As the final day of the regular season is upon us, we look back on the New York Rangers season and what exactly went wrong for the Blueshirts.
The New York Rangers season comes to an end Saturday afternoon, and it leaves us asking what exactly went wrong?
Perhaps the root of the Rangers’ problems this season stemmed all the way back into the previous offseason. The team did not do a good job at filling in the void left at center after the trade of Derek Stepan. The hope coming into the season was that J.T. Miller would fill that precious void but that plan only lasted for a week. After the final game, the Blueshirts will have gone through seven centers for two spots.
It was quite evident in the preseason that this team was missing something compared to years prior. The team looked slow, dull, and very boring to watch at times and that only carried over into the regular season. All of the excitement surrounding the team had gone away once the puck was dropped.
One player that fans were most excited about was the debut of Kevin Shattenkirk, who the team signed in the offseason. The organization was hoping that Shattenkirk was the missing piece on a pairing with captain Ryan McDonagh. But, we learned quickly that Shattenkirk was not suited for playing on the first pair. We saw that he struggled defensively…that when he isn’t scoring, he can be a liability at times. Now perhaps some of his play had something to do with him having a torn meniscus. Shattenkirk had played through the injury until late January where it was decided that he would be shut down.
Slow starts can often bury a team, and sometimes it means nothing. For this Rangers team, that slow start was a combination of both. The first month of the season was one to forget for the Blueshirts, who went 4-7-2 in October. That pitiful start led to many rumors of possible coaching changes and possible trades surrounding key players in Chris Kreider and/or Mats Zuccarello. But thanks to Henrik Lundqvist, the team would turn around that slow start and have the Rangers in a playoff spot come January.
Perhaps not making that coaching change hurt the team more than it did help. Lundqvist carried the Rangers throughout the months of November and December. He put up performances that would remind you of the Lundqvist that took the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013-14. He would appear in his fourth All-Star game, his first in six seasons. But after that all-star appearance, his performance was hot and cold. He would allow 3.69 goals-against compared to his 2.61 goals-against prior to the All-Star game. However, him not being able to bail out the poor Rangers defense played a major role in the team’s demise.
However, something changed after the Rangers’ win in the 2018 Winter Classic. The team was never quite the same following that game. The team won only six games from that game up until the February 26 trade deadline, a deadline where the Rangers decided to become sellers instead of buyers for the first time in seven years.It was a decision that was made public, a decision that they wanted fans to understand despite the writing on the wall prior to that letter.
A Message from Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton. pic.twitter.com/Q56CXS8vDc
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 8, 2018
From there the Rangers would play some of their worst hockey of the season as players like Rick Nash, McDonagh, Miller, and even Zuccarello had other things on their mind than just hockey. The team went 2-6-1 in the nine games prior to the trade deadline…nine games where key players and the entire league knew that their future would not be in New York. Nash, McDonagh, Miller, Michael Grabner, and Nick Holden would ultimately all be dealt at the deadline, giving this team a completely different look.
Once the trade deadline passed, the team had an entirely different feel to them. It felt as if a weight had been lifted off their shoulders and the team played better at times. At the deadline, the Rangers acquired two first-round picks to go along with their own first-round pick, a second-round and third-round pick, along with plenty of young talent. Players like Neal Pionk, John Gilmour, Alexandar Georgiev, and Tony DeAngelo were given a chance to show what they can do. Some have impressed and others have shown that there is still more work to do. Regardless, they’ve all have shown that the Rangers do have some young talent, despite trading away some prospects in years prior.
The team was officially eliminated from the playoffs on March 27. It would mark the first time in the Lundqvist era that he and the Rangers would be playing in meaningless games to close out a season. With that, the team recalled 2017 first-round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil to see how they would fare in the NHL. Both Andersson and Chytil have had their moments, but both still need some seasoning before being given a full-time role next season.
Despite poor play this season, 2017-18 saw some players take their game to the next level. Mika Zibanejad has a career-high 27 goals entering play Saturday afternoon. Kevin Hayes’ 25 goals are a career-high as well. Pavel Buchnevich and Jesper Fast have career-highs in points. Even Chris Kreider looks like a different player after battling a serious injury.
Those are the positives in what was an ugly season for the Rangers. The next step for the Rangers is to assess the season and to ultimately decide who stays and who goes.
Does that mean head coach Alain Vigneault returns in 2018-19? Can the Rangers win with Vigneault at the helm? Will the team be buyers this offseason in an effort to win for the aging Lundqvist? Or is this going to be a full rebuild, and if it is, do they try to convince Lundqvist to void his no-movement clause? These are the questions that the 2017-18 season has brought upon the Rangers.
Since the playoffs are out of sight for the Rangers, the next big date on the calendar is April 28. This is where the Rangers will learn where they will be drafting in the first round. Once the lottery is over, all of their efforts will turn to the draft on June 22 and 23. Then free agency on July 1.