Will the New York Rangers be back?

Justin Cuthbert and Julian McKenzie discuss the prospects of future success for the Rangers after a surprise Eastern Conference final appearance.

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Let's go to the Rangers quickly. I'll just float it to you this way. Do you expect them to be back? They're kind of ahead of schedule, at least it would seem. They've got a brilliant netminder themselves.

They've got some great talent up front. But it's not easy. And sometimes these things can be flashes in the pan. Dallas Stars haven't been back. Montreal Canadiens finished last, I think at the NHL this year.

Just because you get deep in the playoffs doesn't mean you're going to be like the Tampa Bay Lightning the next year. So do you expect the Rangers to be able to build on this?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah. Because-- and you could tell me if I'm wrong, but just the way that this roster looks, this isn't a roster in my eyes that is overachieving, and we expect them to miss the playoffs. Like, the Canadiens last year, that was a team that overachieved beyond its means and probably should not have been in the position that they were in.

The Rangers are a team with a core that should be getting better. They just happen to be well ahead of schedule. No one expected them to be in the Conference Final this soon. Or at least not a lot of people. Because actually, on a bracket for the sdpn I did say that they were going to make the Conference Finals. So tapping myself on the back here.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: There you go.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: But I'll say this with the New York Rangers, the fact that they have the core that they have up front. The defense, like, the younger pieces like K'Andre Miller doing very well. And then Igor Shesterkin playing into the prime of his career.

Like, there's a window that's like opened up now where they can try-- they have to try to maximize as much as they can on that and take advantage now that they're well ahead of schedule. It's just probably a little bit longer, or a little bit more wide open than it might have been had they, I don't know, maybe missed the playoffs this year.

Or just kind of went about their rebuild just the way everyone else expects them to over, like, maybe a four or five year period. But I expect the Rangers to at least be back. It's just the same argument I was bringing up with the Colorado Avalanche, and how important it is for them to win this year.

Teams are going to get better. Teams are going to improve themselves.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Mm-hmm.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: And you know, it could affect a team like the Rangers in their trajectory towards the Conference Final. I'm not as familiar with their cap structure, and what pieces they're going to have to account for. But at some point, they're going to have to pay-- well, at least in their-- at least for the Rangers.

Because of how it's worked out with Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko not being these world beating Dynamo players, they probably aren't going to have to sign them to these exorbitant contracts when it comes time. So that probably helps. So, yeah, I think that will definitely help their situation. And plus, it's New York.

Like, if you're trying to get people to come play in New York, I don't think you're going to have to struggle with that compared to like a Winnipeg, or in Arizona for the next how many years. I think the New York Rangers have put themselves in a position where they have a good nucleus, and they are capable-- they should be able to build around it to put themselves in a position where they should be competitive for the next how many years.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah. I think they acted like a team that was maybe a little bit more ahead-- or a little bit further along than maybe they really were by going out and getting a lot of, you know, pending UFAs that they might have to spend a lot in order to retain, like, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, so on and so forth.

So they act-- but they were right. They were a team that was a couple of wins away from getting into the Stanley Cup Final. Like, they had a better read than I think a lot of people did when they were questioning whether they should have went out and got those rentals.

And I think there's some good and bad with being ahead of schedule, if we want to call it ahead of schedule. But I think you bring up a great point there, that Lafreniere, Kakko, Chytil, they're guys that are going to-- all of them-- I don't know if they all need contracts next year or the year after-- but soon enough they're going to need deals. But none of them have really emerged as something that's, you know, OK, we've got to break the bank in order to retain.

Like, they almost fall into the salary structure of Panarin, and Zibanejad, and Fox, and Trouba making the most on this team. And that's a benefit that these guys had a lot of experience at this level. You've seen the good and the bad from them. You've seen what they need in order to be the difference makers.

But if you could pay them before, perhaps you can keep the prices down to a reasonable degree and keep that core together. But as the old saying goes, you build championship teams from the net out. And if that is true, well, they've got Igor Shesterkin, who's by far an elite goaltender.

Probably the second best goalie in the league. Could be the best goalie in the league next year if Vasilevskiy is at the peak of his powers and might decline. I wouldn't set my watch to that, by any means. But Shesterkin is an elite, elite goaltender and someone you expect to be great in the postseasons and postseasons to come.

And then in front of him, you've got Adam Fox, who's an absolute stud. I gained a greater appreciation for him over the last two months. Ryan Lindgren, the same thing. His defense partner. Gained an appreciation for him.

Jacob Trouba. Maybe overpaid, but certainly a factor. And undeniably so in the playoffs. And then K'Andre Miller, who is very young, and into the-- like, the salad days of his career and was awesome.

So they've got a legitimate top four that you don't have to mess with, you don't have to worry about whatsoever, and an elite goaltender. So with that base, whatever you do up front, it almost doesn't even matter because you're going to be competitive with those five guys being the foundation of your team. So I expect big things from the Rangers.

They've got to make a lot of changes. They've got to sign players. They're going to be able to attract players. I think-- I think they're going to be very, very competitive for the next little while because of who they have in goal, and who they have as a top four defensive group that can really compare to almost anyone in the league.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I mean, the fact that they have like a Norris candidate defense player in Adam Fox, who I've been on record saying that he should be going for the Norris for the next decade. And then everyone else around him in that top four is solid, well above average.

Like, that's on par with some of the best defensive cores in the league.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yep.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Like, how many other teams could you say that you could put their top four compared to the Rangers top four on their defense?

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: The two in the Stanley Cup Final. That's it.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: That's basically it.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Honestly.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: And, like, thinking of it that--

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Which is something the team should be-- not a secret that quality defense gets you pretty far in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Jacob Trouba has to be easily the oldest one of all those guys.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Oh, yeah.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I think so, yeah.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Well, Lindgren could be sneaky older than we think, but I think he's still pretty young.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: But like it's-- like, they're not like an aging core. Like, this is a good-- again, like, the pieces that are there are healthy. Like, it's good-- I think it's good for them that they got to the point that they're at right now, getting to the Conference Final.

Not to mention the added playoff experience that they were able to get. Like, I see it here. Like, there's a-- even if it didn't work out the way of the Rangers, there's a weird transfer of power that could have easily happened if the Rangers won that series.

I just think the Rangers just have the pieces. And I get other teams could do well in the Eastern Conference and get better. But the Rangers have some great pieces all around the lineup that could help them get back to this point again, and then eventually surpass that.

And we haven't even gotten to Gerard Gallant, who's proven that he is a good coach. We've seen him get bounced around from different teams. And I think this year kind of proved-- I think the last year or so.

Between the world championship last year, and this playoff run, I think this put a lot of people on notice that Gerard Gallant is actually a good coach in the National Hockey League.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Oh, yeah. I mean, there's not zero controversy. The fact that Kaapo Kakko didn't play in game 6 is something that people are going to be talking about. And maybe there's an issue brewing there.

But this is a guy who routinely gets the best out of his group. And there's obviously no better example than taking a misfit Vegas Golden Knight team that everyone sort of laughed at when it was chosen to the Stanley Cup Final in year one. Like, there's no better example than that.

But this is a good example as well. And they are-- well, I don't know want to say they're better than that team, but they have more easily identifiable pieces. They've got a Vezina-winning netminder in a couple of weeks. They've got a former Norris Trophy winner in Adam Fox, who's going to be right there with Cale Makar for the next 10 years, as you mentioned.

They've got a lot of really solid pieces, and they just need to continue getting decent support into the system. Maybe one more impact player. Or you just rely on internal growth with Lafreniere. Maybe Kakko and Chytil.

They've got a lot that they have to do this summer, but they have a lot to work with. So I think we should expect the Metropolitan Division to perhaps go through the New York Rangers for maybe as much as the next five years with what they've got cooking there. So an impressive run for the New York Rangers, but it does fall two games short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

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