Blueshirt Banter’s Official 2018-19 Predictions
There’s no way these will be anything but lock solid truths
Finally what has felt like the longest offseason in New York Rangers history has come to an end. No incessant refreshing of draft lottery simulators and getting a sick joy at seeing the Rangers get the #1 overall pick, no more hemming and hawing over one or two year deals, no more quantum mathematics to figure out how the Rangers could get a 1st round pick from every team in a 31 team mega deal involving Erik Karlsson and Bobby Ryan (Sorry Miika!), and no more rookie camps, tournaments, and preseason games. It’s time for actual, regular season hockey to begin!
Of course, with any new season means that it’s time to make some wild, bold, 1,000% accurate predictions that will definitely come true. Now, everyone and their mother knows that the Rangers are entering a rebuilding year starting on Thursday night against the Nashville Predators, which means expectations are going to be shifted for this season. It’s no more playoffs or bust, and no more figuring out where the Rangers will fall in the postseason picture by the end of March. It’s time now to look at what we here at Blueshirt Banter will think will happen this season and what we consider to be good and bad results for the Rangers, along with a couple of thoughts on how the season as a whole will play out.
This season will be a success if: The Rangers play a fun, and exciting brand of hockey but lose a lot of games. Like I said earlier, it’s no secret that the Rangers are entering a rebuild and that part of a rebuild is, well, not be 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 progression all around for the some of the Rangers’ future core; Pavel Buchnevich breaks 55-60 points, Filip Chytil establishes himself as the future of the Rangers center corps, Brady Skjei takes over the top LD spot on the Rangers blue line, and David Quinn implements a new, exciting brand of hockey to Madison Square Garden. 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: It’s more of the same from the last regime and the Rangers are unwatchable. While there is a lot of hope on the Rangers and legitimate reasons to be excited, there also some very big reasons to be cautious that the Rangers front office have learned from the lessons of the past. A disappointing season for me sees a Rangers team that is slow to move up ice, gets hemmed in it’s own zone for far too long, and plays retread veterans and lesser skilled players over more talented younger players. A disappointing season also sees a coach Quinn that seems overwhelmed by the NHL game and relies too much on Lindy Ruff to get the team through the season.
Hottest Rangers Taek: One of either (or both) Neal Pionk or Tony DeAngelo will fail to hold onto a defense spot in the NHL and will be more valuable as trade bait for the Rangers next sell-off in February.
Hottest NHL Taek: The Vegas Golden Knights will barely make the playoffs this season and William Karlsson will not shoot close to 25%.
Stanley Cup Final: Winnipeg Jets over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Two of the NHL’s most exciting teams are also two of the NHL’s best. I think we are all forgetting that the Maple Leafs added John Tavares to the same team that has Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner on it. That seems absurd, and should be illegal if you ask me. The Leafs are, or should be, the model that the Rangers follow for their rebuild and are helmed by a young GM eager to prove himself. The Jets are LOADED. Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler (perennially underrated, IMO), Dustin Byfuglien, and Patrik Laine. Jacob Trouba helms the blue line along with Byfuglien and Connor Hellebuyck looks like he’s solved Winnipeg’s long standing questions in goal. Also, Auston Matthews vs Patrik Laine, who doesn’t want to watch seven games of that?!
This season will be a success if: The Rangers further their rebuild. The emphasis this year has to be player development, as much as all teams want to contend. They should, and will, try to win each and every game, but management and coaches have to keep the bigger picture in mind — this process. Putting a sustainable system more conducive to long term success is key, as is the players learning the fundamentals and building from there. Player development has to be the priority, so if their younger players and prospects are closer to reaching their potential and put in a position to succeed, whether it’s at the NHL or AHL level, it’s a step in the right direction. Plus, this is a great opportunity for management and the coaches to assess the skill they have, so they can understand what they need moving forward. Recognizing that will also help this be a successful season.
This season will be a disappointment if: Like Kevin said, if it’s more of the same as last year. If veterans are prioritized over player development and mainstays in the lineup — especially if they don't deserve to be — it’s a problem in both the short- and long-term. If it’s another miserable season for Henrik Lundqvist, it’ll also be a disappointment. I don’t expect the team to be excellent, nor do I think they’re capable of providing that much support, but I expect some support so he doesn’t have to carry the team yet again.
Hottest Rangers Taek: We’re going to see a total resurgence from Henrik Lundqvist with a slightly better defense in front of him, and the Rangers are going to just make the playoffs on his back.
Hottest NHL Taek: The Carolina Hurricanes are going to be actually good. We say this every year, but I think this is the year they finally put it all together and can reach the playoffs — yes, even with that goaltending tandem. Once Scott Darling’s healthy, I think he can at least be an average goaltender, which may be all they need with that defense in front of him, and a offense strengthened by Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas.
Stanley Cup Final: Tampa Bay Lightning over Nashville Predators. I think the Predators thought they could return to the Stanley Cup last year after reaching it in 2017, but being eliminated by the Winnipeg Jets was a rude awakening. If they didn’t before, they certainly recognize what it takes to get back there, even if they managed it the year before. The Lightning not only have an outstanding forward group, but a great defensive core as well. Without Rick Bowness behind the bench, their systems should improve, and the pairs as well with Mikhail Sergachev potentially shifting to the right to skate with Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman returning to Victor Hedman’s side. Behind them, there’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is likely more prepared for a full season of starting minutes. What isn’t to like there?
This season will be a success if: David Quinn lets the kids develop by playing meaningful minutes this year, if Jeff Gorton makes the right decision by moving Mats Zuccarello before or at the trade deadline, and if the front office brings back a significant package in exchange for Kevin Hayes if/when they realize they won’t be able to extend him.
It’s all well and good to say that you want to win every game and have the locker room — particularly the kids — buy into it, but Quinn and Gorton need to embrace this year for what it is. This is a year to develop, evaluate, and milk Zuccarello, Hayes, Adam McQuaid, Ryan Spooner, and/or Vladislav Namestnikov for all they are worth on the trade market.
This season will be a disappointment if: Quinn hinders the growth of prospects like Pavel Buchnevich and Tony DeAngelo by benching them when they make mistakes. It would also be a disaster if the Rangers are unable to bring in another big wave of early picks and highly-regarded prospects at the deadline. Ideally, the Rangers should have at least three more first round picks than the Ottawa Senators in the 2019 Draft.
Hottest Rangers Taek: Brendan Smith finishes with a career high in points this year. What’s that? Too bold, you say? Well, consider the fact that Smith’s career high in points is 19, so that isn’t much of a stretch, really. The real hot take here is that Smith will wrestle ice time away from Marc Staal (one can hope) and start playing like the player the Rangers re-signed to a four-year, $17.4 million contract.
Hottest NHL Taek: Antti Raanta puts together a Vezina-worthy season for the Arizona Coyotes, but Arizona still misses the playoffs because, tragically, Raanta can’t score goals.
Stanley Cup Final: The Tampa Bay Lightning over the San Jose Sharks. Tampa Bay wins because Andrei Vasilevskiy is the real deal and Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos could be playing with a broken microwave and it would still pick up around 35 points. I expect the San Jose Sharks to power their way past the Predators in the Western Conference Final and expose both Pekka Rinne and Nashville’s lack of scoring depth. Yes, Erik Karlsson will make that much of a difference for the rapidly aging Sharks, but it won’t be enough to win San Jose the Stanley Cup.
Tom Urtz Jr.
This season will be a success if: The Rangers are patient and give the kids a chance to develop. I believe that the team will play hard and will do whatever it can to earn as many points as possible. Despite this, I don’t think the team is going to be very good, and there will be some bad losses. It would be great if there were a ton of 4-3 and 2-1 games, because the team would improve its position toward getting a lottery pick, and it would mean the team is playing close and competitive hockey. This year is all about development and seeing the progression of players mentioned above such as Pavel Buchnevich will be very important this season. Ideally you want the team to finish dead last, but that’s not going to happen. You also want the youngsters to gain some experience, and remain positive. If the team can find a way to balance to two, it will be a success.
This season will be a disappointment if: The Rangers have several veterans in the fold, especially on the blue line. The season will be a tough one to watch if Adam McQuaid and Marc Staal are getting oodles and oodles of ice time over youngsters such as Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo. By no means should any youngster be gifted a spot, but the veterans should be on a short rope as well. This is a development year first and foremost, and it would be disappointing if the team plays middle of the road or slightly above average hockey and decides to make some trades to speed up the rebuild mid season. This can’t be a situation in which precious development and evaluation time is squandered. The 2019-20 season could be the first year in which the team takes steps towards winning and being a contender. This year will be crucial toward seeing what the Rangers have going for them, and what they will ultimately need to address through free agency, trades and the draft.
Hottest Rangers Taek: Realizing that the season is lost after the All-Star break, David Quinn makes the tough decision to rest Henrik Lundqvist giving Alexandar Georgiev the lion’s share of starts in the second half of the season.
Hottest NHL Taek: The Arizona Coyotes are a resurgent team in front of Antti Raanta, and shock the league by bolstering their lineup by trading for Artemi Panarin.
Stanley Cup Final: Winnipeg Jets over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Winnipeg Jets on paper have a very impressive roster, and they gained valuable experience by going to the Western Conference Final last year vs. the Vegas Golden Knights. This coupled with the improvement of youngsters like Jack Roslovic will go a long way complementing a core already including Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Nik Ehlers and Kyle Connor upfront. They will defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning who will come just short. I wanted to pick the Toronto Maple Leafs to come out of the East like some of my colleagues above, but Tampa’s edge on the blueline ultimately swings things in their favor. The Jets-Lightning Stanley Cup Final will be close, and Winnipeg will be the first Canadian team since 1993 to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
This season will be a success if: The Rangers’ rookies establish themselves as solid NHLer’s. In an ideal world, the team would finish 31st and earn themselves the best odds at landing the 1st overall pick in the 2019 Entry Draft. With the a majority of the team that played the final 20 games of the 2017-18 campaign returning this year, the odds of being outplayed by the likes teams like the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Islanders are slim to none. As for the rookies, most of them will need to make the best out of less than ideal situations. Filip Chytil will be starting the season on a line with Ryan Spooner, which puts him in the hole right off the bat. Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo will be rotating in and out of the press box, so they’ll have to find a way to make the best of inconsistent game reps. If those players can produce this season, then it’ll be a success for the Rangers.
This season will be a disappointment if: Veterans play heavy minutes deep into the season, propel the Rangers closer to league average, and block the team’s top prospects currently in Hartford from getting NHL reps. This goes for players in positions all around the roster. There’s no reason for Henrik Lundqvist to start 55+ games. There’s no reason for Marc Staal, Brendan Smith, or Adam McQuaid to log heavy minutes at any point during the season. The forward combinations and ice time distribution aside from the top line will leave plenty to be desired. If Lias Andersson, Libor Hajek and friends aren’t on Broadway by March 1st, something will have gone horribly wrong.
Hottest Rangers Take: I’m cheating and giving you two for the price of one: First off, Fire Sale Part II turns out to be a major letdown. The only players that will be moved via trade are Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid, and Lias Andersson (assuming he isn’t already in the NHL) will be the only prospect recalled from Hartford. Secondly, David Quinn doesn’t turn out to be all he’s been cracked up to be. He, like Alain Vigneault and the other 30 NHL coaches do on a regular basis, will frequently make sub-par lineup decisions, shorten his bench and “lose” his prospects in occasional games, and ride veterans when he doesn’t need to.He won’t be bad compared to his peers, but he won’t deviate from the norm much.
Hottest NHL Take: Artemi Panarin finishes the season as a Columbus Blue Jacket and makes it to unrestricted free agency without signing a contract extension, setting up another Tavares-esque sweepstakes during the late-June courting period.
Stanley Cup Final: San Jose Sharks over Tampa Bay Lightning. I normally hate picking an offseason champion to go out and have a successful season. It’s a more prevalent concept in other sports and ends as predictably as one might expect. This season, the top of Western Conference is so much of a mess that I think Erik Karlsson’s arrival in San Jose tips the scales. The Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets are both coming back with top five rosters in the league, and they’ll probably end up killing each other in another 7-game second round series due to the league’s asinine playoff format. Even with Vegas’ additions of Paul Statsny and Max Pacioretty, I still think San Jose has a more complete roster. The East is much easier. The Lightning are head and shoulders above the rest of the conference, and the only teams I see challenging them are Toronto and mayyyyyyybe Pittsburgh. I’ll take them over the field to represent the Eastern Conference on hockey’s biggest stage.