Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has high hopes for the 2018-19 season. He might want to temper those expectations a bit.

Henrik Lundqvist is the most competitive player most of us have ever seen play for the New York Rangers. Whether it is in practice, the preseason, or the Stanley Cup Finals, Lundqvist’s thirst for victory is insatiable.

This evident desire to win was ever-present Monday when Lundqvist, looking ahead to the 2018-19 season, told Larry Brooks of the New York Post that “next year has to be about winning and nothing else.”

Moments like these truly exhibit why I idolize Lundqvist as much as I do. Since I started watching hockey seriously in 2005-06 as a nine-year-old, Lundqvist has provided me with a hero to watch around three times a week.

While my aspirations have never been to become a goaltender in the NHL, Lundqvist’s admirable attributes correlate to anything one may endeavor to pursue in life. His desire to succeed is unlike anything I have seen from an NHL player in my short experience of watching the game. Additionally, his leadership has guided the Rangers through tough times, most importantly, now. 

But, let’s be realistic here Hank. This team is nowhere near contention, and will not be for another three years (if everything works out perfectly).

While the foundations of a great forward group are here, the defense remains in shambles. To allow the forward corps to properly grow, another two or three years or necessary. To rebuild this inept defense, maybe three to four years.

No, optimistic Ranger fans, signing John Tavares will not immediately fix the forward corps. He wouldn’t sign here anyway.

Signing Erik Karlsson won’t ameliorate the worst defense I have ever seen the Rangers deploy. They will not sign or trade for him.

And no, optimistic Ranger fans, Ilya Kovalchuk won’t revive and channel his remarkable sniping ability from 10 years ago and score 40 goals for the team in 2019, though signing him is a distinct possibility.

The point is that it is extremely unlikely that the New York Rangers are serious contenders next year. The team’s young stars are still developing, the team’s future depth players are working their way through the system, and the organization remains enveloped in a rebuilding ideology.

The foundation for another great group of Rangers is here. By the time the 2018 NHL Draft passes, the Rangers should have a very bright future ahead of them.

In the meantime, to deter from the current path of rebuilding would be disastrous. When a team is on the fence about competing or rebuilding and elects to take a rebuild-on-the-fly approach, while intending to compete, the results are often very bad.

Look at the move the Rangers made earlier this season. They traded Derek Stepan, a player that had been a young leader, a two-way center, and a top-six forward o the Rangers for years. The return? A seventh overall pick and a prospect (Anthony DeAngelo). But this was the team that intended on competing again in 2017-18? The move made no sense.

The Rangers must stay on the course that they are on, even if it comes at a cost for Henrik Lundqvist and his chase for a deserved title. They finally have an exciting group of players in Hartford and in their system.

Next season is not for winning. It is for development only. My ideology goes as follows: if you are not built to seriously contend, your primary focus must be to develop your young players and to shoot for a more realistic timetable. In other words, give the kids more playing time, and the grizzly and unskilled veterans less playing time.

If the Rangers play their cards right, and Lundqvist remains on a solid level until the end of his career, the Rangers should have a great chance of competing in what will likely be Lundqvist’s final year with the team: 2020-21. No sooner, no later should “winning and nothing else” be a realistic objective for this young and developing team.