New York Rangers Garden Party with Jason Bisnoff dissects the all-too-critical looming month of April—decision time.
The New York Rangers were not trying to #LoseForHughes. While they certainly made some prudent decisions to move on from a core that was a mere three wins and, on closer inspection, several bounces, from a Stanley Cup, they were not going the way of the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks who successfully made themselves champions through tanking and building around top-five draft picks.
That decision was partially due to their personnel, the likes of Kevin Hayes, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider were not built to be on a bottom of the league team, partially due to Henrik Lundqvist having no interest in finding greener pastures and being a one-man competitive engine, and partially because this is not the National Basketball Association.
For all the fodder of tanking, and the aforementioned success stories, the Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, and Florida Panthers have had plenty of high draft picks and not much to show for it. In the National Hockey League, the likes of Connor McDavid can miss the playoffs.
That being said, Jeff Gorton and company were pragmatic, unlike other teams run by James Dolan, in trying to retool with the writing on the wall that a window had passed. This season had myriad possibilities for how it could shake out. At the start of December, a surprise playoff push appeared possible.
The first signs of trouble came with losses in close games, a subject I wrote about extensively in my last column. It likely came as an unpleasant surprise to Rangerstown that in the blink of an eye, the wheels completely fell off. The signs of regression at the start of December were full blown alarms by early January.
Entering the first leg of a home and home with the rival New York Islanders, who are still in the envious position of fighting for a playoff berth, the Rangers have been outscored 22-5 in 2019 going a predictable 0-4.
Against the Islanders, the Rangers were able to hang around before the defensive lapses caught up with them to the tune of a heartbreaking goal on the Islanders only shot of the third period with less than 90 seconds left in the game.
In a promotional video before puck drop, Lundqvist said that when the Rangers are in a bad streak, beating the Islanders can change things. That is not what was in the cards. Now, developing the plethora of in-house talent will be key as the team sets sights on having a real fighters chance at being competitive in 2019-2020.
With a month and a half until the trade deadline, the team will have to decide who they see in the plans for the next playoff run and who is expendable. Mats Zuccarello is sadly a prime candidate to be moved, but much of the roster is young enough to have their best days ahead.
To trade Kevin Hayes rather than paying him this offseason may come back to hurt. A deal with Hayes would likely be for picks and prospects who the team would hope to develop into a talent like, well, Kevin Hayes. The likes of Andy McQuaid, Marc Staal and Kevin Shattenkirk are also a bit older than the team’s timeline. That being said, the Rangers should be wary of moving themselves further from a completed rebuild rather than closer to a team that can compete.
Ultimately, the 9-1-1 steak early in the season buoyed what should have been lesser expectations. With Hayes absent the last the past four contests, the teams over-reliance on him and a handful of other forwards is glaring. The holes in the defense that led to Josh Bailey’s game-winning goal are hard to ignore.
For now, the Rangers need to put themselves in a position to enter next season with confidence and better than they entered this season, one which is increasingly looking destined for an early end.