Rangers return to the playoffs after big changes since last time they were in

Rangers locker room in Toronto (NHLI/NYR)

After the National Hockey League took a pause due to COVID-19, live hockey has officially returned to television screens across the world. This year, New York Rangers fans have an especially exciting reason to tune into the playoffs.

After several seasons of rebuilding, the Blueshirts are making their first playoffs run since 2016-17. And while some things never change, others look decidedly different than they did the last time the Rangers took the ice to participate in the games.

Since it’s been a while since we’ve seen Rangers playoff hockey, we found some similarities and differences between the last time the Blueshirts made a playoff run and this season. 

2019-2020 Rangers Playoff Team

One glance at the rosters from these two seasons and it’s obvious that a lot of players have moved around. With several exceptions, the team has been entirely rebuilt, including some of the star players that the ‘16-17 team could largely attribute their success to. However, the 2019-20 team has quite a bit to brag about itself, as the NYR have some coveted players on its roster .

It starts with Hart Trophy nominee Artemi Panarin and moves to dynamic rookie, Adam Fox. Then moves on to 2019’s #2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko, and ends with Igor Shesterkin. The Russian net-minder made the leap this season from the Hartford Wolf Pack to the New York Rangers with ease.

Artemi Panarin (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

Artemi Panarin has tallied the most points for NYR this season and leads the team with 95 (32 G, 63 A). Mika Zibanejad is not far behind with 75 points; he leads the team in goals (41, 34 assists). Finally, Ryan Strome rounds out the New York Rangers’ top three with a total of 59 points (18 G, 41 assists). It’s also worthy of note that Chris Kreider has the third most goals scored (24 G, 21 A). These numbers are high, and they’re not even from a complete season of play. 

2016-17 Rangers playoff team

By contrast, the players who tallied the most points in the ‘16-17 regular season for NYR were Mats Zuccarello (59 points, 15 G, 44 A), J.T. Miller (22 G, 34 A, 56 points total), and Derek Stepan (17 G, 38 A, 55 points). While these star players are overwhelmingly different, they do have one person in common: Kreider was a top scorer in both instances. Kreider tallied the most goals of anyone on the ‘16-17 roster, with 28 G, 25 A, and 53 overall points (putting him just behind Stepan in overall points earned). 

We can’t talk about key players without mentioning goaltending! In ‘16-17, Henrik Lundqvist was routinely the team’s starter during the playoffs, however, this season, that is projected to change, as Shesterkin is believed to be the team’s starting goalie this run. 

Rangers changes in leadership 

Leadership in Rangerstown has seen a tremendous shift, both on the ice and within the coaching staff. 

Since he was named Head Coach of the New York Rangers on May 23, 2018, former Boston University coach David Quinn has become a steadfast figure on the Blueshirts’ bench. Alain Vigneault, who is currently working as the Philadelphia Flyers’ Head Coach, was still working with the Rangers as their Head Coach during their ‘16-17 playoffs run, however. This year marks David Quinn’s first NHL playoffs as Head Coach; it will be interesting to see if/how his coaching style differs from the regular season as Playoffs continue. 

Rangers bench boss, David Quinn – Getty Images

Not only has there been a shift of leadership on the bench with coaches, the 2019-20 Blueshirts still do not have a captain. Ever since Ryan McDonagh was traded in Feb. 2018, the team hasn’t made a decision regarding who will fill the role. Back in ‘16-17, this role was still occupied by former Ranger McDonagh. 

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Comparing Rangers past playoff team’s season

The 2019-20 regular season was anything but, well, regular. The league announced a pause of play on March 12, 2020, abruptly temporarily suspending play for an undecided amount of time. When hockey returned, it was decided that the qualifying teams would go straight to playoffs.

Therefore, when evaluating the records for these two seasons, it’s essential to remember that the 2019-20 season is forever incomplete, so the number of games won’t quite match. This year, the Rangers’ record was 37-28-5. During the ‘16-’17 season, the team went 48-28-6. 

NYR “First” Round Competition

This season, the New York Rangers will first match up against the Carolina Hurricanes for the qualifying round. Carolina is currently ranked 4th in the Metropolitan Division, while the Rangers are ranked 7th. But don’t panic yet! The four times the teams played this regular season, the Rangers won every time. 

In the ‘16-17 playoffs, the first team the Rangers faced off against was the Montreal Canadiens. The Blueshirts beat the Habs and won the round 4-2; they advanced to take on the Ottawa Senators, and ultimately ended their playoff run when they fell to the Senators. 

Not your normal NHL Playoffs

2020 has proven to be an unusual year, and as a result, the playoffs will be unusual, too. There will be no fans in the stands, and the playoffs aren’t taking place in the teams’ home cities or arenas. Rather, they will occur in two hub cities – Edmonton and Toronto, Canada. The timing of the games is also different this year, as the playoffs are taking place in August, not April. 

While there are a variety of differences between the 2016-17 and 2019-20 teams and seasons, one overarching thing remains in common: a desire to raise the Cup. Maybe this will be the year that the Rangers will get it done and bring it home to New York. 

This year has been full of surprises, so never say never.

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