The Rangers won their first two games of the season then lost their next five. They beat the talented Sabres and then looked like they didn’t belong in the same league as the Bruins. They upset the Lightning and Predators and then were embarrassed at home by the league-worst Senators. The Rangers have at times looked like a team capable of playing meaningful games in the early spring with the possibility of sneaking into the playoffs and at other times have looked like a team in the early stages of a rebuild and years away from contending.
So is life as a rebuilding team, which the Rangers are. Miraculously moving up in the draft to second and signing the offseason’s most-coveted free agent didn’t change the fact the Rangers aren’t expected to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years this season, and most likely won’t be back in the postseason next season either. The Rangers might have been able to skip the earliest phases of a rebuild by drafting Kaapo Kakko, signing Artemi Panarin and trading Jacob Trouba, while having three starting NHL goalies on the roster, and one of the better two-way centers in the league in Mika Zibanejad, but it’s still early in the rebuild. The Rangers were able to advance to GO without having to run through a gauntlet of hotels along the way because of some luck, good fortune and crafty trades, but they still have a long way before they can be taken seriously.
Aside from watching the fourth line scramble to clear the zone and prevent high-quality scoring chances in their limited ice time, this Rangers season has been enjoyable and I expect it to remain that way. Sure, I could do without the emotional and disciplinary meltdowns like the one against the Senators earlier this week in what was as winnable a game as they get though those kind of games are going to happen given the Rangers’ inexperienced roster, which is the second-youngest in the league when Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal are playing, and the youngest when they’re not.
The wins and losses ultimately don’t matter this season. Right now, they do because the Rangers are still months away from the expected separation from a wild-card berth and technically have a goal of playoff hockey, however in the big picture, they don’t. Experience and development is all that matters for this team. There will be impressive feel-good wins over contenders like those over Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Nashville, and subsequents depressing letdowns against the league’s lesser teams like those to New Jersey and Ottawa, but the main goal is experience and development.
The one constant needs to be effort. After a month of hockey, David Quinn has mentioned on more than one occasion about needing to deliver a message to his team, as has Lundqvist who spoke about the team’s performance not being close to good enough during their five-game losing streak. Without the veteran leadership the team once possessed during their true contending seasons from 2011-2015, it’s understandable the second-youngest (and at times youngest) team in the league will get away from what makes them dangerous like they were over the weekend and makes them vulnerable in all three zones and extremely beatable.
The first month of the season has been a rollercoaster ride of performance of production with mixed results, and it’s been exactly what’s to be expected of a rebuild. The Rangers are headed in the right direction even if it seems like it might take forever to get there.