The New York Rangers are about to embark on an NHL season like no other. New divisions and a shorter, more compressed season will surely challenge one of league’s youngest teams.
The 2019/20 NHL season did not end well for the New York Rangers. The season came to an abrupt halt with twelve regular seasons games remaining and the Blueshirts in the middle of a dogfight to secure one of the last playoff positions.
The loss of those dozen high-pressure games stole a real growth opportunity from the team. A real chance to experience what it is like to battle for something significant and grow as a team. The fact that they were gifted a playoff spot regardless really did nothing for the squad as they were summarily dismissed by the Carolina Hurricanes in a three game series sweep.
Fans can only hope that the team learned something valuable about playoff hockey from that beating at the hands of the Canes. If not, the season really did end with a big thud!
The one salvation…..the number one pick in the 2020 NHL draft.
Welcome Alexis Lafrenière.
So as we approach the start of what will truly be a very unique NHL season, let’s take a very broad look at the best case and worst case scenarios that may play out for the Rangers, with a full understanding that the outcome will most certainly fall somewhere in the middle and without considering the high potential for injuries and Covid related issues.
Worst Case Scenario
The Eastern Conference is going to be brutal.
During a normal regular season the Rangers fiercest battles are always with the Islanders and Devils. Facing each of those teams eight times is just going to make the rivalries more intense and each game a war.
Sure the Devils do not look to be one of the better teams in the division but you can throw that out when it comes the the Rangers. The teams always elevate their games for the cross-Hudson rivalry and this season the Devils will love opportunity to play spoilers against the Rangers and do anything they can to keep them out of the playoffs.
Ranger fans should be prepared to watch the Devils play intense hockey one night against the Blueshirts and then absolutely tank in their next game. Rangers games may be their only real motivation this season. It will be frustrating.
Of course the hated Islanders will be out to the get the Rangers as well. These games could turn into real slugfests, although the Rangers would be best served to avoid that type of scenario. Eight battles between the old rivals will take its toll on both teams and only benefit the rest of the teams in the division.
Now take those typical hard fought rivalry games and add in the remaining 48 games against the mostly elite teams in the Eastern Division. Every game matters twice as much because every game is one against another team that is vying for the same playoff spot as you are. Just image the intensity and it is not hard to see how this worst case scenario plays out.
To put it quite simply, the New York Rangers just get steamrolled by the elite teams in the new Eastern Conference. Eight games against the likes of the Capitals, Flyers, Penguins and Bruins is a lot to ask a young team, it will be a hard learned lesson on way or the other.
Think about it, where are the “easier” games in the schedule for the Rangers? The rest of the teams in the division could look at their games against the Devils as a chance to gain points, not the Rangers.
The Buffalo Sabres are sure to be somewhat better with Taylor Hall in the mix. The Rangers always play dull, boring one-goal games against the Sabres, so those matches will be tough. They are not to be overlooked.
The end result turns out to be ugly. A frustrated David Quinn relies too heavily on his veterans, the nightly battles take their toll as the team is just physically dominated by the bigger teams and the whole thing just goes south. Wins are hard to come by, the growth of the kids is stunted, and the Rangers go home winning less than 20 games.
Best Case Scenario
The Eastern Conference may be the toughest of the realigned conferences, but it may also be the one with the most teams about to cross over to the slow decline phase of a typical NHL team cycle.
Sure the Capitals look really tough on paper, but take a closer look at the roster. There is not one player on the roster from last year that was born in the 2000s. In fact there are five born in eighties and now one born in the seventies with the addition of Zedeno Chara. Alex Ovechkin is 35, TJ Oshie is 34, Nicklas Backstrom is 33. You don’t think that there is real potential for these guys to feel the strain of a condensed season?
Same goes for teams like the Penguins and Bruins and to a lesser extent the Flyers. Sidney Crosby and Chris Letang are 33, Evgeni Malkin is 34. Patrice Bergeron is 35, David Krejci 34, Brad Marchand 32. Claude Giroux will be 33 when the puck drops. The oldest Ranger of significance is Chris Kreider at 29, and he’s a unique physical specimen anyway.
The strain of the condensed schedule along with the bruising games that will be played night after night within the Eastern Division will certainly take its toll on the older teams. The Rangers may not be stacked with brawn, but the youth of the Rangers is certainly best served for the grind that lays ahead. If the Rangers can get off to a fast start and allow David Quinn to figure out his best line-up and commit to rolling his lines, this Rangers team could excel.
The potential firepower in the top two lines is already evident. The Panarin line should benefit from additional scoring touch from whomever they place on the right side. If the team can get consistent offensive output from the third line, then this squad can potentially average four, maybe five goals a games.
Teams will also need a very strong goal tending tandem to be successful. The Bruins certainly have a strong experienced duo, the Islanders may as well, but the Rangers could have the best with Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, and THAT is where the Rangers can capitalize and turn this season into a best case scenario.
Igor Shesterkin is going to win a hell of a lot of games if the Rangers put up four goals every night. He is also going to steal more than a few OT games, whether with spectacular saves during the three on three, or in a shootout. When the team does turn to Georgiev, it will not be taking a big step back. The Bulgarian has proven that he is a capable NHL goalie, possibly even a starter for many NHL teams.
In this best case scenario, the Rangers win 28-30 games while tacking on a few loser points and are in the playoff hunt until the very end, making this season not only highly entertaining to all Rangers fans, but highly beneficial to growth and development of the team.
LETS GO RANGERS!