The New York Rangers are automatically anticipating one big adjustment ahead of the upcoming 2021-22 NHL season. The team will be led by new management — a new general manager (GM), president, and head coach with his assistants. But that means they also enter the season with a clean slate.
As advertised, the young and fast team needs to be ready for the hot start they are capable of. The past several seasons, the Rangers struggled to get going. Their opening night last season ended in a 0-4 shutout loss — a rude awakening, but a precursor to what would lie ahead. At times, the team came out flat, without any real drive. This nasty habit needs to change.
How the Blueshirts respond to the change of staff, the highs and lows of the prior season, and another playoff miss will set the tone for the rest of the season. Correctly “responding” to challenging or unfavorable outcomes is an art any NHL team is required to master for long-term success. Yet, how quickly this young team can learn the ropes will set the foundation for the upcoming era of Rangers hockey.
Changes in Leadership Behind the Bench
At the end of the season the organization announced a clear house, which left almost all positions open. Former assistant GM, Chris Drury, was promoted to GM and president. The head coach and assistant coaching positions remain unfilled. While the club is in no rush to fill the titles, the Rangers organization interviewed several fine candidates.
Reports confirm former Vegas Golden Knights coach, Gerard Gallant, and former Arizona Coyote coach, Rick Tocchet, met with Drury. Could one of the desert hockey coaches be headed to The Big Apple?
Even though there will be new faces behind the bench, the young Rangers are preconditioned to be accountable, hustle for their ice time, and practice resiliency — all profound remnants of David Quinn’s coaching style before he was released. With a new coach and training camp decisions to be made, the opening night roster could be interesting.
For now, we know the name of one new member. Last week Drury announced Mike Grier was named Hockey Operations Advisor. Grier is to aid the Rangers in developing prospects within the organization. This includes players for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack. He will also be involved in decision-making processes for the club.
Surely, the team will have to adapt to a new style, but the foundation is there. Other teams adjusted to new styles implemented by new coaches before. It is another bridge for the Rangers to cross, but they’re no strangers to adversity, especially after the events of this season.
Rising up From the Pitfalls of 2020-21
The past year was tough for everyone and the players of the Rangers felt no exception. Though the team members have this summer to readjust, last season gave the players a lot to learn. How to stay afloat without the stars, how to rally around slumped players, and culminate chemistry on the fly — just to name a few hurdles.
Starting off on the right foot is important at the commencement of any season, but this one would mean more. The Rangers got in the habit of forming a mid-season streak and also ended their season well — the one thing missing is starting strong out of the gate. Inevitably, consistency will be demanded of the team if they want to go all the way to the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers can either let the dramatics of 2020-21 hurt them or propel them. Ideally, the challenges of last season brought the team closer together, but it also tested their mental game. With six players making their Rangers debut in the 2020-21 season, the young core was tested early on.
Reflecting back, many players indicated the hectic events that unfolded help provide deeper leadership roles to some of the older players, like defender Jacob Trouba. The ups and downs also strengthened the roles of the pre-existing veterans — Chris Kreider, for example.
If anything, these challenges reinforced to the young group that the strong leadership within the team will be there to support and assist in their navigation of the NHL. With the veteran and rookie dynamic of the Rangers, this is an important reminder the team can lean on each other. Besides, given the circumstances, the team managed to finish just out of a playoff spot.
Could a Playoff Appearance Be in the Cards?
This winter will be three years since the infamous letter penned to Rangers fans was released from management. In some ways, it feels like it has been much longer than that, perhaps because the team evolved tremendously. The letter introduced fans to the bright future ahead.
Published by Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton, (the latter being now-former GM) the trajectory of the team seems to align with their vision, perhaps even better than the pair could have imagined. Many aspects of the team are coming together nicely, the defensive corps gelled well, despite being rather makeshift at times as a result of injuries. Several rookie forwards showed great promise, too.
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The past two seasons were not about making the Stanley Cup playoffs, but at what point does that become the focus for the season? If the team would like a shot at making it to the postseason, the Broadway boys will have to start solid to avoid sinking in their division’s standings. It’s a slippery slope. With several fellow divisional teams facing a similar youth movement, the Rangers will need to establish their identity and pull out some tough wins. Sure, they are young, but if other teams are following a similar suit, the Rangers will need to bring more to the table than just youth.
If any team can be dynamic, it’s the Rangers. With the superstar factor thanks to Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, the speed of Kreider and Filip Chytil, combined with the talent in net from Igor Shesterkin, this all translates into a solid team blueprint. Not to mention the impending breakouts of wingers Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko. Who could forget Norris Trophy-level defenseman Adam Fox and the impossibly hard shot of K’Andre Miller from the blue line?
The point is, the Rangers are on the cusp of transitioning into a playoff team. This could be the defining season that rockets them beyond the regular season, despite the adversity they face early on. As with most challenges, the Rangers have been able to make the most of the circumstances and any success this upcoming season would be one important leap closer to the vision.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.