Rangers’ 2019-20 Storylines: Rivalries & Matchups

We’re about a month away from the start of the 2019-20 NHL season, and it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say it’s one of the most looked-forward-to by New York Rangers fans in recent history. After a memorable offseason with big additions, the Rangers have plenty of games and storylines to watch out for.

The tone for this offseason was set in April when the Rangers — who had the sixth-best odds of the 15 non-playoff teams — won the second overall pick for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. It was not the top spot, but it guaranteed the Rangers a young, top prospect and they wouldn’t be forced to choose between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko.

Next, fan-favorite John Davidson was chosen to succeed Glen Sather as team president. Just like how fans gave a warm reception to him, “J.D.” holds the Rangers, a team he helped take to the Stanley Cup Final, close to him. Combine Davidson’s time as a player with his broadcasting and executive careers, things looked bright from the get-go. Then, the new players came in.

Kappo Kakko Rangers Draft
Kappo Kakko, New York Rangers, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Days before the draft, the Rangers sent Neal Pionk and the 20th overall pick to the Winnipeg Jets for Jacob Trouba. Then, the team took Kakko, heavily hyped after his performance at the 2019 Ice Hockey World Championships, in the draft. Finally, the Blueshirts pulled off a stunner on July 1, trading Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres and signing Artemi Panarin the same day.

There’s a lot of hype and hope for the 2019-20 New York Rangers squad, and what does this offseason mean for the upcoming season? What are the focuses of the Rangers’ rivalries? What other games should eyes be kept on?

Rangers vs. Devils: Better First-Round Pick? Better Offseason?

While the Rangers had arguably one of their best offseasons in recent memory, the New Jersey Devils were also winners of this offseason. As mentioned previously, the Devils won the first overall pick in this year’s draft, and the team selected the highly-touted Hughes.

In addition, on June 22, New Jersey gave up Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies and two second-round picks to acquire multiple time All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban. And on July 1, the team signed his Nashville Predators teammate, former Philadelphia Flyer Wayne Simmonds, to a one-year deal.

It is not a certainty that the Devils will be surging back into contention in the Metropolitan Division, but this offseason presented the team making significant progress. The same can be said for the Rangers, and both teams will be compared from now into the future.

New York Rangers Ryan Strome New Jersey Devils Cory Schneider
New York Rangers center Ryan Strome celebrates his goal against New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider (AP Photo/ Bill Kostroun)

Which team had the better offseason — for short-term or long-term? Which of Hughes and Kakko is more NHL ready out the gate? Which of the two has more potential? We’ll find out all that and some more, with the re-surges hopefully bringing a newly-lit fire under this rivalry.

Rangers-Devils Games This Season:

  • Thursday, Oct. 17: Rangers at Devils (NBC Sports Network)
  • Saturday, Nov. 30: Rangers at Devils
  • Thursday, Jan. 9: Devils at Rangers
  • Saturday, March 7: Devils at Rangers

Rangers vs. Flyers: Vigneault & Hayes Go from Broadway to Broad Street

While the Rangers and Devils are looking towards getting back into the thick of competition, the Flyers are looking to put together their own vision for the future and be a consistent contender with their young squad.

After a poor start to 2018-19, Philadelphia brought in Chuck Fletcher to be the team’s general manager in December. At the start of his first offseason at the helm, he made a change at head coach, bringing in a face familiar to Rangers fans — Alain Vigneault.

Under Vigneault’s tenure, offensive production increased, and he took New York to its first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years. But things soon turned sour as defensive woes and lack of physicality reared their heads, and it appeared in his final season he would not be going along with rebuild plans.

Alain Vigneault Rangers
Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers, Mar. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flyers did not have as noisy of an offseason as its northeastern competitors, but their biggest pickup was another former Blueshirts member — center Kevin Hayes. He was one of New York’s better scorers last season, putting up 42 points in. 51 games played.

But with the rebuild in effect and plenty of depth at center, Hayes was sent to Winnipeg at the trade deadline in exchange for 2019 first-round pick, a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick and Brendan Lemieux. New York ended up giving that first-round pick back to the Jets in the trade for Trouba.

Hayes sought a five-year, $25 million deal in the 2018 offseason as a restricted free agent, but he and the Rangers ended up agreeing to a one-year deal. This time around, he got the kind of big-money contract he hoped for, as the Flyers signed him to a seven-year, $50 million deal. Plenty have considered the move an overpay, but let’s see if these sentiments hold up by season’s end.

Rangers-Flyers Games This Season:

  • Monday, Dec. 23: Rangers at Flyers (NBC Sports Network)
  • Friday, Feb. 28: Rangers at Flyers
  • Saturday, March 1: Flyers at Rangers (NBC)
  • Wednesday, April 1: Flyers at Rangers (NBC Sports Network)

Rangers vs. Islanders: Revenge for Panarin? Who Runs New York Hockey?

Plans looked set for the New York Islanders when July 1 rolled around. After losing long-time fan-favorite John Tavares one year earlier, it looked like the team would move on from Anders Lee, who had taken over as captain, and bring in Panarin. Then, the Rangers swiped the “Bread Man” up.

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It’s the latest chapter in hockey’s version of two New York teams jockeying for the eye of attention in one of the U.S.’ biggest markets. The Islanders may have just as many Stanley Cups as the “Original Six” Rangers — all coming with one of the greatest dynasties this sport has seen. They may the hearts of Long Island and a more modern arena on the way. Yet, they always seem to be the “little brother” team.

Mika Zibanejad Mathew Barzal
Mika Zibanejad and the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal (Photo: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

This fact could not be more evident than with the last 12 months. Despite losing Tavares, and while the Rangers focused on their rebuild, the Islanders earned 103 points and entered the playoffs as the second team from the Metropolitan Division. The hype continued with a first-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But everything came crashing down when the Isles were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes and failed to land Panarin or Sergei Bobrovsky. Now, the Islanders will once again look to be a contender and step from the Rangers’ shadows. Meanwhile, the Blueshirts will look to once again lone hold the hockey spotlight in “The Big Apple.”

Rangers-Islanders Games This Season:

  • Monday, Jan. 13: Islanders at Rangers
  • Thursday, Jan. 16: Rangers at Islanders
  • Tuesday, Jan. 21: Islanders at Rangers
  • Tuesday, Feb. 25: Rangers at Islanders

Other Notes and Key Games

Opening with the Jets: The Rangers will once again open the season on home ice, playing host to Winnipeg on Oct. 3 at Madison Square Garden. It’ll be the first time the two teams will meet since mid-February, just before New York traded Hayes to the Jets. It’ll be Trouba’s first matchup against his now-former team. The Blueshirts will travel to Winnipeg on Feb. 11.

Clashing with the Capitals: The rivalry between the Rangers and Capitals intensified this decade thanks to several playoff meetings. The Caps will be looking for their 12th playoff appearance in 13 seasons and their second Stanley Cup in three. Meetings in New York will take place on Nov. 20 and March 5, while the games in Washington will occur on Oct. 18 and March 26. The Nov. 20 match will air nationally on NBC Sports Network.

Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin skates in against New York Rangers Alexandar Georgiev
Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin skates in against New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. (AP Photo/ Bill Kostroun)

Running Into Shattenkirk, Lightning: Quite a few recent former Rangers eventually ended up with the Tampa Bay Lightning one way or another, including Ryan Callahan, J.T. Miller, Dan Girardi and former Blueshirts captain Ryan McDonagh (who is still with Tampa Bay). Kevin Shattenkirk signed a one-year deal with Tampa after a buyout he considered shocking and disappointing. Shattenkirk will have chances to get revenge on his former team on Oct. 29 (in New York), Nov. 14 (in Tampa) and March 28 (in Tampa). The game in New York will air on NBC Sports Network.

Facing the Finalists: The Rangers will get two chances to test themselves against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. They’ll visit the Blues on Jan. 11 before facing off at MSG on March 3. Meanwhile, New York will host the defending Eastern Conference champion, and rival, Boston Bruins twice — on Oct. 27 and Feb. 16, the latter of which will air on NBC. They’ll travel to “Beantown” for the 2019 edition of NBC’s NHL Thanksgiving Showdown on Nov. 29, the day after the American version of the holiday.

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Other national TV games: The Rangers will play five additional times on NBC Sports Network this season:

  • Nov. 6: vs. Detroit Red Wings
  • Nov. 12: vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Jan. 7: vs. Colorado Avalanche
  • Feb. 19: at Chicago Blackhawks
  • March 18: vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

In addition, four Rangers games will air in Canada on Hockey Night in Canada this season:

  • Oct. 5: at Ottawa Senators
  • Nov. 23: at Montreal Canadiens
  • Dec. 28: at Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Jan. 4: at Vancouver Canucks

There’s a lot to look forward to this coming Rangers season, from the new arriving talent to hyped matchups, and the waiting is nearly over.