The hype is real with the Rangers this year, so much so that Vegas has their odds significantly higher than expected. Some books have the Rangers finishing around 85 points, a 7 point increase from last season’s 78 points.
It’s hard not to be excited about this team. They’ve added Jacob Trouba, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, and Kaapo Kakko to the starting lineup. They’ve removed Neal Pionk, a negative impact on the roster, and nothing else thus far. Just on those four additions and one subtraction, the Rangers are already an improved club. But the question is – are they improved enough to make the playoffs?
Before we evaluate the Rangers, let’s take a look at the state of the Metro Division. The Capitals and Penguins are aging, but still probably talented enough to finish in the top-three. Carolina is probably finishing in the top-three as well, that team is scaring me. Philly won’t make the playoffs, and the Devils, even with Jack Hughes and PK Subban, just don’t appear deep enough. That leaves the Isles and their sustainability/goaltending questions, and the Blue Jackets and if they can win without Panarin/Sergei Bobrovsky.
Right off the bat, the question is whether the Rangers can beat out two of the Caps, Penguiins, Canes, and Jackets to finish in the top-three. If they can, then they are in. If they can’t, then they need to beat out at least one and then one of the Atlantic’s four-headed hydra of Montreal, Boston, Tampa, and Toronto. That’s a tall order, especially for a team projected to be at 85 points.
The other thing to consider is that the 85 points assumes a lot for the kids:
- Kakko will not have any transition issues from Day One.
- Filip Chytil solidifies himself as the 2C this season.
- Lias Andersson and Brett Howden take huge steps forward.
- Pavel Buchnevich continues to improve.
- Jacob Trouba doesn’t falter in the new system, which is always a concern.
- Adam Fox is ready for the big time.
And that’s just the kids, we also need to assume a bunch about the veterans on the roster and how they are deployed:
- Chris Kreider will still be with the roster.
- Marc Staal plays limited minutes or not at all.
- Kevin Shattenkirk is mobile again, and his knee issues aren’t a problem anymore.
- Henrik Lundqvist has been struggling due to poor play in front of him, and not because of age.
- Lindy Ruff.
Those are a lot of assumptions, and that’s just for the Rangers to hit that 85 point threshold. Last year’s bottom wild card team was Columbus, and they had 98 points. That’s still a 13 point difference. Even if every single bullet point above is met, the Rangers need to get from that 85 point bar to 98 points, 100 to be safe.
So even with everything above, the Rangers need to see an improvement of at least 20 points to even sniff the wild card. I don’t mean to be the Debbie Downer here, but I don’t think they are 20 points improved yet. There are too many unknowns about this roster.
That said, a lot of the success of this team will be on David Quinn and how he deploys two positions: center and left defense. Those are the two weakest positions on the Rangers today, but the right deployment, getting the most out of the roster, goes a long way to squeaking out those points."Can the Rangers realistically contend this season?",