An Expectation-less Season for the Rangers

New York Rangers

When the Rangers put out the press release prior to last season’s trade deadline it was not only an omission that the front office was finally ready to stop chasing a Cup they couldn’t win, but it was an omission that they wouldn’t be ready to chase one in the next few seasons either.

The Rangers’ most recent window to contend ended in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning three years ago. When the team was embarrassed in five games against the Penguins the following spring, it should have been obvious to the front office that the window was closed and that group of Rangers had missed their chance. But the front office took the loss as an anomaly, a postseason small sample size. And when the Rangers returned to the playoffs the following year and drew a bad Canadiens team, which they were easily able to dispatch, and then a mediocre Senators team, it looked like the decision to continue to go for it would pay off with another trip to the conference finals. But the Rangers couldn’t hold late leads against the Senators and the season ended with a disappointing six-game loss.

Yet again, the front office decided the window was still open, even if it was now painted shut. Completely in denial about the state of the team, the Rangers went for it again last season, and the result was that pre-deadline press release letting fans know they were about to sell off every tradeable asset from soon-to-be free agents to the captain of the team.

The last group of Rangers had their chances to win it all and had the front office not given long-term contracts to the wrong defensemen, they likely would have won it all. But they didn’t and now they are projected to be one of the worst teams in the league in 2018-19 with the idea of picking atop the 2019 draft and building a new core for a new window.

It will be sad to see Henrik Lundqvist give an all-out effort in all of his remaining starts with the franchise knowing that no matter how well he plays, these Rangers aren’t going anywhere and might not be until he’s no longer around. It’s depressing to know that the organization failed him throughout the prime of his career by surrounding him with mediocrity and when they had the chance to give him a solid defense to play behind, they signed the wrong two to big-money deals, which in turn led to this rebuild.

Aside from watching Lundqvist do nothing other than continue to climb up career leaderboards and cement his legacy as the best goalie in the post-lockout NHL, there is actual excitement to watch the beginning of this rebuild and what this young team could become. No one player excites me as much as the long overdue new coach.

David Quinn is a welcome sight behind the bench after Alain Vigneault wore out his welcome, failing to adapt to the modern league and refusing to give playing time to young players and the future of the team. Vigneault had to go as his agenda no longer matched that of the organization, and having a new presence with new ideas and no prior NHL experience for which to lean on are all positives. Quinn has the chance to implement his style and his system into an organization full of fresh faces trying to make names for themselves and trying to prove they belong in the NHL. As long as he isn’t sitting real pieces for fourth-line grinders, there’s really nothing he can do this season to be disliked.

I don’t expect the Rangers to do anything other than lose, and lose a lot. Unfortunately, it’s in their best interest to lose and increase their chances at landing Jack Hughes with the first overall pick in the draft. Any win, which will feel good at the time, will only be detrimental to the team’s future. Even if the Rangers wildly exceeded expectations and proved every projection wrong by reaching the postseason, it would be as a low seed, and an early playoff exit would do much more harm than it would good to the future of the team.

The Rangers are far from being a contender the way they were three and four seasons ago. It’s going to be a long road back to regaining that status, but it had to start sometime. The organization failed to start it two years ago, so it’s starting now. This time it needs be worth it.