What Went Wrong is our annual series where we look at the teams that failed to make the playoffs. Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2018-19 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
The New York Rangers failed to qualify for the postseason for a second straight year after finishing with a 32-36-14 record. This marks the first time that New York has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 1998-2004 when the club had a seven-year drought. The Rangers tied Detroit for the third-fewest victories in the league and the team tied Colorado and Florida for the most losses in overtime or shootouts with 14.
The Rangers allowed points to slip through their fingers with regularity in 2018-19. The team had an NHL-low .432 winning percentage in games when the team scored the first goal. They were only team with a sub-.500 winning percentage in those situations. This was a particularly big problem in the first half of the season, when the Rangers were 3-4-3 through Dec. 14 in games when they took a 2-0 lead. New York posted a league-low 16 wins when they scored first. The Rangers also had 10 losses in regulation and a league-leading 11 defeats in overtime when getting the opening goal of the contest.
New York struggled on offense with 2.70 goals for per game, which tied them with the Buffalo Sabres for 23rd overall. Mika Zibanejad was the team’s lone 30-goal scorer, while Chris Kreider (28) and Pavel Buchnevich (21) were the only other players who were able to top the 20-goal plateau. Zibanejad had a career year with 74 points in 82 matches, but beyond him the Rangers had just one other skater surpass 50 points and that was Kreider.
The Rangers also had problems defensively. The team allowed the ninth-most goals against per game (3.26) and the penalty kill ranked 27th overall (78.2%). New York and Colorado were tied for the third-most power-play goals against in 2018-19 with a total of 58. Henrik Lundqvist had a rough season and at 37 years of age his numbers have been on the decline. The Rangers have Alexandar Georgiev and newly-singed prospect Igor Shesterkin waiting in the wings, but Lundqvist still has another two seasons left on his current contract.
New York’s rebuilding process continued in 2018-19 and more players were dealt prior to the trade deadline. The Rangers went into full-scale sell mode when pending UFAs Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid were sent to Dallas, Winnipeg and Columbus, respectively. New York posted a record of 5-10-5 after the deadline.
The Rangers have nine picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, including two in the first round. New York had a 7.5% chance of landing the first-overall pick and moved up from the No. 6 spot to second overall at the Draft Lottery. This is the second time the franchise will have the No. 2 pick and the last one was used on Hall of Famer Brad Park in 1966. The Rangers already have some strong prospects in their system, with Adam Fox, Vitali Kravtsov, K'Andre Miller and Libor Hajek, and adding someone with the caliber of Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko would be the cherry on top of an already impressive group. Getting Kakko if the New Jersey Devils select Hughes is more than just a consolation prize.
New York has the means to accelerate their rebuild this off-season if management decides to, with plenty of cap space at the ready, but the team could also choose to continue to stockpile picks and prospects. The Rangers have plenty of players who will be on expiring contracts in 2019-20, including Kreider, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Strome, Jimmy Vesey, Jesper Fast and Georgiev. Some of them could be used in additional trades. There is a great deal for General Manager Jeff Gorton and new President John Davidson to consider going into next season, but the pieces are there for this to become a solid rebuild.
Henrik Lundqvist - Lundqvist had a season to forget in 2018-19. He posted the worst numbers of his career with a .907 save percentage and 3.07 goals-against average. He made just 52 appearances, which represents the third-fewest outings of his career. Lundqvist also posted just 18 victories, which is the lowest total of his 14-year career. The veteran netminder lost starts to Georgiev down the stretch, as the young backup played 10 of the team’s final 19 matches. Lundqvist should be able to record better numbers next season, but playing behind a rebuilding squad that has plenty of question marks is unlikely to result in a return to form that most have grown accustomed to seeing from him.
Pavel Buchnevich - Buchnevich has shown flashes of his offensive prowess, but it hasn’t been fully realized yet. He produced 21 goals and 38 points in 64 contests. Buchnevich spent some time as a healthy scratch and dealt with injuries, while going through some hot and cold stretches. He finished the year with nine goals and 13 points in his last 17 matches, while skating on the top line with Zibanejad and Kreider. Buchnevich has the potential to be a standout performer in 2019-20.
Lias Andersson - Andersson split time between the AHL and NHL this past season. He had six goals and 20 points in 36 minor-league matches for Hartford. The 20-year-old forward picked up two goals and six points in 42 contests with the Rangers. Andersson averaged just 10:43 of ice time per game at the NHL level. The seventh overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft could take on a larger role in 2019-20 and if he gets that opportunity then he will need to elevate his play.
Filip Chytil - Chytil skated in 75 games with the Rangers in 2018-19 and he accounted for 11 goals and 23 points. The 19-year-old forward shifted between the wing and center positions throughout the year. He will turn 20 before the start of the 2019-20 season and should be able to take some steps forward even if his breakout is still another year or two away.