The New York Rangers are in a weird spot right now as we reach just about the half-way point of the NHL regular season. The Blueshirts are firmly out of the playoff picture - the Islanders are a nice 5 points ahead of us for the outside-looking-in (they have 46 points and we have 41) spot in the Wild Card standings, with Montreal and Buffalo having 47 and 48 points respectively as the seventh and eighth teams in the Eastern Conference postseason bracket. Recognition of this fact is essential to clarifying what the team’s priorities should be: focusing on development is crucial, as others have noted, but so is now getting the highest draft pick we can. I have some bad news. We’re going to have to get a lot worse.
It’s no secret that the Rangers are more than kind of disappointing of late, which is fine in the big picture as long as certain things are taking place simultaneously (kids getting big minutes, Gorton working the phones, etc.), but still not quite enough. It’s a point that’s almost trite to make, but we need elite talent for the long-term project of rebuilding and winning a Stanley Cup at the end of the journey. There’s a lot of nuance to be recognized in that whole idea zone, but that’s for another day. What we need is an X-factor, a bona fide league-beating talent. For the past decade-plus that’s been Henrik Lundqvist, a sure-shot Hall of Famer and a candidate for top-three Rangers ever. Defining his legacy will its own can of worms, but for now one thing is clear; we need another one of those guys.
There’s an outside chance one of our current prospects turns into The Guy, or that Hank lasts long enough to get us to glory on the final push of his career as guys are just getting into their primes, but the simplest way to find that talent is to win the draft lottery, plain and simple. That’s going to be problematic for the Rangers, because there’s a lot of teams ahead of them, and as bad as the team has been (the Pittsburgh game was especially tough to watch), we need to really plummet in order to even get close to winning the Jack Hughes sweepstakes. Outside of some legendary draft rigging on par with a frozen envelope, we’re in a pickle and need to tank hard from here on out.
As it stands right now, the Colorado Avalanche have the best odds of landing the first overall pick they’d presumably use on the younger of the two Hughes brothers, having acquired Ottawa’s first round pick. The percentage likelihood they land the big one is 18.5%, with a top-three pick for them being almost more likely than not with a likelihood of 49.4%. By contrast, the Rangers are sitting at a 2% chance for the first pick and 6.6% for a shot at the Kappo Kaako consolation prize. Not exactly good enough.
A little bit of analysis when looking at the standings helps tell us how bad, more or less, the Rangers would have to get to even wiggle into a top-10 pick (we’re slated to go 13th at the moment). Points percentage is going to be elucidating as well - the Rangers sit 14th worst at .526, while the Kings are tied for worst in the league with the Ottawa Senators at .427. There are a substantial amount of teams in between us, so how do we get there?
Well first, we need to identify a major part of the problem, and that’s the amount of loser points we’ve picked up. We’ve played 13 overtime or shootout contests thus far and picked up one point for ultimately dropping the game in 7 of them. If each of those were a straight up loss, we’d be be tied with Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Ottawa in the standings with 35 instead of 41 points. Those three teams, right now, are set to go 1st (but actually it’ll be Colorado), 2nd, and 5th next draft. I mean, come on guys, let’s lose when we lose.
The good news is that we’re playing legitimately bad hockey right now, and could totally go on a decently-sized losing streak to drop a bundle of points in the standings. Our points percentage is going to be tricky though, because if we remain where we are and the two worst teams do as well we’re picking up 21 points from here on out and LA and Ottawa will only net 17. Every little bit counts, and it would behoove the Rangers to get that bad but even if we did exactly as poorly as the Kings/Senators are doing right now percentage-wise we’d only manage to be six points out rather than seven. We’re still very much on the outside looking in.
How do we get that bad then, at least numerically? Well, crunching the numbers a little bit if the Rangers want to close the gap they’re going to need to drop a full 6 points to get all the way to the bottom of the standings, and that’s assuming the Kings/Sens stay exactly where they are now (they might get better, but other teams might get worse, so it’s tricky to really predict, which is why I’m sticking with this cross-conference barometer). That’ll mean getting down to about 52 points as well for the Blueshirts, a feat which can be accomplished with what will be a miserable-to-experience 11-points-over-41-games second half. That’ll mean a .268 win percentage. That’ll mean a lot of pain and suffering on the part of the fans, and a brutally demoralizing locker room situation. It’s also basically impossible - just for comparison’s sake, the Buffalo Sabres last year pulled a .378 PTS%, while the Oilers hit the low of .378 the year they got the McDavid pick (only actually third-worst that season, ahead of Arizona and then Buffalo), and Toronto was at .421 their 1OA year. Granted, these are all over an 82-game stretch as opposed to 41 games, a markedly-smaller-but-still-large sample size, but the point remains that we’d need to get historically bad in order to get the highest odds for an all-world player in this year’s draft.
So how do we get there? Well, smart minds than I could harvest the numbers on how many points we pick up in games with Hank as opposed to Georgiev and the rate of starts the latter netminder would have to get to help us tank it up, but suffice to say not only would we need to basically give Hank a large swath of the next 41 games off, but that his understudy would have to also lose a ton of them. We could also trade off almost every good player we have, but if you do that too much you have only futures and no veteran players to help round out your core as the little guys age. There’s also just giving the kids tons and tons of minutes, but putting them in positions to succeed requires also playing good players, who are going to tilt the scales towards winning in a way you don’t want to (an all-kid line would leave one line just totally stacked with in-their-prime guys, and spreading the wealth means you’ve basically always got Kreider, Hayes, Zibanejad, or Zucc on the ice). All that aside, it would also just be so incredibly heartbreaking to watch the team we all love win an unprecedented just-over-a-quarter of their remaining games.
In other words, folks, it’s bad where we’re at now on the ice, it’s bad where we’re headed as far as our next draft pick, and if we want any of this to improve we’re paradoxically going to need to get so much worse. It’s tough watching your team lose, but it’s also tough watching your team be at the middle of the pack year after year with no hopes of contention. I have a lot of thoughts that I’ve written on before and will likely revisit regarding the inherent tension and cognitive dissonance of a rebuild from a fan perspective, but I thought that regardless of your feelings it’d be good to spread some cheer to kick off the year 2019. Here’s to well, something!