Rangers Reality Check: pouring some cold water on next season’s expectations

Anthony Causi

Ah the joys of the offseason. Speculation, hope, and eventually disappointment will follow us up to the beginning of training camp. Will the Rangers get a top free agent? Will they trade any of their picks? I personally think they’ll stay put with their three first round picks, as I said in my last article. Aside from patting myself on the back, we should focus on the important issue of how subpar the Rangers will most likely be next season.

The Metro

New Jersey, Washington, Columbus, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh all made the playoffs this season and none of them are showing signs of slowing down this offseason. The likelihood of the Rangers some how lucking into the playoffs or holding themselves up in one of the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division seems very slim. It seems to be uncharted territory as of late for Rangers fans.

We as a fan base have always had some sort of hope going into the post-season. Either as a top favorite or as a popular underdog, the playoffs have somehow became a common place and practically a given in this franchise. Even though the Rangers started off with the extremely poor record of 3-7-2 in the month of October they followed with a strong November. A 9-2-0 stint electrified the Blueshirts into a run that covered up all the problems the coaching staff and team had.

Eventually the band-aids and glue came undone and the front office had to face facts and come clean that they will be selling off key pieces during the deadline. Now a good chunk of players are gone for this season, i.e Nash, Grabner, Mac, Miller and Holden. There is also a log jam of RFAs that need to be resigned such as Hayes, Namestnikov, Skjei, Vesey, O’Gara, Spooner, Nieves and Gilmour. Depending on how the Rangers want to proceed, next seasons roster can look very different.

Cap Space Issues?

Namestnikov (AP / Darryl Dyck)

As of today the Ranges are looking at $25 million in cap space for this upcoming season. All well and good? Maybe make a run at a top free agent? Well you’d be wrong to think that at first glance. With only 7 forwards, 5 defensemen and 1 goaltender locked up for next year on the active roster there’s a few options the Rangers could look at. The obvious one being to re-sign a good chunk of your RFAs.

Though I doubt every single RFA is signed (most likely Vlad is the odd man out and we pray that O’Gara isn’t coming back), it’ll still cost the Rangers a good chunk of their cap to re-sign all of these players for the next year. I’m not going to begin to speculate how much I think each player is worth or if we would trade anyone to free up some more cap space so for a nice little assumption let’s just say $11 million to sign everyone but Namestnikov and O’Gara. Criticize me all you want but this is a quick assumption and I can assure you I thought about it for a max of 2 minutes.

That leaves $14 million in cap space for this coming season. A good chunk of that money COULD go to a free agent or a few free agents but because the Rangers “lack size and physicality”, some of that needs to go to free agents that can protect the young players such as Chytil and Andersson. That’s another $2.5 million of your cap gone, assuming 2 or 3 guys get signed.

Now since the Rangers are rebuilding, a good chunk of money will most likely be saved for extensions (Skjei) or thinking for the future resigns in the coming years. So all that cap space is gone for the potential big ticket free agents, therefore that pure, proven talent is unattainable. The Rangers probably won’t bolster their scoring or shore up their defense through free agency and before you say it don’t even think about John Carlson.

Hank Showing His Age

It’s no secret, Henrik Lundqvist is getting old. Old Man Hank is starting to show us that he’s losing a step or two even though he’s still stealing games away with his stellar performances. As one of my fellow writers will speculate in detail, the future is unknown, and the only way to predict his next season is off other goalies’ statistics and play at this point in their careers.

As for now, King Henrik is the biggest question mark going into next season. He did tell us that he wants to be a Ranger and there’s no where else he’d rather be. As a fan, I love that kind of loyalty and heart from a player, but also a fan I’m scared he might be past his expiration date.

Last season we saw Hank be pulled more than we’d like to see, especially down the stretch with a poor team in front of him. Now with a younger team and possibly new pieces to coming in soon, his level of play will be key to the Rangers initial success. If he can’t steal away games to build an early season momentum, this next year will be a long and painful one.

Quinn’s Growing Pains

Quinn (SPORTSNEWS)

One good thing to come from this dreadful season was the firing and Alain Vigneault. AV’s system was outdated and catered to veteran players that knew their way around the league and other teams. His powerplay was atrocious and his “blame game” mentality didn’t sit well with the players.

Punishing the future stars of the Rangers for rookie mistakes was not the way to approach their development. Doubt within the younger players and increased workload for the veterans eventually mixed into a recipe for destruction and that didn’t sit well with the front office. After the season was over AV was kicked out of his position.

Now we waited for that new glorious savior to walk through the door, and though it took long we eventually ended up with David Quinn. The now former coach of the Boston University Terriers looks to give the Rangers a quick rebound next season with his aggressive play style. Preaching a style of play based on puck possession and aggressive forechecking, Quinn looks to revamp and energize this deflating and patched up team.

Since the Rangers core was based through speed, smart/quick passing and solid defense work, trades and other free agent acquisitions will overhaul what’s left of the limping Rangers. Now not all teams can be like the Vegas Golden Knights and automatically have chemistry, a killer powerplay and a shut down penalty kill. Quinn will have to get through the initial lumps and growing pains of becoming a new head coach in the NHL. He will also have a chunk of new players that most likely never played with anyone on this team before, but as a college coach, he’s used to having a new set of players each year.

Transitioning from College to the NHL will be a tough task that might take a month or two to get over, or possibly more. Remember Quinn is here to build up the young guys but he also needs to learn how to manage his veterans, especially his veteran goaltender. Though we might see some improvement as time goes on, most likely we’ll see a slow start as the learns this whole new system.

Last Licks

Now it’s time to bring it all home. With the cap space being used for their RFAs, Hank staying put and overextending his abilities, and the new format with a coach that only had some assisting experience many years ago, the Rangers and their fans should brace for a delayed start out of the gate. Especially with all the talent within their own division, the Rangers might not be able to afford to shoot blanks in this highly competitive season.

Though I hope for the best and really want the Rangers to just have everything working like a well oiled machine, the obvious answer would be a subpar season riddled with mistakes, a non consistent lineup and defensive blunders. Frustrated fans and players will just have to remember that greener pastures are ahead and that this is a rebuild, not a retool as some people want you to believe (Looking at you Jeff). But hey, crazier things have happened and maybe this new team will surprise us with a trip to the postseason.