New York Rangers: Patience is a virtue, do they have it?

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New York Rangers after Game Three of the Eastern Conference Qualification Round (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers have a lot of promise, but do they have the patience to wait for it?

In many ways, the New York Rangers unexpected foray into the postseason did more harm than good.  While it was obvious to most observers that the team was not built to go deep into the playoffs, it raised hopes and expectations for next year.  The team can thank the hockey gods that they were dispatched swiftly and then doubled down by winning the draft lottery.

Visions of a deep playoff run next season are already filling our heads. We are encouraged by the obvious disappointment shown by Jeff Gorton and John Davidson.  The Carolina series was an eye opener and provided some insight into what is missing from this young Rangers team.

When Gorton proclaimed that the Rangers needed to be harder to play against, it started the trade rumors flowing.  Add in the fact that Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider will be one year older and Mika Zibanejad will be one year closer to a new contract or free agency and the vibe is one of urgency.

Not so fast.  The fact is the late drive to playoff contention was great, but this team is still very far from the caliber of the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning or Las Vegas Golden Knights. If you are looking for proof, remember how the Blueshirts were undressed by the St. Louis Blues in the regular season. They lost both games, 5-2 and 3-1 and were clearly over matched.  If you haven’t noticed, the Blues were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the First Round.  Yes, the Rangers have a way to go.

Continuing the rebuild

Winning the draft lottery will have a huge impact on the Rangers return to contention, but even if Alexis Lafreniere is the miracle worker that everyone thinks he is, it won’t happen next season.  Sidney Crosby won a Stanley Cup in his fourth season. It took Patrick Kane three seasons. It took Alex Ovechkin 13 years.  Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Auston Matthews are all still looking for their first.

This year, the Blueshirts will be adding two more stud draft picks.  K’Andre Miller and Morgan Barron will get their first pro experience.  Prospects like Nils Lundkvist, Lauri Pajuniemi, Zac Jones and Matthew Robertson will be finishing up their final years before signing with the Rangers.  The Rangers are in a perfect position to be set up for playoff excellence in 2021-22 with true  Stanley Cup contention after that.

What that means is we are in store for another year of progress next season.  We will be bidding farewell to some longtime Blueshirts in Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal.   The team will have some tough decisions when it comes to their free agents.  What they must not do is make mistakes that will cost them for years to come.  The team will finally be in decent cap shape in 2021-22, exactly when they have to start figuring out how to pay players like Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox.

We all know where the holes are on this team.  It needs to get tougher.  Jacob Trouba needs a defense partner.  The team needs to figure out how to staff the center position.   They won’t have all of the answers next season, but they will make some progress in figuring it out.  Maybe K’Andre Miller will be able to make the varsity before the end of next season.  Maybe Filip Chytil will be able to handle second line center responsibilities.   Maybe Gorton will parlay some assets and draft picks into a player teams hate to play against.

Remember this unscientific poll from Blue Line Station back in June?

With almost 60% of the votes for making the playoffs, one wonders how the vote would be now, knowing the result of the lottery.   But it does show how desperate the Blueshirts faithful were to taste a little postseason action.

Lucking into the first overall pick was amazing for the Rangers.  Most years, it takes two to three years (or more) for a draft pick to make it to the NHL and with the first pick, the Rangers will get an NHL-ready player.   But as the Rangers discovered with Kaapo Kakko and the Devils with Jack Hughes, there is a learning curve.

Stay the course

While every decision made by Coach David Quinn next season will be with the playoffs as the goal, we have to have faith that Jeff Gorton and John Davidson will stick to the plan.  They didn’t when they didn’t trade Chris Kreider or Jesper Fast at the deadline.  They were seduced by the team’s success and while those decisions won’t cripple the team, think of how the Rangers would be looking going into this deep draft with three first rounders.

There are certainly financial reasons to believe that there will be pressure to take shortcuts to contention.  Every business was hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Madison Square Garden.   A deep playoff run next summer with fans in the seats means badly needed revenue.  It’s a compelling reason to go for it sooner.   We’ve all been down that road before.

Team management and Ranger fans should be very happy with a couple rounds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2021, knowing that starting the following season, the Rangers will be poised to make some real noise. The pressure to win in New York is enormous, but the brain trust has been following a blueprint that is working and they need to stay the course.