Okay, so how many of you thought Brendan Smith would be on the roster for opening night, let along starting as a fourth line wing? Now be honest, I’m not sure even Brendan himself envisioned that this was likely to happen, though it certainly appears that he wasn’t ready to just give up.
The Rangers enter tonight’s 2019-20 season opener with a very different roster. Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox are all set to make their debut with the team. Ryan Strome and Brendan Lemieux weren’t even with the team this time last year, while Libor Hajek and Lias Andersson have done enough in camp to warrant their first opening night spots as part of a distinctly young contingent of Blueshirts.
There’s still plenty of questions about this team, can Henrik Lundqvist, supported by Alexandar Georgiev provide enough goaltending to cover up the mistakes. Will the overhauled defense that parted ways with Neal Pionk and Kevin Shattenkirk be any better with the new faces. And will they be able to find enough offense outside the first line to not only win games, but keep them close enough to give them an opportunity to win.
David Quinn has the responsibility again this year, his second as a pro coach, and while his methods have been praised in many quarters, this is a results driven game, and with all these new toys, the expectations will be far grander than they were a year ago.
With so many young players, and more ready to step up, the task will be very much be evening out the bumps as best as can be expected, and keeping the team heading in the right direction.
How the team starts will be far less important than how they sustain the three months leading up to the trade deadline. Chris Kreider, Jesper Fast and Vladislav Nametnikov have one last chance to prove they are worth keeping as they enter their final contract year ahead of becoming UFAs. Marc Staal, Brendan Smith and Henrik Lundqvist are all entering their final two years of their respective contracts.
No less than 17 of the 45 contracted players will also be hitting RFA status next Summer. While several won’t see qualifying offers, others like Brendan Lemieux, Tony DeAngelo and Alexandar Georgiev will be looking for upgrades on their respective contracts.
Then there’s the CBA expiring next season and the expansion draft in 2021 to consider…
For now though let’s put aside those questions and welcome back the New York Rangers to Madison Square Garden for another season.