Rangers Rebuild: Questions Remain as Season Nears

The upcoming season isn’t just any other for the New York Rangers. This won’t be another year that revolves around a playoff run, questioning whether or not Henrik Lundqvist can carry his team to Stanley Cup glory. Heading into opening night, the Garden faithful are not asking, “Could this finally be the year?” In fact, the 2018-19 season has none of that.

The theme of the Rangers’ offseason is ‘change’, and the regular season will be more of the same. Instead of questioning Lundqvist’s ability to compete, fans are instead wondering if he has the desire to be a Blueshirt for life, instead of looking for a quick fix for getting him a Stanley Cup. Rather than pondering a championship parade to end the year, Rangerstown is flipping a coin on whether or not the team reaches the postseason at all under a rookie NHL head coach in David Quinn.

Boston University Terriers David Quinn
Former Boston University coach and rookie New York Rangers head coach David Quinn, coaches his team before they face the University of Massachusetts Minuteman. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

If the moves made by management this summer have illustrated anything, it is that their warning about a significant transformation was warranted. With new players, a new head coach and a new style of play being teased, the Rangers see themselves becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in the future.

The big question, however, is whether or not that coveted winning culture that eluded Broadway last season can be found in the 2018-19 season.

Youth Movement: Are the Youngsters NHL Ready?

The exits of mainstays Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Dan Girardi were an indication that times had changed. While they may have been painful for fans to witness, those deals opened the doors to prospects and high-draft picks.

There’s a newer, much younger vibe in New York, and there’s no turning back.

One of the new faces is Lias Andersson, the team’s first 2017 first-round draft pick, going at seventh overall. The 19-year-old is expected to make the Blueshirts lineup, especially after being called up from the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. The youngster played seven games in the big leagues near the end of last season (notching a goal and an assist), establishing himself as a role-player and a frontrunner to lead the team with his overall hockey IQ.

The Swede registered 14 points in 25 games with the Wolf Pack last season and was also the captain for Sweden at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships. Despite a shoulder injury, he posted six goals and an assist in seven games to help Sweden win the silver medal.

Lias Andersson
Lias Andersson, 2017 draft (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

Another member of the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, Filip Chytil, drafted 21st in 2017, scored 31 points in 46 games last season with Hartford. He has drawn praise from Rangers management and has made it clear that his sights are set on a roster spot to start the season. The 18-year-old fits the new Rangers vision perfectly, with a combination of speed and skill that have him penciled in as a major piece of the rebuild.

Of course, at the 2018 NHL Draft, the Rangers selected Vitali Kravstov, who is set to play another season in the KHL with Traktor Chelyabinsk. The 18-year-old winger was named the KHL’s Rookie of the Year last season, after an impressive postseason run, putting up 11 points in 16 playoff games and helping the club reach the conference final. Another season to refine his skills in his home country can only benefit the young man and his future NHL club.

While there is no doubt that the Rangers’ future is bright with these young stars leading the way, it remains to be seen how quickly the prospects can adjust to the rigors of playing in the NHL. While Andersson and Chytil are expected to make the lineup out of camp, it may be a while before they provide any sort of meaningful production. The veterans will be called upon to keep the team afloat, at least for now.

Lundqvist Committed to Rebuild, but for How Long?

Henrik Lundqvist reached a new milestone at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. For the first time in his storied career, The King played the final game of the regular season knowing his team had been eliminated from playoff contention. Throughout the team’s struggles, Lundqvist reiterated that, whatever management wanted to do moving forward, he wanted to be a part of it.

The 36-year-old made it clear just prior to the trade deadline where he stood:

“I made a commitment to this organization a few years back. It was a big decision in my career. I hope they have the same commitment to me. I guess it would really be up to them if they have another idea, but I don’t. I want to be here,” Lundqvist said. “I want to play for one organization. This one. I love it here. I want to be here and battle through the ups and downs, the good and the bad. It’s important to me.”

Henrik Lundqvist
Henrik Lundqvist wants to be part of the Rangers’ rebuild but will he ever win the Stanley Cup in New York? (Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

While the franchise netminder’s statement is admirable, especially considering he was offered the opportunity to be traded and declined, one has to wonder how long the veteran will be willing to hold down the fort while the kids get acclimated? Lundqvist has been known to give his defencemen an earful when they aren’t pulling their own weight in front of the net and he has to know that heading into October, he will be relied on more than ever.

Will the frustration become too much to bear for the legend? Could Lundqvist become the next on a long list of players who skip town for one last chance at a Stanley Cup?

2018-19 Season: Playoff Bound?

The jury is out on how successful this new-look Rangers squad will be this season. While they have young talent combined with grizzled veterans who have been on winning teams in the past, there will be a learning curve for the group. Line combinations, chemistry, both on and off the ice, as well as other factors that have yet to be determined. After securing playoff berths in seven of the past eight seasons, fans are wondering if, after last year’s disastrous end, the team can even make the playoffs this year. A postseason appearance would surely be considered a successful campaign.

At the start of the rebuild, when management sent an open letter to fans, they preached the importance of re-establishing a winning culture in New York. Adding youth was a major element in making that possible. However, it has become clear that winning in the near future, while it would be welcomed, is not the main goal. A year or two of missing the postseason, for the chance to create a true contender for the next 10 years seems to be more of what general manager Jeff Gorton and company are trying to accomplish.

Jeff Gorton
General Manager Jeff Gorton sees the rebuild as a way to create a Stanley Cup contender for years to come. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Whatever might be considered a successful year for the Rangers, the fact remains, whenever you have a player of Lundqvist’s calibre between the pipes combined with hungry, young players looking to prove themselves, anything can happen. The 2018-19 season is not a make or break year for the organization. Let the chips fall where they may. Can it really be any worse than last season?