For the New York Rangers, the 2010’s were a decade of success that strongly echoed another era in franchise history where the Blueshirts famously “did everything but win”: the 1970’s. Today, the players who were cornerstones of those Ranger teams – Giacomin, Gilbert, Park, Ratelle, Hadfield – are worshipped by the Garden faithful, even though they failed to bring home the ultimate prize. The 2010’s gave rise to another generation of great Ranger teams, and gave fans some truly unforgettable (and at times, quite painful) experiences.
Over the course of two parts, we’ll rank the last ten seasons of Rangers hockey, from 2009-10 through 2018-19. During that ten year period, the Rangers earned a playoff berth seven times, won nine playoff series, advanced as far as the Eastern Conference Final twice and appeared in one Stanley Cup Final.
The decade got off to a rocky start, with the Rangers missing the playoffs by a single, excruciating point. This, of course, was the famous Olli Jokinen shootout incident in which John Tortorella left Marian Gaborik on the bench with the season on the line and the Rangers down to their final shooter in Philadelphia. Some perspective: the Rangers were a team in transition that season, with holdovers from the Tom Renney era still on the roster including Michal Rozsival, Wade Redden and Chris Drury. It was Torts’ first full season in charge. Still, the ignominious end to this dull campaign makes it deserving of its ranking at the bottom of the list.
The doomed signing of Kevin Shattenkirk. The letter. The sell-off. The absurd post-season Alain Vigneault press conference. The first year without post-season hockey since 2009-10, after seven straight tournament appearances. The disconnect between Vigneault and the front office was evident from the second game of the season, with the Ranger coach opting to split up the presumed top pair of Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh after they played just four periods together. The season was a nightmare from that moment forward, and if not for a fluky Halloween night victory over the Vegas Golden Knights, AV probably would’ve met his fate 6 months earlier than he did. The Rangers knew they needed a reset, and they hit that button hard in early 2018, setting the stage for the first full-scale rebuild in a generation.
At first glance, it seems silly to rank this season so low. The Rangers finished with 101 points and made the playoffs for a 6th straight year. But if you watched this team closely and looked at its underlying numbers, it was clearly a flawed (and aging) team that spent most games chasing the puck around their own end. They were rightfully destroyed by the eventual Stanley Cup Champions in the first round of the playoffs. As a follow-up to the stellar 2014-15 campaign, this was a deeply disappointing season that raised legitimate questions about if the Rangers could still be seen as contenders.
A new era of Rangers hockey began with David Quinn taking over for the departed Alain Vigneault. The roster was a patchwork quilt comprised of young players, AV-era holdovers and a few spare parts like Adam McQuaid. The results were what you’d expect of a rebuilding team, though there were some fun moments, like Neal Pionk’s coast-to-coast goal vs. Montreal. However, the most important stuff that happened in 2019 actually took place during the offseason: John Davidson assumed the role of team President and the Rangers drafted a potential cornerstone player in Kaapo Kakko at #2 overall.
John Tortorella’s second year in charge yielded steady improvement and a return to the playoffs, thanks to a furious late-season push. The Rangers went 11-4-1 over the final 16 games of the season and clinched a berth in game 82, after beating the Devils in the afternoon and getting help from the Lightning later that evening. Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh had strong rookie campaigns (Stepan played a full 82 games, McDonagh was a mid-season call-up) and players like Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust and Michael Sauer all established themselves as potential key figures of the “Black and Blueshirts” era.