Rangers running it back to start 2024-2025 does not spell doom…yet

It seems like the Rangers running it back is a harsh reality that many may need to face when heading into the 2024-2025 season. After all, that team won the President’s Trophy despite missing a legitimate 3C for the entire season, losing Adam Fox for 6 weeks, losing Kaapo Kakko for 2 months, and Mika Zibanejad having a down year. In theory, the Rangers running it back with some tinkering should be fine. At least in theory.

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the Rangers this upcoming season. Chytil should hopefully be healthy and is better than both Nick Bonino and Alex Wennberg. Reilly Smith is better than Blake Wheeler and Jack Roslovic. Jacob Trouba on two healthy ankles should be better than peg leg Trouba from the playoffs. Fox on two healthy knees is better. Zac Jones should be a better fit for what the Rangers need right now than Erik Gustafsson.

The glaring issue is the Rangers didn’t address the need for a bit of a heavier lineup. At least, again, not yet. It’s only July 5, and there’s plenty of time to tinker. But this team, as currently constructed is still enough to be a top team in the Eastern Conference and a Stanley Cup contender. They made incremental upgrades on a team that was a bounce away from a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Final. They aren’t that far off.

Rangers running it back may have a ceiling

But if you’re looking at the Rangers running it back–as currently constructed–and worrying about how far they can go, there’s a legitimate concern. It appears this core has a ceiling that is the Eastern Conference Final, specifically six games. Tampa beat a team that probably shouldn’t have been there. Florida was simply better. It’s clear they need something else to get over the hump, lest they become the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Many focused on a 2RW to go alongside Zibanejad and Chris Kreider as the biggest need. While that was certainly a need, getting a big name wasn’t the way to fill that role. The Rangers needed a pass first, 5v5 play driver at wing with that duo, and Smith meets both of those criteria. He’s not a Matt Tkachuk type player, but few are. Hanging the entire offseason on trading for Brady Tkachuk was a fool’s errand. He was never available, despite what Linda Cohn said.

However the biggest need for the Rangers was a retooling of the blue line, getting more puck movers back there. There’s only so much even the best forwards in hockey can do when the defense can’t get out of the zone cleanly. Florida destroyed the Rangers in this regard. Moving the puck up the ice was a big need.

They don’t need to address it all right now

The Rangers running it back, at least as of July 5, likely won’t get them beyond a certain point in the playoffs without some luck. But it will at least get them to the playoffs, where they can make changes at the trade deadline as needed. There’s also 2 months of offseason remaining for Chris Drury to make a big splash trade to address some other needs.

Assuming, with the Rangers running it back, that Peter Laviolette tinkers his lineup to put players like Trouba in a better position to succeed, the Rangers may not need to make wholesale changes at the deadline. Though I am still of the belief this team can’t have both Trouba and Ryan Lindgren back, some tinkering might make it work.

Another issue is the odd need some had to combine all of the Rangers needs into a singular player, like Tkachuk, to be a fix-all. Matt Tkachuk wasn’t a fix-all in Florida. He was a key piece for sure, but without players like Gustav Forsling, Brandon Montour, Carter Verhaeghe, Evan Rodrigues, and other key role players, they wouldn’t be Cup champs.

The big question is: Do the Rangers have the right core with the wrong role players? Or is it they have the right role players with the wrong core? Or was it all just some bad puck and injury luck that spelled doom?

Perhaps this is all too rose-colored-glasses for you, and that’s fine. The Rangers running it back isn’t ideal, and I think we can all agree. But it’s enough to put them in the Cup conversation heading into the trade deadline, where there will be more opportunity to upgrade the team based on how the season plays out.

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