The Stanley Cup Final showed the Rangers are closer

New York Rangers v Florida Panthers - Game Six
New York Rangers v Florida Panthers - Game Six / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

It has been almost four weeks since the New York Rangers' season ended in devastating fashion, and now that the dust has settled, the Blueshirts have many questions to answer this upcoming offseason. New York made its first major move a few weeks ago, re-signing Kaapo Kakko to a one-year, $2.4 million qualifying offer.

Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers, who defeated the Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference Final, defetaed the Edmonton Oilers to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. After Paul Maurice's team is lost in the championship last season, they were able to redeem themselves.

Does it provide any satsifaction knowing New York lost to the Stanley Cup Champions? No, absolutely not. In fact, it provides questions into how the Rangers can reach the level that the Panthers have been playing at for two years now, resulting in two straight Stanley Cup FInals appearances.

The Rangers are closer than people think

This is the most controversial takeaway by far, but the New York Rangers are closer to the Stanley Cup than people think.

If you want any proof, look at how the past few Presidents’ trophy winners have done after losing in the playoffs
Washington Capitals: Won Presidents’ Trophy in 2017, won the Stanley Cup in 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning: Won Presidents’ Trophy in 2019, won the Stanley Cup in 2020, 2021
Florida Panthers: Won Presidents’ Trophy in 2022, made the Stanley Cup in 2023, won the Stanley Cup in 2024

The Rangers have an opportunity to follow these teams, who after winning the Presidents’ Trophy, came up short. But, all these teams reassessed themselves in the offseason and came back as a cup contender, and won it all shortly after.

This is the case for New York. Chris Drury has a chance to revamp the Blueshirts to get them ready for another playoff run in the 2024-2025 season. It’s cup or bust for New York, and there needs to be pieces put in place so New York can finally lift Lord Stanley.

So, what does New York need to address?

It starts with the right winger to pair with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. There have been 18 players to slot in at that spot since New York traded Pavel Buchnevich to St. Louis in summer 2021, and since, the line has struggled at even strength, especially recently.

The Rangers have a lot of options they can possibly pursue at right wing, including possible "big fishes" in Jake Guentzel, Brady Tkachuk and Trevor Zegras. Or, there are potential returns for Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko, both of whom are free agents this upcoming summer.

New York cleared up cap space by waiving Barclay Goordow - who was claimed by the San Jose Sharks - and have a lot more room to work with. The Rangers might be one piece away and now there is more flexibikity for them to get a meaningful contributor, or even a superstar.

Look at the Florida Panthers, who were a good hockey team, but one deal put them over the top — that was acquiring Matthew Tkachuk in the 2022 offseason. Since then, Florida has made the Stanley Cup twice and won their first championship in franchise history. A move like this can put the Rangers a level higher.

This might mean moving Kaapo Kakko, who is entering his sixth season in the league and has not lived up to the potential many thought he could reach. All cards are on the table - the Rangers have an aging core and only a few more seasons left, and Chris Drury needs to go all in.

There's more questions New York needs to answer, including whether captain Jacob Trouba will be around and how to bolster the bottom six to match a team like Florida. What's clear is this - the Rangers are closer than most teams in contending the Stanley Cup, and last year showed that.

Does it mean they can win it all? Who knows. But, it starts with making right decisions and meaningful moves this offseason in order to reach the mountaintop.