Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.
Three questions to ponder for the New York Rangers during the 2018-19 season.
[Rangers Day: Looking back | Breakthrough | Under Pressure]
1. Does Henrik Lundqvist have a miracle in him?
Because that is probably what it will take for the Rangers to get back to the playoffs.
This is not a particularly strong roster — at least on paper — and is lacking in established, impact players all over the lineup. It’s not a terrible roster, it’s not a worst team in the league kind of roster, but it’s also probably not one that is strong enough to make up enough ground in the playoff race, especially in a division as strong as the Metropolitan Division.
If you’re a Rangers fan holding out hope for the playoffs, the biggest hope is that Lundqvist, in his age 36 season, can put the team on his back one more time and carry it to a level beyond any reasonable expectation. He has done it before, but it is probably asking quite a bit for him to do it again, especially as he has started to show some signs of slowing down over the past two years where his save percentage has dipped to .912 overall. Just for comparisons sake, his save percentage was .920 or better for eight consecutive seasons prior to the past two.
Even though it has not resulted in a championship, Lundqvist has been the face of the Rangers franchise for his entire career and its most important player. He has consistently given the team everything he has had and been one of the best players in the world. If the Rangers are going to make another run with him before his career runs out he is going to have to put together a herculean effort to make it happen.
2. What kind of coach will David Quinn be?
Alain Vigneault has had his share of success in the NHL, including with the New York Rangers.
But it became clear last season that it was time for a new voice and a new direction, especially as the team embarks on a rebuild of the roster. It is now a team that should be focusing on development and youth, something that probably was not going to happen in another season under Vigneault, a coach whose preference seems to be more with experienced and veteran players.
Replacing him will be first-year NHL coach David Quinn as he becomes the latest to make the jump from the NCAA ranks to the NHL (he will be joined this season by Jim Montgomery who is going from University of Denver to the Dallas Stars).
He is one of just five coaches to ever go from the NCAA to their first job in the NHL, a list that includes Montgomery, Dave Hakstol, Bob Johnson, and Ned Harkness.
Quinn comes highly regarded, especially when it comes to working with younger players, but as a rookie coach with no NHL coaching experience there is a lot of mystery as to what type of coach he will be.
With a roster that could have its share of younger talent his reputation as a talent developer will be put to the test.
That leads us to the third question facing the Rangers this season.
[Related: Rangers could once again be active in trade market]
3. Which young players will take a big step forward?
From a big picture outlook, the success or failure of this Rangers’ season probably shouldn’t be measured by how many games the team wins or loses.
They are probably not going to be contenders for anything. They are probably going to be a bad team. They are probably going to miss the playoffs and trade more established players before the season ends.
The important thing to watch for this season is whether or not any young players take a big step forward and establish themselves as long-term building blocks.
Even though this is a “rebuilding” team there is still a pretty significant veteran presence here, especially on the blue line and in net. But after all of the draft picks they have had in recent years, and all of the trades they made last year, there is also a pretty big collection of young players that could also get an opportunity, from the young players they acquired in the Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trades (Brett Howden, Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek), to their recent first-round draft picks (Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson), to still developing NHLers like Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei, and Neal Pionk.
A couple of them taking a big step forward in their development would be a nice positive for what is almost certain to be another year outside of the playoffs.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.