In the end, the 2018-19 season played out more or less as expected for the Rangers.
Everyone appreciated it 14 months ago when management sent that letter, the one that explained that after several years of contention, of chasing the Cup every year, the time had come to rebuild. Popular players were going to be traded, the letter said, and wins were going to be scarce for a while.
Of course, the reality of all that was always going to be hard on the fans, and on the players who currently wear the Blueshirt. Everyone got excited when the team strung together a 9-1-1 record in late October and November that had them in a playoff spot on Thanksgiving Day, but then they came back to earth. The wins dried up, the team traded away the ultra-popular Mats Zuccarello at the deadline, along with Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid. Ultimately, first-year coach David Quinn’s men finished the season 20 points out of a playoff spot.
And so, the offseason begins for the rebuilding Rangers. No one knows how long this rebuild will last, and how soon the Rangers will return to the postseason, and to chasing Stanley Cups. What’s next? Here are five questions facing the Rangers this summer.
1. The Draft Lottery. Where will they end up? The Rangers entered the final day of the season with 76 points, which had them sixth in the pre-lottery draft order. That gave them a 23.3 percent chance to move up into the top three picks and a 7.5 percent chance to get the No. 1 pick overall, according to tankathon.com. Depending on Saturday’s results, they could finish as high as fourth in the pre-lottery order (which would give them a 28.8 percent chance to get in the top three and a 9.5 percent chance to be No. 1), or as low as seventh (20.4 percent, 6.5 percent).
2. New President. With no advance warning, team president Glen Sather announced last week that he would be stepping away from his role and shifting to the position of senior adviser to MSG Chairman James Dolan. Sather will aid Dolan in finding a new president, and the team announced that GM Jeff Gorton will be remaining in his position. But changing leadership in the middle of a rebuild seems tricky. Will the new president want to continue with the current plan, or instead try to speed things up?
3. The Draft. The Rangers picked 10 players at last summer’s draft, and after all the trades they’ve made the last two years, they have 10 picks again at this summer’s draft. Will they make them all, and bring in 10 more 18-year-olds to try and groom for years down the line, or is it time to look into trying to trade some of those assets for an established player or two who can help improve the team right now?
4. Is Chris Kreider staying or going? The left wing will be 28 at the end of this month, and enters the final year of his contract next season. Will Kreider – who started fast in 2018-19, but faded in the second half – sign a contract extension this summer, be traded away at the draft, or will he come to training camp next fall and get traded at next season’s deadline?
5. Will Artemi Panarin be Rangers property on July 1? The Columbus Blue Jackets forward, who will be a free agent this summer, certainly put on a show for the Madison Square Garden crowd in Friday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Rangers, scoring the shootout winner, the go-ahead goal in regulation time and hitting the crossbar a couple times for good measure. He’s the kind of dynamic offensive force who would be a major difference-maker for the Rangers – if they decide to shell out the money it will take to get him.