The 2019-20 NHL season is officially open, and the New York Rangers team that takes the ice at Madison Square Garden tonight will look drastically different than the squad that exited the building following the 2018-19 Blueshirts Off Our Backs ceremony. The names of interest range from Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox, to Jacob Trouba and Artemiy Panarin. While each slipped a Blueshirts’ sweater over their head during the preseason, there’s nothing like doing it on Opening Night.
This season is another year in the Rangers’ “build,” and there’s a lot that fans want to see, and hope to avoid. With that in mind the Blueshirt Banter team offered their thoughts on a couple of categories related to the Rangers, and two concerned on the rest of the league.
The offseason felt like it would never end, but alas we all made it. Now, we’re ready for another enthralling season of hockey. With this preamble out of the way, let’s just jump into it.
This season will be a success if: The Rangers play a fun, and exciting brand of hockey but lose a lot of games. It’s no secret that the Rangers are in the middle of a rebuild and that part of a rebuild is, well, not being a good team for a little bit. Short term losses for long term gains and all that. However, there’s a difference between being a bad team and being an unwatchable team.
To me, a successful season sees the first line of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich become a force to be reckoned with. Kaapo Kakko establishes himself as the future of the franchise and Vitali Kravtsov shows that he’s comfortable as the #2 option. On the blue line, Jacob Trouba brings some stability to the defense corps while Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo take steps forward in their development. I’ll be over the moon if the Rangers even sniff a playoff spot this season, but I’m not expecting it and low expectations are fun to manage!
This season will be a disappointment if: Things fall apart. A disappointing season, to me, sees Ryan Strome as a long-term 2C option, Brett Howden continues to show that he’s in over his head at the NHL level, and David Quinn refuses to adjust to these scenarios and keeps trying to force things into being. In the end, the biggest disappointment will be if Rangers struggle as a whole and never seem to take a step forward.
Hottest Rangers Taek: Alexandar Georgiev will not finish the season with the Rangers and will be dealt to a playoff team that needs a starting goalie (Carolina or San Jose?). Igor Shesterkin will get the lion’s share of the second half starts for the Blueshirts.
Stanley Cup Final: Tampa Bay Lightning defeat the Colorado Avalanche. The Lightning were the best team in the NHL last season, by far, and ran into some incredibly bad luck in the playoffs. They’ve been banging down this door for a while now and it seems like they’re becoming the next Washington Capitals in that regard. A team featuring Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is too good to not bet on. As for the Avalanche, Nathan MacKinnon is a force to be reckoned with along with his running mates Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. Colorado also added some valuable depth pieces in Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and Valeri Nichushkin. On the blue line, Cale Makar and Sam Girard are going to run the West ragged all season.
This season will be a success if: The Rangers develop chemistry and grow together as a group. While their offseason changes take them closer to contention, management has emphasize how they’re still building, and this is only a part of the process. Now their actions have to match that. There are a lot of young players on this roster — and in Hartford — and their development has to be the priority.
This season will be a disappointment if: If the Rangers’ day-to-day decisions are driven by winning right now, such as using veterans over kids in key roles instead of focusing on developing. And if the Rangers buy at the deadline, especially if it’s a significant add....
Hottest Rangers Taek: Lias Andersson, who is leading the Rangers’ contingent for “best shape of their life season” vibe, is going to have a great year pivoting a line in the middle-six. His play in all situations, with Mika Zibanejad mentoring him, is going to help him solidify his place in the lineup as a mainstay.
Hottest NHL Taek: The Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t going to be a tire-fire. Alexandre Texier’s going to have an exciting rookie season, and their young goaltending tandem will take steps forward with a very solid blue line in front of them. Yes, they lost Artemiy Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Matt Duchene to free agency, but they still have a lot of skill and young players to watch. Is this spicy enough??
Stanley Cup Final: Carolina Hurricanes vs. the Nashville Predators. Let’s get weird with a southern hockey take over, which the league is going to absolutely hate with market-size in mind (even though success for unconventional markets is actually a good thing).
This season will be a success if: David Quinn and the coaching staff let the kids learn and play through their mistakes. The Rangers are slated to have three rookies in the lineup — Kakko, Fox, Hajek — on opening night in addition to other youngsters like Andersson and Howden. The best case scenario here outside of an 82-0-0 season that ends with a Stanley Cup win is team that prioritizes building for the future by developing its young talent before chasing a wild card spot.
This season will be a disappointment if: Jeff Gorton doesn’t pull the trigger on deadline deals moving Chris Kreider, Vlad Namestnikov, Ryan Strome, and potentially Jesper Fast and Greg McKegg. Strome is an RFA, but the Rangers missed an opportunity to sell high on him during the offseason. If he is going to spend a significant portion of the season centering the second line, one would hope that would help his value on the trade market. It would also be a massive disappointment the Rangers don’t do enough to serve the development of their prospects at the NHL — if they look ready to make the jump from the AHL.
Hottest Rangers Taek: Jacob Trouba eclipses 190 shots in the regular season and leads the Rangers’ blue line in scoring. Trouba put a lot of shots on net in the preseason and should start the season as a featured weapon on the top power play unit.
Hottest NHL Taek: The Columbus Blue Jackets barely miss making the playoffs without Artemiy Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel. The Metropolitan Division is shallow, which should leave the door open for both the Blue Jackets and the Hurricanes to squeak into the playoffs as the division’s third seed. Pierre-Luc Dubois is really damn good and the same is true of the Blue Jackets’ top pair of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. With that being said, Columbus will fall short and finish in fourth in the Metropolitan — or fifth. What am I, a fortune teller?
Stanley Cup Final: The Tampa Bay Lightning defeat the Dallas Stars in five games. There’s just no way that Tampa — a team that only got better over the offseason — will fizzle out in the first round like they did last year... right? On paper, the Bolts are the best team in the league and are my clear favorite to win the Presidents Trophy and the Cup. If Ben Bishop can stay healthy and play like he did in last year’s playoffs, Dallas should be able to go the distance and meet Tampa in the Cup Final.
This season will be a success if: The Rangers continue to develop the young talent they have both at the NHL and AHL level, they get answers to longer-term questions like Tony DeAngelo, Alexandar Georgiev, and Ryan Strome, and they are competitive all season even if they’re not good.
This season will be a disappointment if: Really the only way this season can be a disappointment is if the coaching staff royally screws up the kids’ developmental curve. Bottoming out in the standings only nets a higher pick in a loaded draft, and expectations should be reasonable this year about where the team stands.
Hottest Rangers Taek: Pavel Buchnevich will eclipse 60 points. Not bold enough? Kaapo Kakko will hit 50 points.
Hottest NHL Taek: Kevin Shattenkirk will have a career year with the Lightning.
Stanley Cup Final: How many times can I be burned by the Lightning, you ask? Too many times. Here’s what I’ll go with: San Jose makes a run to the final, and they lose to — let’s go crazy — Carolina.
Tom Urtz Jr.
This season will be a success if: The Rangers are able to balance the development of their youngsters while playing some competitive hockey. Hockey is a sport where you never say never, but I feel comfortable in saying that a Stanley Cup isn’t likely to be in the cards this year. But the team should be better, and take a step forward in the rebuild, building upon strides made last season. There are a lot of players who fans are excited to watch, and they include the top prospects, and newcomers like Panarin. There’s also the intrigue of having Pavel Buchnveich starting the season on the top line. All of these things should help propel the team forward, and ideally each player on the roster will become better versions of themselves, which should give the front office a better idea of what is still needed in order to becoming a true contender.
This season will be a disappointment if: It is another season with relatively low expectations, but things will be a disappointment if veteran players like Ryan Strome, Vlad Namestnikov, Greg McKegg, Brendan Smith, Marc Staal etc. are playing prominent roles for the majority of the season. This would mean Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov, and potentially Adam Fox spending a decent amount of time in Hartford. By no means should the Rangers rush their talented young players, but there should be a point where each is given the opportunity to prove that they don’t belong. Part of the reasoning behind Chytil and Kravtsov starting the year off in Hartford is because they didn’t make the top-six. But for some reason having 2017 No. 7 overall pick Lias Andersson as the opening night fourth-line center is fine? With that said, the Rangers certainly shouldn’t gift any spots, but as they progress in the rebuild they will need to get a better handle on the kids, and what they are able/unable to do.
Hottest Rangers Taek: Adam Fox leads Rangers defense in scoring, is finalist for the Calder Trophy.
Hottest NHL Taek: Mark Stone finishes top five in league scoring, captures Hart Trophy, and Conn Smythe Trophy in first full season with Vegas Golden Knights.
Stanley Cup Final: Vegas Golden Knights over Carolina Hurricanes.
This season will be a success if: The Rangers compete for a playoff spot deep into March, and even if they fall short by the time April rolls around, they’ll be able to look back and see that their offseason additions helped them be a much better team than they were in 2018-19. That could come in many forms, so there’s a lot of leeway here. It could be Artemiy Panarin continuing to be the player he’s been since arriving in the NHL four years ago and scoring 75+ points. It could be Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox providing offense from the blue line that’s sorely been lacking aside from Tony DeAngelo over the last two seasons. It could be the likes of Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, and Vitali Kravtsov having better than expected seasons and providing legitimate secondary scoring behind the team’s veterans. With all of these options available, it shouldn’t be too difficult for one of them to happen.
This season will be a disappointment if: January 1st rolls around and Ryan Strome is still a major part of the team’s offense, Micheal Haley and Greg McKegg are still on the NHL roster while Chytil and Kravstov are not, and the team finishes in a similar standings position to where they were last year. The only true beneficial outcomes for the team are bottoming out (unlikely to happen) and remaining in the thick of the playoff race down the stretch. If they fall short, so be it, but if the team’s major prospects aren’t back on Broadway sooner rather than later, and they’re not playing meaningful games deep into March, then the 2019-20 campaign will be a failure.
Hottest Rangers Taek: Micheal Haley plays in 41+ games this season. For some inexplicable reason, Haley has drawn into lineups more often than not over the last three seasons despite not bringing much in the way of on-ice value. Having split his last three seasons between the San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers, Haley has skated in 58, 75, and 43 regular season games in 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 respectively. There’s no such thing as a player who’s “just” a 13th forward. Haley’s on the roster because David Quinn, Jeff Gorton, and John Davidson think he adds value to the team. As such, he’ll be dressing more often than not this year.
Hottest NHL Taek: The Islanders finish last out of the three New York area teams. Barry Trotz’s group was a wholly mediocre squad that got carried by the league’s best goaltending tandem last season, as well as a handful of career seasons from less-than-stellar payers. Casey Cizikas isn’t scoring 20 goals again, Semyon Varlamov probably won’t make it through a full season, and Thomas Griess won’t be able to replicate last year’s superb performance. After finishing last season with 103 points and home ice in both of their playoff rounds, the Islanders will finish behind teams that had 78 and 72 points last season.
Stanley Cup Final: Vegas Golden Knights over Tampa Bay Lightning. At some point, the Lightning just have to break through. They’re too good not to. It might be like people predicting Tom Brady to fall off a cliff and be bad every year, but believe it or not, it’s going to happen one day. Probably in another three to five years, but it’s definitely going to happen. The same logic applies for Tampa: There’s too much talent on that team to pick anybody else over them. As for Vegas, I firmly believe that had they not been given a phantom major penalty against the Sharks in Game 7 of their playoff series, they would’ve gone on to win the Cup. The balance of power hasn’t shifted much at all out West, so expect Vegas to continue their incredible run of success as an expansion team, and pave the way for a massive hype train for Seattle.
This season will be a success if: Playoffs have been tossed about in these parts following what could only be described as a home run of an offseason. But progression — both individually and collectively — is the yard stick of 2019-20 for the Rangers. It goes without saying New York needs its rookies and second-year players must continue to improve. Young veterans like Pavel Buchnevich and Brady Skjei must step up and fill roles management’s opened up for them to take the lead following two seasons of mass exodus from the previous era of Rangers hockey. Even those who see action in the American Hockey League must not plateau. The playoffs could be in view, but playing meaningful games in March will also benefit this squad immensely.
This season will be a disappointment if: The opposite of the above happens. If Buchnevich cannot put a hold on a top-line assignment; if Mika Zibanejad’s coming out party from a season ago was an exception to the norm; if Skjei’s struggles the previous two seasons carryover; if players like Lias Andersson, Brett Howden, and Filip Chytil continue to move sideways. If that does not happen, question marks could creep into a plan that begins the season with so much promise.
Hottest Rangers Taek: Lias Andersson cements himself as a NHLer and spends the entire season with New York, mostly as its third-line center and one of its top penalty killers. Andersson gets some looks on the second line and finishes the season with more than 30 points.
Hottest NHL Taek: Following a status quo offseason, the New York Islanders take a step back and miss the playoffs in Year 2 under Barry Trotz.
Stanley Cup Final: Toronto finally beats Boston in the postseason on its way to its first Stanley Cup since 1967 following a victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
This season will be a success if: Most of the young players show clear progress. Making the playoffs would be nice, and watching Artemiy Panarin and Henrik Lundqvist tear it up could be extremely entertaining, but it’s all for naught if the team finds itself in the dreaded hockey purgatory. There’s an argument to be made, given the team’s trajectory and the state of the 2020 Draft, that competing for the playoffs may do more harm than good long-term. That’s a debate for another day. For now, the primary point to be made is that making the playoffs won’t mean much if the youth struggle, and missing won’t hurt any feelings if the they make noise. It’s unrealistic to expect fireworks from every single player under 25, but on the whole the hypotheticals need to start turning into material building blocks for a 2022-2028 contender.
This season will be a disappointment if: Again, if the youth don’t, on the whole, show progression towards turning potential into actual ability, then it’s going to be a major disappointment. One thing to add is that it will be a major letdown if Panarin and Jacob Trouba don’t perform in relation to expectations. Their success doesn’t necessarily mean the season is successful, but failure would certainly create major salary cap concerns down the line. Is this unfair to them? Yes, but that’s the reality of the team’s situation.
This season is also a major referendum on the coaching staff. Last year there were zero expectations as Quinn was handed a barren roster and needed to start from scratch, instilling his philosophies and tactics while learning on the job himself. This past summer, General Manager Jeff Gorton did his job and stocked the roster with talent. While they hardly look like the 1984 Oilers, there’s enough to work with that the coaching staff now has no excuses for being dominated by the opposition. If they finish among the worst teams in the last decade by expected goals and shot metrics, then it’s going to raise more than a few eyebrows about the tactical direction of this team.
Hottest Rangers Taek: This is Marc Staal’s last season as a Ranger and he’s either moved at the deadline or sees some time as a healthy scratch in the final months of the season. If the Rangers are not a serious playoff threat by the deadline, or even at some point afterwards, then the team is going to want to start taking a look at the reserves. The team currently thinks Ryan Lindgren is pretty close. Yegor Rykov could also push for a spot. K’Andre Miller could very well turn pro as soon as mid-March. Those are two, maybe three lefties the team is going to want to take looks at this spring, and if Skjei and Hajek are playing competent hockey then it’s hard to imagine them leaving the lineup. That leaves a 33-year-old Staal, who the team has to know is in his final years.
Hottest NHL Taek: Mike Babcock gets fired either during or after the season. The NHL’s playoff format is bad and puts good teams in unfair positions. The Leafs will likely be stuck trying to get through a gauntlet of Boston and Tampa Bay once again early in the playoffs. Expectations are sky-high, and Babcock doesn’t survive into next season, when AHL coach Sheldon Keefe takes over.
Stanley Cup Final: Tampa Bay versus Vegas, with Tampa Bay winning in five games.
And there you have it! Some of the staff was braver than others in their predictions, but everyone has their own level of spiciness. With that said, we’d love to know what the readers think, so feel free to leave your predictions in the comments below.