The New York Rangers are back in the playoffs after missing for four years. Can we expect them to be a playoff team for years to come? Based on the history of successful teams in the salary cap era, the answer is yes.
The Blueshirts are following in the footsteps of the teams that have found success in the NHL. The formula is simple. Miss the playoffs for a few years, build a core of star players, get those stars under longterm contracts and remain competitive for years. Of course, strong upper management, smart drafting and good coaching are vital and the Rangers appear to have checked off all of those boxes.
One thing is for certain. In the current NHL, check off those boxes and the rich stay rich while the poor stay poor. Look at the Eastern Conference teams’ records for making the playoffs in the 17 years of the salary cap era:
- 16 years: Pittsburgh Penguins
- 14 years: Washington Capitals
- 13 years: Boston Bruins
- 12 years: New York Rangers
- 11 years: Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning
- 10 years: Philadelphia Flyers
- 8 years: Ottawa Senators
- 7 years: New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs
- 6 years: Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets
- 5 years: Florida Panthers
- 4 years: Buffalo Sabres
A record of sucess
More important than the number of playoff appearances is the ability to be a consistent playoff contender. Here are the perennial playoff teams from East.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins missed the first playoffs the first year of the cap era. Since then, they have made the playoffs for 16 straight years. How? They have ridden Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang to all of that success and three Stanley Cups.
Washington Capitals: The Capitals have been in the postseason for 14 of the last 15 years after missing the playoffs the first two years of the cap era. How? They drafted Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and they have been the cornerstone of the franchise for 15 years. Add in Braden Holtby, a fourth round pick and they had the goaltending as well.
Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings were in the playoffs 11 straight years to start the cap era. They were led by Nicklas Lidstrom, Pave Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. When that trio left, the Red Wings have not filled their skates and they have missed for six straight seasons. Chris Osgood led them in goal in their best years, but they have not been strong in goal for years.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Tampa has been in the playoffs eight of the last nine years. That came after a stretch of missing the postseason in five of six seasons. Why did they improve? They drafted Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Boston Bruins: The Bruins have made the playoffs 13 times in the last 15 years. The Bruins are the exception to the rule. While they did draft Phil Kessel after a season when they missed the playoffs, the fact that they have found David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand though savvy drafting has to be recognized. They also stole Tukka Rask from the Maple Leafs in a trade for Andrew Raycroft.
Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens were an early cap era powerhouse, making the playoffs in nine of 12 years. They had stars like P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty, but the reason for their prolonged success was in goal with Carey Price. Now, they’ve missed three times in the last five years and the run to the Final last season has to be seen as a COVID related outlier.
New York Rangers: And let’s not forget that the Rangers made the playoffs in 11 of 12 seasons, mostly on the back of Henrik Lundqvist. Despite trading for Rick Nash and Martin St.Louis, they never surround Lundqvist with a team that had the ability to win it all.
What all of these teams have in common is that they had a core of star players to build on with one key component being a star goaltender. For the most part, the teams that have not been able to stay in the postseason picture have not had that core.
It’s a formula that teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers have adopted. The Hurricanes have been the class of the Metropolitan Division, building around Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. They have the foundation and they have found useful players to fill out the team, players like all of those former Rangers like Tony DeAngelo, Jesper Fast, Derek Stepan and Brendan Smith. The only question when it comes to the Hurricanes is in goal.
The Panthers made the playoffs twice in the first 15 years of the cap era. But they went out and signed Sergei Bobrovsky and drafted Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad. They have surrounded that core with pickups like Anthony Duclair, Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart and they are now the class of the NHL.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have finally figured it out this season. They always had the core of drafted players in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander and they made the big move in signing John Tavares, but they were never able to surround that core with the right players, expecially in goal. Finding an Arizona castoff like Michael Bunting and undrafted Ilya Mikheyevhas been some of the reasons that they have done well this seaosn. They still have a weakness in net is still the team’s Achilles heel and could cost them this postseason.
The perennial also-rans have made a mess of their drafts or have not been able to assemble the core of players needed to become consistent winners. Buffalo, Ottawa, Philadelphia and Columbus have all been relative disasters when it comes to building a winner.
What about the Rangers?
The Rangers have done their homework and through smart spending, solid drafting and lottery luck, they are emulating the teams that have been able to stay relevant the longest.
In Adam Fox, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba, Igor Shesterkin and Barclay Goodrow, the team has assembled a core of players who will be their foundation for the next six years and longer. It will be a challenge, but if the team can add Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and K’Andre Miller to that core of players under longterm contract, the Rangers will be a playoff contender for years.
The key moving forward is the team’s ability to surround this core with serviceable, solid players. That was the challenge early this season when it was clear that the likes of Dryden Hunt, Julien Gauthier, Greg McKegg and others were not the answer. The deadline acquisitions have solved that problem and it is up to Chris Drury to find better depth players in the coming seasons while living under the restrictions of a salary cap.
The good news is they have a surfeit of prospects who may be able to step into those roles in the future on low cost-controlled contracts. That would be players like Brennan Othmann, Will Cuylle and Brett Berard and even Vitali Kravstov. If any of them can step into a role on the team and play as well as Braden Schneider has, it bodes well for the future.
The best news for the Rangers and their fans is that they are built for the future and they have an outstanding coaching staff and a front office that has shown a solid grasp on what it takes to build a playoff contender. Now, Chris Drury and company has to prove that they know what it takes to keep them there.