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New York Rangers EA Sports NHL 20 Simulation, Season 3: Heartbreak for the Blueshirts

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New Jersey Devils v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

Welcome back for the third and final installment of our virtual simulation of the New York Rangers. Following two early playoff exits courtesy of the Carolina Hurricanes, it was time for some aggressive moves to address the issues that were affecting the Rangers in the playoffs. We also had some high-profile players needing new contracts, such as Adam Fox, Kaapo Kakko and Mika Zibanejad.

Mika Zibanejad signs three-year deal to remain in New York

New York Islanders v New York Rangers Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The first order of business for this offseason was addressing New York’s biggest outgoing unrestricted free agent. Mika Zibanejad was second on the Rangers in scoring for two consecutive seasons, and has been counted on as the number one center. It didn’t take very long for both parties to come to an agreement and sign the dotted line on a new three-year contract extension. The deal pays Zibanejad an annual average of $8.5 million as he remains New York’s top center for the next couple of seasons.

The Rangers also made the following signings ahead of the free agency window opening on July 1st.

  • Brett Howden - 2 years, $1.2 million AAV
  • Brendan Lemieux - 2 years, $1.2 million AAV
  • Vitali Kravtsov - 3 years, $2.425 million AAV

Rangers make splash adding William Karlsson from Vegas

Buffalo Sabres v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

In the first surprising move of the offseason, the Rangers were able to address some of their scoring concerns on the first line. New York made a huge splash via trade and acquired William Karlsson from the Vegas Golden Knights. The Blueshirts sent struggling forward Pavel Buchnevich, prospect Kaiden Guhle and a 2023 1st-round draft selection to the Golden Knights in return for the 29-year old.

During Vegas’ run to the Stanley Cup, Karlsson was fourth in scoring throughout the playoffs, and was third on the team during the regular season. Obviously the price to acquire Karlsson may have been a slight over-payment, but it patched up an issue that sorely needed to be addressed.

Chris Kreider dealt for draft picks, Kaapo Kakko signs long-term extension

St Louis Blues v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Following the acquisition of William Karlsson, the Rangers needed a corresponding move to clear some additional cap space. As a result, Chris Kreider was sent out West to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for a 2023 2nd-round pick, and a 2023 5th-round pick. The move clears $6.5 million off the books, and freed up enough cap space to re-sign Kaapo Kakko.

Almost immediately after the trade, New York agreed to terms with the young Finnish winger on a six-year deal that will pay Kakko an average of $9.25 million per year.

Alex Iafallo and Alexandar Georgiev agree to terms

With all of the heavy lifting of the offseason concluded, the Rangers had two final pieces to handle in order to complete their summer checklist. Jesper Fast had departed via free agency just a few days prior, and New York needed to address their fourth line. Alex Iafallo was added on a two-year, $1.6 million deal to give the Rangers some added depth down the left side.

In addition, Alexandar Georgiev was locked up on a surprising three-year, $800,000 contract to slot in as the backup for the foreseeable future.

Devils sign Morgan Rielly and add Mikael Backlund via trade

Calgary Flames v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

The Devils, who stayed relatively quiet over the 12 months, made two big additions that will only make the Metropolitan Division that much stronger. Their first major move was signing Morgan Rielly out of the free agent pool to a six-year, $11.16 million contract. Shortly after their big free agent splash, New Jersey sent Robin Lehner to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Mikael Backlund.

The acquisition of Backlund solidifies the center position for New Jersey who now has Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Backlund as their top three pivots. Rielly also gives them a true number one defenseman to slot ahead of P.K. Subban and Damon Severson.

Not a bad week for the Rangers’ cross-river rivals.

Around the League

  • Despite the Devils struggling at the trade deadline, they made yet another blockbuster move. About a week before the market closed, New Jersey sent a 2023 1st-round pick, Marco Rossi and a Derick Brassard to the Montreal Canadiens for Jonathan Drouin and Patric Hornqvist. Quite a statement move, indeed.
  • The New York Islanders continued to struggle for the second consecutive season with a 28-44-10 record, and sat at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division.

Regular Season

Record: 49-26-7

Finish: 3rd in the Metro

Another slow start in New York that was fueled by injuries certainly turned some heads, but it was expected with the lineup constantly changing. Thankfully, the Rangers really turned things up a notch in late November and rattled off several three-game winning streaks. That vaulted New York right back into the playoff picture.

With the trade deadline upon us, the Rangers were sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division. They remained eight points behind the division leading Washington Capitals with 21 games remaining in the regular season. Artemi Panarin currently leads the Rangers with 64 points in 61 games, with newly acquired William Karlsson not that far behind with 53 points.

Phillip Danault Acquired from Montreal

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Rather than standing pat at the trade deadline, the Rangers went big game hunting in an attempt to push them over the hump in the playoffs. New York found their answer in Phillip Danault and acquired him from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Connor Lockhart (2021 1st-round pick), goaltending prospect Peter Cardwell, and a 3rd-round pick in 2023.

Danault is a pending UFA at the end of the year, so he will be strictly a rental for the Rangers as they progress towards the playoffs.

Round 1 - Carolina

Well, this is becoming quite a story line thus far in the simulation as we matchup yet again with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers took Game 1 with relative ease as they jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and held onto that lead for the remainder of the game. However, Carolina came back in Game 2 looking for revenge, and got just that with a 2-1 victory to even up the series.

New York was on the verge of falling behind in the series before they rattled off a three-goal third period to complete the comeback in Game 3. Artemi Panarin tied the game with less than four minutes remaining, and Adam Fox added the game-winning goal two minutes later. Vince Dunn capped off the scoring barrage with an empty netter to put the Rangers up 2-1 in the series.

After dropping Game 4, the Rangers came storming back with a massive 4-3 win in overtime. Ryan Lindgren setup the eventual game-winner by throwing a shot at David Rittich’s feet, and the puck found its way behind the goaltender. Filip Chytil was waiting on the doorstep for the rebound, and slammed home the loose puck to put New York up 3-2.

The Rangers had an opportunity to do something they haven’t done in three seasons, and they were finally able to accomplish that goal. Alexis Lafreniere was the hero at the 14:29 mark of the third period to put New York up 4-3 on the scoreboard. Lafreniere’s goal held up as the winner as the Rangers defeated the Hurricanes 4-2 in the series.

New York Rangers v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Round 2 - Washington

After sending Carolina packing in six games, the next team up on the schedule was the division leading Washington Capitals. New York opened the series with a 4-2 victory, and jumped out to an early series lead. However, Washington stormed back and took the next two games in the series.

With the Rangers down 2-1 in the series, they kicked their game up to another level and wound up winning the next three games. The most dominating performance came in Game 5 as Phillip Danault registered his first hat trick as a Blueshirt, as New York topped Washington 5-0. The Capitals weren’t going down without a fight though, and came out flying in Game 6. The Rangers were able to weather the storm, and both teams were deadlocked in a 3-3 in the third period.

That was until Filip Chytil came up in the clutch and buried the series clinching goal with two minutes remaining in regulation. Washington was unable to overcome the late surge by New York and were defeated in six games.

On to the Eastern Conference Final.

Round 3 - Florida

Considering Florida hasn’t many any noteworthy additions thus far, they went on a pretty remarkable run to the Eastern Conference Final. Throughout the first six games of this series, both teams traded games before we finally settled on the deciding Game 7. The Rangers were able to force a final game after yet another comeback in Game 6.

New York found themselves down by a goal late in the third period before Adam Lowry saved the season, and cashed in on a shorthanded goal. That set the stage for Ryan Lindgren, who slipped in from his left point spot and absolutely sniped home the game winning goal with four minutes remaining.

Fast forwarding to Game 7, it’s no surprising that this one wound up going the distance. The game was deadlocked after three periods, which meant one goal sat between either team and the Stanley Cup Final. It didn’t take long for the Rangers to push the pace up the ice, and it would be two youngsters to push New York through to their first Final appearance since 2014.

Vitali Kravtsov started the rush with great speed through the neutral and created a 2-on-1 rush into the offensive zone. A quick hesitation was all Kravtsov needed to beat his defender, and fed a crisp pass across to Julien Gauthier. Sergei Bobrovsky made a last-ditch desperation save attempt but Gauthier buried the puck under the crossbar.

Stanley Cup Final - Chicago

The Stanley Cup Final got off to a tragic start for the Rangers as they blew a 4-1 lead in Game 1, and fell behind 1-0 in the series. Game 2 was much more of the same for the Blueshirts as they blew yet another two-goal lead. Patrick Kane capitalized on a late power play opportunity, followed by a last second goal from Alex Debrincat. After two miserable efforts, the Rangers found themselves down 2-0 heading back to Chicago.

Filip Chytil gave the Rangers some hope in Game 3 as he capitalized midway through the third and fueled a 6-4 win to make it a 2-1 series. Despite a bounce back effort in Game 3, the Rangers were dealt more heartbreak in Game 4. Valeri Nichushkin stunned the Blueshirts with a go-ahead goal with under 30 seconds remaining in regulation, and move Chicago within one win of the Cup.

With the Rangers returning to home ice looking to get back into the series, they jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. But unfortunately, the blown leads continued and Chicago was able to even up the game halfway through the second period. That eventually led to Rangers’ season coming down to a final goal, and Alex Debrincat would quickly end their hopes and dreams. Debrincat was able to slip the puck under Igor Shesterkin at the 11:20 mark of the overtime, and gave the Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup since 2014-15.

While this officially takes us to the end of our three-year run at the helm, the last and final season was certainly an entertaining one. We weren’t able to get the virtual New York Rangers back to the promise land, despite some aggressive moves via trade. As we move closer to the actual NHL Draft, we’ll see if the Rangers have any moves up their sleeves to better their roster.

Hopefully everyone enjoyed this mini series as much as I did, and maybe we can get something similar going in the future.