Over the last few weeks, I’ve been piggybacking off Elliotte Friedman and our own Brandon Cohen. This is a weekly thought post on Wednesdays going into detail about how the last week has played out. I’d usually do these ad-hoc, but I like the idea of a mid-week thoughts post. This week, let’s talk about stress free Rangers hockey, and how it’s been refreshing, but it’s time for it to end.
1. This may be premature, given the Islanders’ current freefall, but I still don’t think the Rangers are making the playoffs. As it stands today, the Rangers are five points back but the Isles have a game in hand. The next two games are against the Isles, so that could certainly make things interesting. The best case scenario is the Rangers take all four points in regulation. That would put them one back. But again, the Isles have a game in hand. The Isles also have four games against Buffalo and New Jersey immediately following their set with the Rangers. Even if the Rangers win out, they’d need to make up three points in four games with the Isles closing out with that schedule. I’m just playing the numbers here.
2. But again, there is a lot of positivity about this season, even if the Rangers miss the playoffs. From a full team perspective, they stayed relevant through game 50 of 56, and possibly beyond. They did this with all the drama they went through. All the COVID complications up and down the lineup and coaching staff. And in the toughest division in hockey. The Rangers are a playoff team in any of the other three divisions. They are likely a playoff team in a normal season too. Remember that they are only playing 56 games, not 82. You never know what those 26 missing games mean in a normal year. This is a critical aspect that I think is being overlooked. This wasn’t a real season, with 82 games, proper divisions, and proper playoff scenarios. Yet it’s going to be May and the Rangers are relevant.
3. This is why I have been enjoying the stress free Rangers hockey this year with very few complaints from me (not others, just me). My complaints are systemic based (giving up the blue line, 4 righties on PP1), and the rest works itself out. No stress. No drama. Just hockey. It’s been great to watch and smile and enjoy the growing pains. But all that ends next season. This is a team that, in a real season, likely makes noise through the last game of the season. Maybe beyond. But next season, every game matters. Every single point they toss away will matter. It’s when the Rangers transition from rebuilding team to competing team.
*This does assume Jeff Gorton doesn’t do something astronomically stupid this offseason.
4. I truly believe many of the complains directed at David Quinn are skewed because of the shortened season. Would people be complaining about ice time if there were a training camp and the Rangers had 32 games remaining? Maybe. But I’d bet money they aren’t as loud. There are real concerns about systems and in-game deployments. But are people calling for his head if this wasn’t a weird season? This again goes to the stress free hockey thing for me. I see Quinn has the flaws, but I’m not sweating it yet. He will be back next season, and that will be the true hot seat season for him. If he wins, then we look back and laugh. If not, then I’d expect an in-season replacement.
5. Another thing about this stress free hockey. We’ve been enjoying it for three seasons now. To think the Rangers are where they are after just three years. It’s impressive. They got lucky of course, but every team gets lucky. Every team gets unlucky. That’s just how it goes. I don’t think any of us expected the turn to contention to take just three years. Think of how long it took the Penguins, who first drafted top-5 in 2002 to start their run. The Blackhawks truly bottomed out in 2004. The Kings had their first top-5 pick in 2007. Does this mean the Rangers are set for a Cup run? Likely not. But they certainly have that high-end skill and depth that wins championships.
6. What has made stress free hockey so fun has been the development. The Rangers have some seriously talented depth that has been looking like they belong. When you’re watching the kids grow into their own, and you see the improvements year over year, it makes you remember where the Rangers were just three years ago. Dare I say the rebuild, while having its ups and downs, has been overall fun?
7. But enough of the stress free Rangers hockey. I’m ready for the games to truly matter. I don’t mean barely clinging to slim playoff hopes. I mean every game mattering, and the Rangers getting into the playoffs and making some noise. Three years is enough stress free hockey. I’m ready to sweat it out in January, March, April, May, and June.