The New York Rangers will begin their quest to bring home the Stanley Cup next week. While their first-round matchup has not been finalized, their path to reach the finals will undoubtedly be a difficult task to accomplish. Out of the sixteen teams who have clinched a berth in this year’s playoffs, all of them believe they have a chance to win it all. However, some teams have a lot more pressure on their shoulders than others. The New York Rangers are certainly one of those teams that have much more to lose.
Why the Rangers Have the Most Pressure to Win the Stanley Cup
The Rangers went all in at the deadline
At this year’s trade deadline, it was well-known that the Rangers were going to make a big splash. After they were unable to keep last season’s major acquisitions, Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano, there were some pretty big holes in the lineup that needed to be filled. This season’s trade deadline proved to be a busy one for the Rangers, as they were able to improve their lineup significantly by adding some much-needed offensive depth in Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrick Kane, and Tyler Motte. The Rangers also boosted their defensive lines slightly by acquiring Niko Mikkola in the Tarasenko trade with the St. Louis Blues.
While these trades have improved the team’s roster by a large margin, the problem at hand is that the Rangers will most likely not be able to re-sign most of these players. In order to acquire Patrick Kane, Rangers’ general manager Chris Drury had to persuade the Chicago Blackhawks to retain half of Kane’s salary, as well as including a third team to retain another 25%.
As for Vladimir Tarasenko, the Rangers are currently paying $5.5 million for his contract. Both players have contracts that expire after this season, and the Rangers have very little cap space to work with.
The team has recently re-signed center Filip Chytil, and they still have other key players to sign such as Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller. With the likelihood being that Kane and Tarasenko will not remain with the Rangers without taking major pay cuts, these trade acquisitions will end up being for nothing if the Rangers do not go all the way and win the Stanley Cup.
The Kid Line is running out of time to develop
Throughout last year’s playoff run, the “Kid Line” proved to be one of the most effective assets to the team as the Rangers made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. It seemed as if Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko had all finally broken out and began to show why they were all high first-round picks. However, throughout this season, all three players had somewhat regressed to just average play again.
In 80 games this season, Alexis Lafreniere has only scored 16 goals and notched 23 assists for 39 points. While this has been his highest-scoring season to date, it still does not meet the Rangers’ expectations for a first-overall pick.
Kaapo Kakko has a similar stat line, scoring 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points.
Filip Chytil has performed the best out of the kid line this season, scoring 22 goals and 23 assists for 45 points.
While all three have performed well this season, it is still slightly underwhelming for fans who raised their expectations after a spectacular showing throughout last year’s playoff run. It is well known that the kids have star potential, as they have shown it periodically throughout their careers. But with Chytil being 23, Kakko, 22, and Lafreniere 21, fans are beginning to question how much longer they are going to need before they finally break out and remain consistent throughout their careers.
This postseason presents a perfect opportunity for the kid line to prove themselves, as their depth will be a key asset for making a deep playoff run. If the kids do not step up and play consistent hockey, an early exit may become a real possibility for the Rangers.
Putting the past behind them
The New York Rangers have not won the Stanley Cup since captain Mark Messier led them to victory all the way back in 1994. Since then, there have been many times that the team has come very close, but never was able to seal the deal. Since the 1994 season, the Rangers have made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals five more times, and have only made it to the finals once. In the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, the Rangers were outed in five games by the Los Angeles Kings.
The Rangers have never been the best at winning Stanley Cups, either. As an Original Six team, they have only won 4 finals matchups. The team had a good stretch in the early 1900s when they won 3 championships in 1928, 1933, and 1940. The team then went on a huge championship drought until they won that Stanley Cup in 1994, and have now been on a 28-year drought since.
It isn’t like the team has been bad all these years, too. Throughout the 2010’s the team made it to the playoffs in most of those years. Despite making multiple deep runs, that team was never enough to win.
After a speedy rebuild which saw the team make moves such as signing star winger Artemi Panarin and trading for current captain Jacob Trouba, it is time for the Rangers to set a new tone for the team.
Many hockey fans associate the Rangers with a history of coming up short, but this new core has the ability to rewrite the script. After almost making it to the Stanley Cup finals last season, the Rangers have that pressure on their backs to prove themselves a championship-winning hockey team.