New York Rangers: Having low expectations will help this season

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 07: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers warms up against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 7, 2018 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 07: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers warms up against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 7, 2018 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images) /

As a rebuilding team, the New York Rangers should have low expectations going into this season. Keeping a realistic outlook will make this season productive.

For the longest time, the New York Rangers were a team considered amongst the serious Stanley Cup contenders. A team boasting Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes and a group of six solid defenseman as well as four forward lines was enough. For several years the Rangers were right there come late May. However, as veterans aged, the team failed to keep up with the changing times.

As the NHL transitioned to more of a speed game, the team was stuck with slow one dimensional defenseman. The fragile house of cards came crumbling down in year five of the Alain Vigneault experiment. There was too much of a disconnect between the reality on the ice and the coach behind the bench.

The bizarre thing is, the Rangers’ front office did not see the problem coming. In fact, the expectations last season were as high as ever coming off of a semi-surprising playoff run in 2017. The addition of Kevin Shattenkirk was supposed to be the signing to put the team over the top. Instead, the defense fell apart and the injury bug plagued the team.

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So, it’s important to keep this upcoming season in the proper lens. Understanding the roster composition, and the goals of the organization are key to having the right level of expectations for this 2018-2019 season.

The known

There are few givens about the Rangers at this point. There are a few guarantees about the team, one of course being the sublime Henrik Lundqvist returning for his 14th NHL season. At this point in his career, a Stanley Cup is probably out of grasp with New York, but his legacy can still be added to.

It won’t come this season, but as long as the team is truly not one of the five worst, Lundqvist can probably finish as number three all time in career wins for a goaltender. At the very least, the Swede is going to prevent the Rangers from being a true lottery contender. There will still be that occasional Lundqvist magic where he steals a game against a better team that the Rangers have no business winning.

In addition to Lundqvist, the Rangers will return a forward group that includes Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. This grouping of five forwards is solid as they come and should post something in the neighborhood of 50 points each.

The unknown

Outside of those five forwards and Lundqvist, the rest of the roster is a crapshoot. The Rangers could end up with both Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson in the opening night lineup. Or both could end up riding the bus again in the American league.

As for the team’s expectations, they’ll be slightly different based on where both start the season. Part of the expectations for this season will be player development. Even if the Rangers are losing games, it’ll be imperative for the young players to show growth throughout the course of the season. Instead of the casual decay of last season, there need to be tangible signs of growth.

If Chytil and Andersson make the roster, it’ll be a year of exciting loss. If nothing else, the Rangers should play in exciting games on a nightly basis. Based on the play last season, the team will give up a lot of scoring chances. During the 2017-2018 season, the Rangers gave up the highest percentage of shots per game at nearly 54%.

At the very least, the Rangers should create a lot of chances as a counterbalance and should make that number get closer to 50%.

The motto

In “Dodgeball,” the 2005 Vince Vaughn comedy, Vaughn’s character Peter La Fleur, gives his outlook on life in regards to expectations.

“If you have a goal you might not reach it,” La Fleur said. “But if you don’t have one, you’re never disappointed. While this may seem like a weird place to draw philosophical outlook from, there is some merit. The Rangers are not going to set the world on fire during the 2018-2019 season, but there is room for improvement.

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If fans can put the season in the greater context of a rebuild, they will end up pleasantly surprised by the compete level of the team. Keep expectations low and the kids will make this rebuilding period tolerable. Expect a playoff birth and you’ll go insane watching Marc Staal skate like he’s in cement.