Are the Rangers a Playoff Team?

The New York Rangers have accelerated their rebuild with a flurry of acquisitions this offseason. But, was it enough to consider them a playoff team?

The answer is not in 2019-20. Sooner rather than later the Rangers will be back to being at the top of the Metropolitan Division and, more importantly, the NHL. Sure, the signing of free agent Artemi Panarin and trade for Jacob Trouba with the Winnipeg Jets are substantial leaps toward being in that category, but the Blueshirts just aren’t there yet. There are still areas that are in need of serious help.

Former Winnipeg Jet Jacob Trouba (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Salary issues, uncertain development of the youth movement and the Metro Division getting a lot stronger from last season are all standing in the way for the Rangers.

Can the Youth Live up to the Hype?

The biggest issue and greatest asset the Blueshirts have is the unknown capabilities of the youth. Recent No. 2 overall selection Kaapo Kakko and 2018 ninth-overall selection Vitali Kravtsov haven’t played a single second in the NHL. That uncertainty should be worrisome for Rangerstown residents, but it should also cause goosebumps.

Both Kakko and Kravtsov are coming to the bright lights on Broadway with a similar agenda – to win. Kakko was overlooked by a rival, the New Jersey Devils, and was a little disappointed in not being selected at No. 1 (from ‘2019 N.H.L. Draft: Devils Take Jack Hughes at No. 1, and the Rangers Pick Kaapo Kakko,’ New York Times, 06/21/2019). Meanwhile, Kravtsov shined while playing in the KHL last season, making an appearance in the KHL All-Star Game.

Can they both live up to the hype and be the spark that this franchise has been desperately looking for?

A Long Offseason Ahead

This offseason has catapulted the Rangers from being a team that was still struggling to find its identity to being a relatively well-structured unit. The demand for offensive firepower was supplemented, a first-pairing defenseman who can move the puck with ease was gained and there is now a full-blown battle for the heir to Henrik Lundqvist’s throne.

Panarin will be ready to go opening night for the Rangers. It has been talked about by head coach David Quinn that he will play on the first line, alongside center Mika Zibanejad.

That first line of Panarin, Zibanejad and either Pavel Buchnevich, pending arbitration, or the aforementioned Kravtsov or Kakko could truly be magical.

With Trouba, it will come down to his arbitration hearing set for July 25. Buchnevich has his set for July 29. Retaining both players bolsters the Rangers’ chances at their first playoff berth since the 2016-17 season.

The next step for the team will be to fix the salary cap and figure out a way to re-sign and extend Chris Kreider, Brandon Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo. The chances of all three being on this roster come October is possible but improbable.

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

How Far off Are They?

In a perfect world, the Rangers and Devils have a chance to be fighting for that last wild-card spot next April. But, this is not a perfect world and it could go any which way this coming season. It all depends on the younger players and how acclimated they can get to being in the NHL.

There is still a large part of the offseason that needs to be watched closely by Rangers fans. Arbitration hearings and a buyout period will all be full of twists and turns. But, what has happened since June 21 has been nothing but extraordinary and worthy of an A-plus rating all around for the front office.

If not this season, then the following season will see a postseason appearance for the Rangers. The chips are starting to fall in the necessary places and it is now time to just wait and see how it will all pan out.