From the New York Rangers missing the playoffs last season to firing the coach that took them to the Stanley Cup Finals, there are some great 2018 stories to look back on.
Happy New Year, New York Rangers fans. I hope 2018 was great to everyone. Speaking of last year, the Blueshirts had a very eventful season, even though they didn’t appear in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The last 12 months have taken the team and its fans on an unusual ride with unprecedented results. A potential career-ending injury for one player, the “letter,” and eventually a new head coach highlighted the year that was 2018.
Now, let’s take a look back at the top stories from the past year that have helped shape the franchise from a win-now team to an organization with a bright future ahead of it.
1. Chris Kreider’s blood clot almost ends his playing career
A Rib resection surgery on Chris Kreider in January was all that stood between him and never playing hockey again. Kreider was rushed to the hospital after the first period of a 1-0 shootout win over the Washington Capitals. Following a blood-clot diagnosis, the surgery was his only chance of resolving the issue.
Six weeks later he returned to practice and then worked his way back into the lineup. Kreider returned with more love for the game, a stronger player with the same edge he always had skating for the Rangers.
The start of the 2018-19 season has seen the “Kreider-man” score 20 goals so far. He is on pace for his best year with the Rangers, as he continues to score timely goals. His leadership has also improved. He is helping many of the younger players experience their first professional season in New York City.
2. The Letter
As the team’s play regressed last season, the organization decided to attack the situation. The Rangers announced to the team, fans, and NHL as a whole that the team would make the necessary changes to the roster to get better for the next season.
A letter sent out to season ticket holders and posted all over social media let everyone know that familiar faces in the lineup would be moved for younger players who are competitive and offer a combination of speed and character to the team. The organization’s leaders stepped forward, acknowledging there was a problem and that they were attempting to fix it.
The rebuild had officially begun. For the first time in the Rangers’ modern era, the team changed from a win-it-all-now organization to one preparing to reach the Stanley Cup Finals by building through draft picks and acquisitions. The goal of just being competitive on a game-by-game basis overshadowed all other plans, including making the playoffs.
3. Trades begin the painful process
The Rangers transformation had to begin right away. There were only a few weeks left until the trade deadline, and Gorton wasted no time in moving players.
- Defenseman Nick Holden was traded to the Boston Bruins for Rob O’Gara and a third-round pick.
- Michael Grabner went to New Jersey in exchange for a second-round pick in 2018 and prospect Yegor Rykov.
- The Rangers proceeded to trade Rick Nash, also to Boston, for a first-round pick in 2018, defensive prospect Ryan Lindgren, center Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, and a seventh-round pick in 2019.
- The biggest trade came within seconds of the trade deadline. The Rangers made a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning that verified the team was in a real rebuild transition. Captain Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller went to Tampa Bay for the Lightning’s 2018 first-round draft pick, Vladislav Namestnikov, prospects Libor Hajek and Brett Howden, and a 2019 conditional first-round pick.
The pieces were coming together for the Rangers. A youth movement was underway, and another surprise was the fact that Henrik Lundqvist wanted to remain on Broadway and help the club with its new system.
The King would not accept a trade to a contending team.
4. Alain Vigneault is relieved of his duties
The firing of Alain Vigneault was bittersweet. Here is a coach who came to New York five years earlier, taking the team to two Eastern Conference Championships and one Stanley Cup Finals. But, unfortunately, he was not able to host a parade at the Canyon of Heroes.
Vigneault had the respect of his players when he first arrived. He was a coach who enjoyed working with the veterans but never could communicate with players when problems arose. His style of benching players without reason became a sour note as the Vigneault era in New York was coming to an end.
He also had little patience for the younger players who came up through the system. One example is Pavel Buchnevich, who never saw eye to eye with his coach. Vigneault had trouble getting Buchnevich to play the style of hockey he demanded. J.T. Miller also found himself in and out of the coach’s dog house, which many believed led to his trade to Tampa Bay.
Following the Ranger’s final game of the season, a 5-0 loss in Philadelphia, the team relieved AV of his duties.
5. The Rangers find the right coach for a rebuilding team
The organization needed to find a coach who was patient enough to teach younger players and tough enough to handle a mix of veterans. A minor league or college coach would be the team’s best chance to achieve both of these goals.
On May 24, the Rangers announced they had found their man. David Quinn was the next head coach of the New York Rangers. He took over a team that was suffering in many different categories.
After trading their captain and missing the playoffs, the team needed a fresh voice, a new system, and patience from the person who would stand behind a young and inexperienced bench.
Quinn’s NHL coaching career is only 38 games old. The jury is still out on how good he may be. However, one thing is true as the team heads into 2019: a benched player will never wonder why he’s riding the pine.
The coach is vocal on the bench during games and on the ice at practices. He will always make sure a player understands what he is looking for, why he is benched during a game, or why he is in the press box.
There were plenty of other topics that I could have listed here. The Kevin Hayes signing was another critical move. The team will be able to re-sign him come Jan. 1, or they may decide to move him, as he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
The status of fan-favorite Mats Zuccarello, who will most likely be moved by the end of February, is another top story. Henrik Lundqvist’s best friend has been in multiple trade rumors in the past 12 months and is pretty sure he will exit.
The roller-coaster journey of Lias Andersson is yet another intriguing topic. Has the team’s poor use of him hurt or hindered his career? The verdict is pending, as he was sent down to the AHL just last week.
The 2018 season was a defining one for the New York Rangers. These stories all encompass what it means to be a Ranger. Coaches, players, and fans are all invested in this club, and the future is very bright for the team that plays on Broadway.