The New York Rangers have had a huge offseason thus far and the anticipation for the 2019-20 season could not be any higher. There is a sense of hope, a fear of risk and if expectations weren’t high enough for the Blueshirts, think again.
There are many storylines heading into this upcoming season. The Rangers weren’t the only ones with a busy offseason, as most of the league have won and lost key pieces of their respective franchises. The 2019-20 season, like every year in the NHL, will be full of surprises.
It all starts and ends with the youth movement. Are they ready? What have they got to show? Can they lead the Rangers back to the playoffs? Well, there is that word again, Playoffs. After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons, the Rangers have a chance to break that trend this season. All of the pieces will need to fit into the puzzle perfectly, but it is certainly possible.
With the acquisition of Panarin, the first line has been upgraded. The firepower of all three forwards can be very sustainable for the Blueshirts throughout the season. Henrik Lundqvist’s time is running out. He has two very capable successors duking it out to be his backup this season, and the Rangers could not be in a better position. Speaking of running out of time, Chris Kreider’s contract is set to expire and the Rangers are scrambling to find enough money to pay him. This may be his last season in New York – or it might not.
Finally, the Hudson River Rivalry is back and the storylines are plentiful between the Rangers and New Jersey Devils. From the NHL Entry Draft in June to the flurry of moves made on big free agents and trades, both teams have upgraded significantly from last season.
It has all led up to this. All of the trades, draft picks and buyouts have all led up to this moment. The kids have arrived on Broadway.
These kids are headlined by Kappo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, Igor Shesterkin and Adam Fox. And, these are just the players that will make their debut’s this season. Returning for the Rangers are Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Brett Howden, Vinni Letteri and Alexandr Georgiev. Each of these players played a good amount of last season and are expected to be on the Blueshirts roster once again in 2019-20.
With all of this hope and excitement surrounding these young players, there is also a strong feeling of uneasiness. Most of these players are products of trades and draft picks gained from getting rid of the last generation of Rangers. They have replaced many fan-favorites who were wearing a Blueshirts uniform during the 2014 Stanley Cup Final run. It is now time to see if those moves were worth it.
With the signing of Panarin, the Rangers first forward line just became explosive. With Mika Zibanejad, the future of the Rangers, set to be the center, the one-two punch between the duo can be catastrophic for opposing teams. Both players led their respective teams last season, with Zibanejad having 74 points and Panarin with 87 for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blueshirts have been in a downward spiral over the past three seasons in terms of goal scoring. From the start of the 2016-17 to the end of last season they are free-falling to the bottom of the NHL. In 2016-17 they had the fourth-most goals in all of hockey with 253 goals, then a season later they finished 21st in the NHL with 228 goals. Finally, the Rangers fell once again to 23rd with 221 goals last season.
Adding Panarin could help end this trend, especially with a reputable and consistent center in Zibanejad at his right. The scoring problems aren’t the most demanding or even biggest issue facing the Rangers, but it was surely a big problem over the years. Before the season begins, and at the moment, that problem has been given a pretty good band-aid.
Joining that line could be a handful of players. Pavel Buchnevich seems to be the likely choice, but Kakko, the rookie, could also see some time at the top line. Whoever fills in on that right side will join a powerful duo in Panarin and Zibanejad.
All good things must eventually come to an end, and with Lundqvist, it is coming sooner rather than later. With his seven-year, $59.5 million contract expiring at the end of the 2020-21 season, it is unknown whether he will get another contract with the Rangers or even retire. In any event, the Rangers have made the right decisions to find two very capable replacements to carry on “The King’s” legacy.
The aforementioned Georgiev and Shesterkin are those two goaltenders that can replace Lundqvist when his time is over. The two will be battling it out over the backup position for this upcoming season. At the end of the 2019-20 season, the winner will stay and the other will likely find themselves as the back-up to the winner, or on another NHL roster.
Georgiev spent most of last season as the primary backup for Lundqvist and filled the role adequately. With a 14-13-4 record in 33 games of action, he kept the Rangers in there against some of the NHL’s best. He held the Toronto Maple Leafs, who ranked as the fourth-best team In NHL in scoring with 286 goals, to just six goals in three games. His experience at the NHL level will give him an edge in this backup battle, but his spot is certainly not guaranteed.
Shesterkin is coming over from the KHL in Russia and has been praised to the highest regard without even playing one NHL game yet. His time over in Russia is certainly deserving of that praise after he put up close-to-video-game statistics. Especially last season, when he had a 24-4 record with a minuscule 1.11 goals against average and a save percentage of .953. He will definitely get time under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, but he will have to really put on a show to upstage Georgiev.
Rivalry with the Devils
The Hudson River Rivalry is back. After being dormant for quite some time, the rivalry has been re-ignited to be better than ever. The Rangers and Devils have both made moves this offseason to better their rosters.
The first meeting on Oct. 17 will be the start of a four-game series. Each of those games will have a playoff atmosphere as both teams look to squeeze in as the last wild card team in the Eastern Conference.
With the Devils and Rangers going first and second, respectively, in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, it was set in stone. The Devils selected Jack Hughes, passing on Kakko, who fell to the Rangers, the storyline was written. Both will fight for the Calder trophy at the end of this season, both will try to spearhead their franchise to the playoffs and maybe the Stanley Cup, but only one will have a better career than the other.
But, it was much more than just Hughes and Kakko. The Rangers were able to obtain Panarin, Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets and re-signed Buchnevich. The Devils were able to counter with acquiring P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators, Nikita Gusev from the Las Vegas Golden Knights and signing Wayne Simmonds in free agency.
Both sides of the Hudson River re-tooled themselves for war. And that is what it will be, an all-out battle with neither side giving an inch to the other.
Last season showed just how far the Rangers front office was willing to go to turn this franchise back in the positive direction. When captain Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller were traded, as well as long-time Rangers Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes, it is clear as day that nobody on this Rangers roster is safe.
This season, after the buyout of Kevin Shattenkirk, it is all eyes on Chris Kreider. The Rangers are in the midst of a major issue concerning their available salary, and they may not have enough to pay him next season. This means that come Feb. 24, which is the trade deadline for the 2019-20 season, he could be moved to another team.
But, that all depends on a number of situations. If the Rangers are in playoff contention, and he is performing on a consistent basis, it may be beneficial to keep him and hope to re-sign him for a reasonable amount in the offseason. Or, if the Rangers aren’t getting anywhere near the playoffs, he will have to go to the highest bidder.
There is absolutely no reason to not tune into the Rangers in 2019-20. All of the disappointment and frustration from the past three seasons have been a build-up to this. This is the season that will show whether it was all worth it. Have the Rangers become contenders once again, or was this all for nothing?