Jacob Trouba of the Rangers looks on after being defeated by the...

Jacob Trouba of the Rangers looks on after being defeated by the Panthers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amerant Bank Arena on Saturday in Sunrise, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

The Rangers’ 2023-24 season ended Saturday night when they lost to the Florida Panthers, 2-1, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final at Amerant Bank Arena. As defenseman Adam Fox pointed out, given that the goal this season was to win the Stanley Cup, the mission was not accomplished.

So while the Panthers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year, the Rangers are left to ponder what went wrong the last two weeks and how they should fix it.

The Panthers will be back next season as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, and if the Rangers are to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994, they are going to have to find a way to get past them.

Here are five questions facing the Rangers as they enter the 2024 offseason: 

1. Was this season a success or not?

You have to determine that before you decide how to approach the offseason. Does general manager Chris Drury tinker with the roster to make slight improvements? Or does he make big moves and do a major renovation? The Rangers won a league-high 55 games in the regular season, captured the Presidents’ Trophy and fared well against most of the other good teams in the league. They lost two of three to Florida, though, which turned out to be an early warning sign regarding how their matchup in the conference final would go. Only one team can win every year, and the Rangers got to the final four, so we can call the season successful. We might not feel the same way if they don’t go further next year, however.

2. What to do about the hole at first-line right wing?

The Rangers have been searching for the perfect complement to the longtime duo of Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider ever since Drury traded Pavel Buchnevich in the summer of 2021. Drury has had some success with rentals at the trade deadline that worked in that spot (Frank Vatrano in 2022 and Vladimir Tarasenko in 2023), but Jack Roslovic didn’t work out so well this season. In any case, it’s time to find a permanent solution to that problem. Assuming there’s no way they can sign pending free agent Sam Reinhart away from Florida, might Tyler Bertuzzi, also an unrestricted free agent, work? Or would moving Filip Chytil from third-line center to top-line right wing be the play?    

3. Has Jacob Trouba become an on-ice liability?

There’s no question about how important the captain’s leadership is in the locker room and on the ice, but as far as playing hockey — and specifically defense — he seems to be showing up in replays making a mistake or getting beaten on too many goals against. He does block a lot of shots, plays a physical game and is a first-pair penalty-killer. He had three goals, 19 assists and 73 penalty minutes in 69 games in the regular season with a plus/minus of -4. In the playoffs, he had one goal, six assists, 22 penalty minutes and a plus/minus of even in 16 games. His 11 minor penalties are the most of any player in the playoffs. 

4. Is it time for Kaapo Kakko to move on?

It’s been five years since the Rangers took him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, and while he’s had some bad injury luck and the team probably has made some mistakes in developing him as a player, the truth is that overall, he has not lived up to his draft status. A restricted free agent, he is only 23 and does have value to other teams. Maybe the Rangers can trade him for some assets and open a spot in the lineup for someone such as Brennan Othmann.  

5. Will any of the unrestricted free agents be brought back?

That seems doubtful. Roslovic, no, Chad Ruhwedel no, Blake Wheeler probably not. Erik Gustafsson . . . well the coach loves him, but will he play for another one-year, $800,000 deal? If not, probably no. Alex Wennberg played well in a third-line role after coming over from Seattle, but he had a cap hit of $4.5 million this season. Although he likely won’t get that this summer, he’ll probably want more than the Rangers will be willing to pay. If Chytil ends up moving to the wing and Wennberg isn’t back with the Rangers, the team will need a third-line center.

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