New York Rangers, New York Rangers Season Preview, Patrick Kane, Peter Laviolette

3 Rangers Storylines to Follow This Season

It has become a time of the utmost uncertainty for the New York Rangers. Significant offseason changes have dramatically shifted the Blueshirts into a precarious position before the 2023-24 NHL campaign. The arrival of new head coach Peter Laviolette, the departure of superstar deadline acquisitions, and the bolstering of division rival rosters collectively contribute to the unpredictable future for the original-six squad.

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The Rangers and their fanbase alike spent the beginning of the summer in emotional shambles following a devastating first-round exit to the rival New Jersey Devils in seven games. General manager (GM) Chris Drury pushed the team to acquire generational talent Patrick Kane at last season’s trade deadline for a potentially deep Cup run. However, struggles with cap space make it nearly impossible for Kane to return unless he miraculously accepts a deep pay cut.

Gallant Out, Laviolette In

The first of three integral changes to the Ranger’s makeup comes in the form of a coaching change. On May 6, The Rags and their bench boss Gerard Gallant “mutually agreed to part ways.” While some frustrated Ranger fans were ecstatic to see Gallant go, there is no denying the team’s success during his tenure in New York; He led the fast-paced squad to a 99-46-19 record over two seasons, reaching the postseason in both tries, along with a trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2021-22.

Head coach Peter Laviolette, Washington Capitals
Head coach Peter Laviolette during his tenure with the Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This is a team in win-now mode, and after coming up short in two straight playoff appearances, it was time to let Gallant walk. In a swift move on June 13, Chris Drury swooped in to hire Peter Laviolette as the new head coach of the Blueshirts. Per Pierre LeBrun, the deal is for three years at just under $5 million per season. Laviolette boasts a veteran 22-year coaching career, spanning over five organizations and reaching the ultimate prize with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. He most recently commanded the Washington Capitals in 2022-23, where they failed to reach the postseason.

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Despite his impressive resume, there is a sense of unpredictability surrounding Laviolette in New York. After two impeccable regular season performances under Gallant, it will take the Rangers time to adjust to a new system. What Rangers fans can cling to is Laviolette’s longevity in the NHL; Landing a coaching job is hard enough, so maintaining that post becomes even more of a challenge. Cleaning up the sloppy tactics of Gallant and implementing a new style that provides a polished forecheck and emphasis on prospect development will be Laviolette’s greatest trial to date.

Kane and Tarasenko Hit the Road

When the rumor that the Rangers were pursuing Patrick Kane first reared its head, the rest of the Metropolitan division went into worry mode. Adding a player of Kane’s Hall-of-Fame caliber should, in theory, propel the team closer to a Stanley Cup. With Carolina and New Jersey surging, the Rags pulled out all of the stops to give them an edge over their towering divisional counterparts. Drury had already snagged veteran sniper Vladimir Tarasenko from the St. Louis Blues in early February, building offensive depth for the playoffs.

Patrick Kane New York Rangers
Patrick Kane, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Rangers believed they had lightning in a bottle, and they were sorrily mistaken. After collapsing against the Devils for a humiliating elimination in the first round, dreams of Lord Stanley came crashing down. Tarasenko found the back of the net three times in the Devils series, with Kane scoring only once. They finished the playoffs with a combined 10 points. With the season coming to an abrupt end, and their gamble on veteran presence failing to reach fruition, New York’s front office knew there was no method of retaining the two goal-scoring superstars.

Related: Rangers’ Lafreniere Is Entering a Make-or-Break Season

The Blueshirts currently sit with no “wiggle room” in terms of cap space, and Kane is a free agent. Meanwhile, Tarasenko is already getting comfortable in his new squad, having signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Ottawa Senators in late July. Rangers fans and coaches alike anticipated these two seasoned stars would help lead them to glory; But in the bitter end, both of the offensive phenoms amounted to mere deadline rentals. Filling those roles will prove to be strenuous for New York this season.

Division Rivals Turning Up Heat

In evaluating the Rangers’ potential for success or failure in the upcoming season, it’s important to use their Metropolitan Division counterparts as an extra gauge. Under Gallant’s direction, New York finished second in 2021-22 and third in 2022-23, respectively. The increased divisional intensity in 2022-23 came as a result of the Devils joining the mix of playoff contenders after years of mediocrity and subpar play.

K'Andre Miller Rangers Michael McLeod New Jersey Devils
K’Andre Miller of the New York Rangers checks Michael McLeod of the New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The boys in red, white, and blue have their work cut out for them this season. The path to the division crown comes with extra roadblocks this season in the form of strengthened rival powerhouses in Carolina, New Jersey, and even Pittsburgh. Already regarded as the best team in the Metro, the Hurricanes went one leg further by adding Dimitry Orlov on the back end and budding first-liner Michael Bunting to complement Sebastian Aho’s eight-year extension. They remain the Rangers’ greatest threat to a divisional crown.

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Devils’ GM Tom Fitzgerald made a point to lock down the talent that helped them trump the Rangers and produce a deep playoff run. Both offensive slashers Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt received eight-year contracts, while veteran Tyler Toffoli was brought over from Calgary via trade. Additionally, Pittsburgh’s hiring of Kyle Dubas as President of Hockey Operations gives them an extra push. He provided the Penguins with new bottom-six depth options and added reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson from San Jose.

Despite the bumpy road ahead of them, this season’s Rangers are poised to make a splash. The Rags’ core four (Panarin, Zibanejad, Fox, and Kreider) are world-class players who won’t let a coaching change or division rivals slow them down, and surely will not go down without a fight. Along with the layer of variability surrounding this upcoming season is a sense of excitement. It’s time to see if there really is “no quit in New York.”

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