With only six games in the regular season left, it’s safe to say that the New York Rangers will finish either first or second in the Metropolitan Division and that they will be a team to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
It’s also safe to say that practically no one predicted the success we have seen this season. While the Rangers can qualify as one of the big surprises of 2020-21, for Ranger fans there was an even bigger surprise. That was Chris Kreider’s big year.
Blue Line Station posted an unscientific Twitter poll asking readers what the biggest surprise is this season with the choices the Rangers 102 points (at the time of the poll), Chris Kreider’s 50 goals and Igor Shesterkin’s Vezina quality season. The overwhelming top choice was Kreider with 84.1% of the vote.
The 102 point season was second and no one thought that Shesterkin’s season was a bigger surprise.
So, while Ranger fans can be smug and profess to have known that the Rangers would be a contender, how about the experts? Did anyone predict the fantastic season for the Rangers? Here’s a look around the hockey world at pre-season predictions.
With ESPN getting the television rights to the NHL, they’ve shown a renewed interest in hockey. The network asked their 22 hockey experts who would win each NHL Division. The results for the Metropolitan Division were fascinating with 13 picking the Islanders followed by seven votes for the Hurricanes.
Of all of the prognosticators, one ESPN staffer picked the Rangers to win the Met Division. Who was this eternal optimist? None other than Mark Messier.
You would think that nhl.com would be the most accurate in their predictions, after all, they are the house organ of the NHL and should have the best information and the most knowledgeable contributors. So, how did they do?
NHL.com asked 16 staffers to rank the teams in each division. 11 of the writers predicted the Rangers would miss the playoffs. Four had the Rangers sneaking in as a wild card team. There’s one nhl.com writer who spends a lot of time on the Rangers and that’s Dan Rosen. He was the only staffer to predict that the Rangers would finish third in the division. Congrats to Dan except that he also projected a first place finish for the the Islanders with the Penguins missing out.
The Hockey News
Adam Proteau of The Hockey News did a division-by-division projection and was another one on the Islanders bandwagon, predicting a first place finish. However he also called a third place finish for the Rangers.
This is what Proteau had to say about the Rangers in October. “The time to make the jump from draft lottery team to playoff team is now for the Blueshirts, and they very well could leapfrog veteran teams like the Penguins and Washington Capitals on their ascent through the standings…so long as the injury bug doesn’t bite them hard, the Rangers have what it takes to take an evolutionary leap forward.”
The Sporting News
Jackie Speigel of The Sporting News needs to get some props for predicting a third place finish for the Rangers. She had all of the Met Division teams right except for the Islanders. Like Dan Rosen, he had the Isles finishing first and Pittsburgh missing out.
She also predicted that the Rangers would win their first round series against the Hurricanes, but would lose to the Islanders in Round Two. She was also the only writer in the hockey world who saw Adam Fox repeating as Norris Trophy winner.
The Daily Faceoff
The Daily Faceoff was another site that had the Rangers finishing in third place. While that was a good prediction, Cam Lewis also had the Capitals finishing first and the Flyers making the wild card. Hmm.
Lewis did point out that Gerard Gallant could have an impact saying “There’s also the Rangers, loaded with young talent and a new head coach in Gerard Gallant who’s known for getting the most out of his teams.”
USA Today has three hockey writers and they all weighed in with projections. Mary Clarke and Chris Korman had the Rangers finishing third while Charles Curtis predicted them missing the playoffs.
In another prediction, Mike Brehm had the Rangers finishing with 88 points and missing the playoffs in sixth place in the Met Division, behind the Flyers and ahead of the Devils and Blue Jackets. Brehm said “The Rangers are bigger and tougher and Gerard Gallant will coach them well. But youngsters Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière must take a step forward in their development.”
The sports betting line
With the prevalence of sports betting, here’s what the line was when the season started. SportsBetting.ag released their over/unders for the NHL teams and their point totals in the final standings. The Rangers were a non-playoff team with a projected 95.5 points.
The oddsmakers had the Islanders finishing first, followed by the Hurricanes, Penguins and Capitals with the Rangers just missing out.
It’s pretty comical that of all the experts, almost all had the Rangers finishing at best, in third place in the Metropolitan Division with the overwhelming majority predicting them to miss the playoffs.
As surprising as the Rangers have been, the bigger surprise has been the New York Islanders. They got the nod for a first place finish from practically every prognosticator and a number of them had the Isles winning the Cup. Oh well, maybe next year…not.
Unfortunately, although Mark Messier was the only expert to predict a first place finish for the Rangers, the ESPN website didn’t provide any explanation from him for that prediction. He obviously knows the team better than most of the other hockey writers and it showed in his prediction.
The best thing is even though the Rangers boast the fifth best record in the NHL, they have been underestimated by the hockey cognoscenti all season. Finally, they are getting some recognition. Here’s where they are in the latest power rankings:
- The Hockey News: 3rd place
- CBS Sports: 5th place
- Sportsnet: 6th place
- nhl.com: 6th place
- ESPN: 6th place
- The Athletic: 7th place
- TSN: 7th place
- NBC Sports: 7th place
Ranger fans should be pleased. Going into the playoffs as a “stealth” contender with few expectations is a perfect scenario for the Blueshirts. Let’s see how long they can stay under the radar.