With the 2018-19 New York Rangers season over there is plenty to look forward to next year, but many questions still remain unanswered.
When the New York Rangers skated off the PPG Paints Arena on Saturday night, winners of a 4-3 overtime decision, there was plenty to be proud of for this hockey club. There are also many questions left unanswered as the team heads into another long offseason.
A state of the Rangers is required—a breakdown of what occurred throughout the season from the head coach, the players, and of course, the status of who could be the next president of the team.
The Rangers were finally able to see the full potential of many of the players this season under new head coach David Quinn. New leaders emerged and the younglings were able to experience what a full NHL season feels like. For the organization, the future is very bright.
Mika Zibanejad had a career year. The leader in goals (30), assists (44) and points (74), had his best NHL season in his eight years in the league. Mika won 49.6 percent of all the face-offs he took (819 wins in all), appearing in all 82 games for New York. The leader of this club on and off the ice, Zibanejad was the center of one of the best lines in the NHL this year.
Pavel Buchnevich can actually smile. Really it’s true, we all saw it in the final home game Friday night. There he was goofing around with Kevin Shattenkirk as the team was partaking in the Blueshirts of our back ceremony.
The Russian forward had every right to smile. He also had his best scoring season under Quinn. In Buchnevich’s last 13 games he recorded eight goals along with 12 points. For the season, Buch scored a career-high 21 goals. This season might have been the turning point, something the organization has been waiting for since he joined the club three years ago.
The third clog in this great line is Chris Kreider who tied a career high in goals scored with 28 en route to recording 52 points. The hard-hitting forward played the most consistent hockey of his career despite suffering two separate lower body injuries in the last six weeks of the season. He appeared in 79 games this season.
This also leads to one of those unanswered questions. Kreider is an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. He and the organization will need to resolve this issue early if the club wants to avoid another Kevin Hayes/Mats Zuccarello situation in February 2020.
Ryan Strome, acquired in a trade for Ryan Spooner in November, might have been one of the best deals general manager Jeff Gorton completed. The center scored 18 goals for the Rangers including the game-winner against Pittsburgh on Saturday night.
Jimmy Vesey lit the lamp 17 times this season but needs to improve on his consistent involvement in the play. His game should improve as he sees ice time with more of the young guys again next season.
Although the team only has a small sample to evaluate, the recently acquired Brendan Lemieux has already become a fan-favorite. The rugged winger, who shows signs of his father, Claude, has established that he can skate with the first line players, hit and check. And, of course, he is more than willing to drop the gloves.
A full season of Lemieux will be worth the price of admission.
Jesper Fast, the Players’ Player Award winner again this year, is Mr. Reliable. Quinn uses him in every situation and if not for a bad shoulder injury which he played through until the last weeks of the season would have helped the Rangers more wins.
The kids had an impressive first NHL campaign. Filip Chytil, 11 goals, Brett Howden, six goals, Lias Andersson, a late call up with two goals, all have the ability to be the next leaders of this club.
Others such as Vladislav Namestnikov (11 goals), Boo Nieves and Connor Brickley had a good season playing in difficult situations. Nieves has proven to be a solid fourth line center but needs to use his size to his advantage if he wants to remain up with the club.
The Rangers still lack a pure goal scorer, though if Zibanejad gets a little more help especially on the power play and Buchnevich can keep up the point production, the team may have found what they have been looking for.
The forward position doesn’t have as many questions as the poor play of the defense.
The Rangers blue line can be broken down into three sections. The good, bad and unknown.
Anthony DeAngelo was the most improved player. From the start of this season until the end, his play continued to grow. He became a player on the ice in tight games, has a good low shot from the point and became the player the team was looking for since they traded for him three seasons ago.
Brady Skjei has yet to take the “Brian Leetch” step but has shown signs that he can. His speed and puck management improved over the year as he was called upon by the coach more often this year.
Marc Staal gets a really bad rap from the fans. The defenseman played in 79 games this year averaging over 19 minutes per game. The true stay-at-home defenseman played with different partners, but that didn’t affect his game. He showed he still has the skill to handle the great players he is already lined up against.
The rumors of his potential buyout will continue on through the summer until the team’s final evaluation and possible free agent acquisitions are made.
Neal Pionk played in his first full season, but towards the last few weeks looked tired. He was prone to bad decisions and seemed rushed on the ice. This is probably a result of him playing his full first year in the NHL, but he will need to be looked at early next season as the defense seems to be the biggest concern on the team.
Kevin Shattenkirk has not lived up to his potential since signing with the club two seasons ago. His biggest strength was his power play, but that has been an epic failure. Shatty shows signs of speed, but more often than not get beat to the puck or the opposition tends to get around him.
Brendan Smith is another player that picked himself up from a poor season a year ago and worked his way in the lineup. He had has time sitting out as he learned what the coaching staff was looking for (like a lot of players on the team) but he has grown by leaps and bounds.
Quinn utilized him as a fourth line winger at times, which lead to Smith to gain confidence. Next season could see him as a top-four defenseman.
Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek both had stints up with the club as both showed they are capable players at the NHL level. Expect to see both compete for starting jobs at training camp next September.
Henrik Lundqvist struggled for most of the second half of the season. He will now have to adjust to playing on a team that will struggle just to make the playoffs but will probably not see a Stanley Cup Final anytime soon. The face of the franchise will see reduced playing time with Alexandar Georgiev getting increased playing time.
Georgiev started to see my game action as Hank’s backup with his speed and agility from post to post came to life. Georgiev will compete for the number one spot as Henrik’s career comes to a close in the next two seasons.
Ranger prospect Igor Shestyorkin is expected to sign an entry-level contract this summer and will add to the suspense of who will be with the club come opening day.
The goalie situation could ask the most compelling questions this year. How will the club deal with a superstar goalie slowing down in skill compare with the two Russian goalies who are primed to take the reins in leading the club back to playoff contention?
Quinn had a productive first year behind the bench. He was excellent at communicating with the players in a positive way. Even as players were scratched during the year, he managed to do it not as a punishment but as a learning tool.
He handled the adversity of having to deal with the club trading away Kevin Hayes and fan-favorite Mats Zuccarello.
Quinn did have his issues with shuffling the lines too often, which didn’t help team chemistry early on. He will need to show a little more patience in letting the players develop a cohesiveness that will lead to more scoring.
A rookie coach is not that different than a rookie player. Mistakes were made and will continue to be made, but how he adjusts in the future will dictate how the team will perform for in over an 82 game season.
The announcement that Glen Sather will step down as team president of the New York Rangers comes at an interesting time. The team is on the latter half of their rebuilding process and Sather’s replacement will need to come in and continue what Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton have started.
The rumors of his replacement include Steve Yzerman, John Davidson, or my personal recommendation, Don Maloney. Whoever James Dolan decides to hire will have a tough job ahead.
This season was a successful rebuilding effort for the Blueshirts even though the team missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Plenty of work lies ahead. The offseason will be all about talent acquisition. That process begins on April 9 with the draft lottery.
The NHL Entry Draft kicks off one of the most important offseasons in the history of the franchise. Plenty of questions must be answered this summer.
Be proud Rangers fans; the road has been rough, but the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.