The Rangers were winless in their first three games until Thursday night’s breakthrough in overtime. An OT marker from Brady Skjei would propel the Rangers to a 3-2 victory in the extra frame. Is the Rangers’ 1-3 start expected? Some sort of anomaly? Or, are they ready to break out? I had the pleasure of asking Mike over at Blueshirt Banter about a rebuild, Henrik Lundqvist, and about some other player personnel matters before tomorrow’s game.
Thanks to Mike for his time.
Copper and Blue: Kevin Shattenkirk was a healthy scratch in New York’s win over San Jose on Thursday night. He’s got three more years at 6.65MM AAV, are there really six better defencemen on this club right now?
Blueshirt Banter: There definitely aren’t six better defensemen than Shattenkirk on this club. All things considered, he’s either the best or second-best defenseman, depending on your method of evaluation.
David Quinn’s decision to make Shattenkirk a healthy scratch was controversial, but it’s a little less shocking when we sprinkle in some context. Before the 2018-19 season began, Shattenkirk played in just two preseason games and before that his last game before his knee surgery was played on Jan. 18, 2018. So it’s not at all surprising that he looks rusty out there. It’s also worth mentioning that the Rangers are carrying eight defensemen, including newcomers Adam McQuaid and Fredrik Claesson, which gives Quinn a lot of options to play with while he’s trying to figure out what he wants this defense to look like.
There’s also a chance that this could just be Quinn showing his new team that everyone will be held accountable, regardless of their experience or contract. Hopefully this healthy scratch will give Shattenkirk an opportunity to settle in after a very long offseason.
Copper and Blue: Henrik Lundqvist has been a stalwart in net for the Rangers for what seems like forever. He’s posted save percentages of .915 and .910 over the last two years. He’s only played three games so far this year, but he’s looking at a .942 SV% through those games. Is Lundqvist due for a bounce back season, or is this just some early season luck?
Blueshirt Banter: In recent years Lundqvist has had a history of slow starts to his season, but he does look pretty darn sharp right now. With that being said, he’s 36 and will be 37 in March. We don’t have a lot of data on how elite goaltenders regress in their late 30s, but we know that he’s not actually a Norse deity. Well, we’re pretty sure. We’re waiting on some blood tests and stuff.
Does that mean that Lundqvist going to have a bad season? No, and it doesn’t even rule out the possibility of him having a bounce-back year in terms of his save percentage. But his best years are already in the rearview mirror. Fortunately for the Rangers, an aging Lundqvist is still better than a lot of starting goaltenders in the NHL.
Copper and Blue: Jimmy Vesey was a fairly noteworthy free agent signing for the Rangers in 2016. He’s played two years in New York, scoring 28 and 27 points. He’s got a pair of goals so far through four games. Is this the year he breaks out? Why or why not?
Blueshirt Banter: Well, if Vesey keeps getting second line minutes he is bound to score 20 goals this year, but it’s not clear that he belongs there.
Vesey does not excel at creating his own offense. He’s an opportunistic scorer who prowls around the net and knows how to bang home greasy goals. He’s a great third liner, but is probably not someone who should be averaging over two minutes more per game than he was last season.
After watching Vesey for two years it’s hard to see him becoming a 45 or 50 point guy. Remember, this isn’t a kid we’re talking about, Vesey is turning 26 this spring.
Copper and Blue: There’s plenty of talk that the Rangers are rebuilding. Are they capable of remaining competitive through a rebuild, or will they need to tear everything down and build up?
Blueshirt Banter: Regardless of what happens with the kids in the lineup this year – Filip Chytil and Brett Howden in particular -- the Rangers need to continue to tear things down. The rebuild started with the Derek Stepan trade in June 2017, and it needs to continue if general manager Jeff Gorton is serious about developing his own talent.
Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, and Adam McQuaid are all pending UFAs. Hayes’ future with the club is uncertain, but if Gorton can’t re-sign him as the deadline approaches, he has to go. It would be disastrous for the Rangers to let him walk in free agency and get nothing back in return for him. Zuccarello is the heart of this team, but at this point the package he would bring back in a trade is more valuable to the rebuild than he is. The trade that brought McQuaid here was questionable at best, and it would be a mess if the Rangers didn’t get more than a fourth round pick for him at deadline day.
A year or two from now, if the Rangers have struck gold on a few of their picks and prospects, they could surprise some people. But this year needs to be about evaluating players like Filip Chytil, Brett Howden, Neal Pionk, Tony DeAngelo, and Alexandar Georgiev. The Rangers need to keep tearing down the team that played under Alain Vigneault and allow Gorton and David Quinn to build something new.
Copper and Blue: Finally, do the Rangers have a chance at making the playoffs in 2018-19? Why or why not?
Blueshirt Banter: Personally, I think this team is closer to being awarded a lottery pick than it is to being a wild card team. The defense is really bad. That point can’t be overstated. Outside of Brady Skjei and Shattenkirk, the Rangers don’t have a defensemen you’d want in your top-four right now. If Brendan Smith continues to play solid hockey, he is probably the third guy on that depth chart. Nope, that’s not good. Not at all.
Oh, and the defense is transitioning from man-to-man coverage to zone coverage, so there are going to be a lot of growing pains moving forward.
The Rangers don’t have any elite forwards and the majority of their best players either have trouble staying healthy, are young guys trying to figure things out, or are likely on the trade block.
Who knows, maybe Quinn unlocks some untapped potential that Vigneault couldn’t and this team surprises us in the winter. But once deadline day arrives, the Rangers are going to be sellers because they need to be, and that means they are going to lose at least one key top-six forward. When that happens, any dreams of an unlikely playoff appearance are sure to go up in smoke.