For the last decade or so, the New York Rangers have been one of the most consistent teams in the National Hockey League.
With the exception of this season and the 2009-10 season, the Blueshirts have made the postseason each year. In that time span, the Rangers have managed to get to the Eastern Conference Finals three times (2012, 2014, and 2015), the Stanley Cup Final once (2014), and be the best team in the entire league (2015).
This season, however, was awful. There was a lot of inconsistency, confusion, and poor play at the wrong times, which led to the club missing the dance for the first time in eight years.
With all of that said, however, the Rangers are headed in the right direction, believe it or not. For starters, they fired their head coach Alain Vigneault.
While there is no doubt that Vigneault had a lot of success on Broadway, his message had grown stale and some of his lineups did not add up to produce a winning product on the ice. Every coach in the NHL has a shelf life and for Vigneault, his time was up.
Secondly, the team’s new core looks to be one that can help turn things around in a relatively quick manner. Guys like Mika Zibanejad (27 goals and 20 assists for 47 points), Mats Zuccarello (16 goals and 37 assists for 53 points), Kevin Hayes (25 goals and 19 assists for 44 points), Pavel Buchnevich (14 goals and 29 assists for 43 points), Chris Kreider (16 goals and 21 assists for 37 points) all had solid seasons when healthy or in the lineup this year.
It should also be noted that this team actually got younger and faster. With guys like Ryan Spooner, Neal Pionk, Vladislav Namestnikov, Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson on the roster, they should all be regulars come next season and make the team a bit more skillful and faster.
One should also remember that this team still has Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes. He may be getting older and not have much time left playing the game, but there is no doubt that he can still be a solid and consistent goaltender for this hockey club.
Lundqvist was the team’s most valuable player last season. He was an All-Star, kept his teams in a lot of games and despite facing a ton of shots this season because of a young and mistake-prone defense, still managed to stop over 91 percent of the shots he faced.
He is the right man to at least start this rebuild. While he may demand a lot from the team in front of him and expect a lot of himself game in and game out, it is exactly the kind of attitude this new Rangers team will need going forward.
Speaking of rebuild, the club went out and hired from Boston University head coach David Quinn. I think that this is an excellent hire for the Blueshirts. For starters, the hiring of Quinn symbolizes that the team will be going with youth this season.
Quinn is someone who wants to make this team exciting again and one that plays with a lot of speed and also has a lot of youth in the lineup. With a roster that has the likes of Kreider, Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, Namestnikov, Chytil, and Andersson, Quinn will empower these guys to play their game.
Quinn will also allow his players to make mistakes. Instead of punishing youngsters for making mistakes like AV did, he will acknowledge that players make mistakes and that they will ultimately learn from them by playing more.
Quinn could also end up being instrumental to the team’s young defensive corps. Without the likes of Dan Girardi or Ryan McDonagh, this team’s blue line is extremely young and like they showed after the trade deadline, going to be under siege along with netminder Henrik Lundqvist.
Luckily for the Rangers, Quinn is a coach who knows to develop young players. He not only did this with Boston University, but he also did it with the US National Team Development Program.
Lastly, team general manager Jeff Gorton was realistic about his hockey club. He knew, probably from the get-go, that this team did not have what it takes to win the Cup or have success in the playoffs were they able to actually get in.
By recognizing this, he was able to move out veterans and some younger talented players such as Rick Nash, Nick Holden, J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh in order to acquire draft picks and younger and talented players and prospects. While it was not easy to see some of these guys go, especially McDonagh, Gorton did what he had to do to start the rebuilding process.
While Ranger fans are known to be extremely impatient, the time is now for them to adjust their thinking and realize that they will need to patient with this rebuild. It is going to take a bit of time, hopefully not too long, to get back to being a contender again.
In the end, however, this much-needed rebuild is going to be beneficial for this hockey club and as a result, they can become a threat in the East and the entire NHL sooner rather than later.
Photo: ABC New York