own end last year and is fighting for his career, while Adam McQuaid is entering the last years of his.

Rookie Neal Pionk looks promisiing in limited action, and it’s hoped that Brady Skjei can somehow regain the form that he showed in his rookie season.  As for Kevin Shattenkirk, his defensive play remains a weak point and it remains to be seen whether he can prosper in a more conservative defensive structure.

Finally the forwards who, outside of the top line, eature a combination of players who may not be long for the team – including Kevin HayesJimmy VeseyMats ZuccarelloRyan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov – as well as runproven ookies Vinni LettieriFilip Chytil and Brett Howden.

In fact the offense is so unproven, that the collective goal scoring from the 18 man unit would have trailed Buffalo by more than 50 goals for worst in the league last year, if they matched their 2017-18 output.

Not to mention a rookie head coach who has never coached a professional game.

Predictions of a non-playoff season and another purge come the deadline, seem like a sure thing if you were looking to make a wager.

But then again, hockey’s a funny game.  While it’s probably the case the Rangers will miss the post-season for the second straight year, its by no means a certainty, and there’s a possibility that anything could happen in a league that sees it’s fair of surprises over the years.

Take David Quinn for instance.  While it’s true that he’s a rookie coach, it’s clear that he’s bringing a system and an approach that will support the team, and perhaps even keep more games within reach on a nightly basis.  This isn’t your Jacques Lemaire defense backed up by a world class puck-handling goaltender mind you, but a modern take on a zone coverage that values competition for the puck and protecting the slot.

There’s also signs that the Rangers might be able to leverage the power play more effectively this season, with the likes of Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich in particular worth watching, as well as defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk‘s ability to get pucks to the net from the point.

In goal I don’t expect Lundqvist to suddenly look 25, or even 30 again, but if the Rangers can cut down the high percentage opportuntiies, then he should see some improvement, and Georgiev comes with the reputation as a hard worker who also has talent to be a quality NHL netminder, despite his relative inexperience.

It’s fair to say the Rangers will still need a lot of things to go their way to be competitive this year, and that includes one or two of their rookies to fire, the likes of Vesey and Smith to regain some form and be able to defend better than they have done in recent years, but it’s not an impossible ask.  The limited expectations will give the team a little more room to operate, particularly in the early going as they are finding their way, and if they get to January still well in the mix and things may very well be interesting.

You could certainly argue that the Rangers are better off failing and acquiring more assets, in order to build longer term competitiveness, and that will still very much be the case come the deadline.  A little extra competitiveness in the mean time will make the season just a little more interesting for those of us who continue to invest our time in the team we love.

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