Ever since the NHL trade deadline, the Rangers have actually been doing pretty well. They broke out of their seven game losing streak and have won three straight games, defeating the Canucks, Flames, and Oilers all in the last week.
This has lead to some hope among fans for a potential playoff push, with Larry Brooks even mentioning that the Rangers are closing in on a playoff spot with their recent run. Their 66 points put them ahead of the New York Islanders and only three back from the Carolina Hurricanes, who occupy the final wildcard spot. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers (along with the Hurricanes) have more points in the Eastern Conference playoff race with 71 and 70 points respectively.
But even without going too much into how hard it’d be for the Rangers to actually make up the ground and reach the postseason, it’s unlikely the Rangers will even be able to sustain this level of play. The wins are nice, but in two of the games they surrendered over 50 shots on goal. Without stellar goaltending coming from Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev, the Rangers wouldn’t have had a chance. There are definitely some promising aspects to their recent winning streak, but it’s not indicative of their true skill — as this is still a club that is not a playoff team, even less so than before the deadline.
Anyway, the Rangers shouldn’t be looking to make the playoffs or even be actively trying to win games. This recent run shouldn’t be changing anyone’s mind — the Rangers are rebuilding and will continue to rebuild. That’s the plan and they’ve already committed to it. J.T. Miller’s gone. Ryan McDonagh’s gone. Nash and Grabner were traded as rentals to actual playoff-bound teams as well. Loads of draft picks were brought in to give the team more assets for the future.
It’s nice to see the Rangers playing well, but the main focus is and will still be player development and future success and not the playoffs this season. If anything, making the playoffs can just skew expectations and shift the Rangers priorities. For example, a lot of people want head coach Alain Vigneault to be fired; if the Rangers somehow make the playoffs, the Rangers front office may be inclined to keep him around. A lot of people would be severely unhappy if AV found a way to keep his job and making the playoffs might bring just that.
Not to mention, the worst thing the Rangers could do is not fully commit to the rebuild. To get the sort of high-end players the Rangers have always been lacking, they need to fall down the standings and draft high, focusing on collecting difference-making prospects that will help in the future. If they don’t commit, they risk falling into the middle, where no team wants to be — not strong enough to do damage in the playoffs (or sometimes, even make the playoffs), while finishing too well to earn a high overall pick that would allow them to select one of those high-end difference makers.
There’s no doubt about it, it’s fun watching the Rangers do well. But don’t let that take anything away from the current plans and make you think that the Rangers aren't still rebuilding.