As the rebuilding Rangers open training camp for the 2018-19 season, they’ve made it very clear to the fans that the organization’s focus is on the future, and not the present. Don’t expect them to be lifting the Stanley Cup next June. In fact, don’t expect them to be playing in the postseason next spring.
What should you expect? Well, there are a bunch of teams in the Eastern Conference that, ahem, don’t exactly look like Stanley Cup contenders this season, so the Rangers don’t figure to be as bad as the Buffalo Sabres were last season. The fan base has been understanding of the rebuild movement to this point. The expectation would be to see a lot of young players who fans will hopefully get to know in the coming years, and maybe win enough games along the way to keep folks relatively interested.
1. How will Henrik Lundqvist handle playing on a rebuilding team?
The franchise goalie is 36, and he’s never won a Stanley Cup. He didn’t much like all the losing the team did last year, and said at the end of the season this season has to be about winning. So, will the Rangers win enough this season to keep Lundqvist happy?
2. How will rookie coach David Quinn handle his first year as an NHL head coach?
Yes, the Rangers will be largely a young team, but there’ll be a few grown men on the roster (at least up until the trade deadline). Will he be able to relate to 30-something year-old seasoned pros?
3. Which mid-career or older guys are going to stick around past the trade deadline?
Mats Zuccarello, long a fan favorite, is in the last year of his contract and doesn’t look like he will. Brady Skjei signed a long-term deal in the summer, so he’s presumably staying, but what about Kevin Hayes, who signed for just one year, at $5.125 million? Will he sign an extension during the season, or is he a goner?
4. Assuming 2017 first-round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil will be on the roster on opening night, are there any other young prospects who might stick with the club?
Defenseman Libor Hajek and center Brett Howden, both 20, are possibilities, but if they impress in camp, would the Rangers be better off carrying them on the NHL roster in limited roles, or sending them to Hartford to play big minutes there?
5. How long will this rebuild last?
We don’t know the answer to that one. Ranger fans can certainly hope the team will bottom out this year and start the climb back to the upper half of the standings next season. But somehow, that doesn’t seem likely.