Hockey season is finally upon us and the New York Rangers are trying to improve off their disappointing finish in last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A humiliating Game 7 defeat at the hands of their rivals has forced change within the organization and a new face of leadership at the helm. Peter Laviolette was named the new head coach of the Blueshirts, and he’s tasked with finding a way to get a supremely talented team past the struggles of the last couple of years.
Can he accomplish that goal? Will the Rangers finally end their playoff woes in 2023? Is another trade on the horizon?
There are a lot of questions that will surround New York this season with a roster seemingly transitioning to a true-contending group. Before puck drop begins their 2023-24 season in Buffalo though, we need to look at the biggest questions that the team needs to answer this year.
How do Rangers respond to Peter Laviolette and his staff?
Laviolette’s style is tough and unrelenting. Like his predecessor, there’s no guarantee he can win over a locker room quickly and sustain that goodwill.
The Rangers are full of upstanding veterans who want to win hockey games. Their frustration under Gerard Gallant was a big reason why Turk is no longer a coach in New York. Will this same locker room take to Laviolette’s style? A lot of the 2023 season hinges on how the team responds to the adjustments made by this current staff.
Laviolette’s in-game adjustments have been well known and the style of play can make life miserable for opposing teams. That being said, that style isn’t exactly how the Rangers have played over the years.
What do adjustments look like for the team between games and periods?
A big reason for the team’s inability to beat the New Jersey Devils in last year’s playoffs was a lack of adjustments made in-game and post-game by the coaching staff. Can the coaching staff and players change the outlook from last season?
Like all questions surrounding the Rangers, these will need to be answered throughout the season. How Laviolette handles line changes, struggling players, or in-game adjustments can make or break an entire season.
In 2022, whenever a dry spell happened, quick line changes were made instead of letting a group figure out their problems together. That lack of stability came back to haunt the Rangers in key moments during the season. That can’t happen and most likely won’t happen in 2023 under Laviolette.
Can the Kids finally turn a corner?
We know how good Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Artemi Panarin all are. The key to success for the 2023 season is how good their young core looks.
Through the early stages of their career, the trio of Kaapo Kako, Alexis Lafreniere, and Filip Chytil have all looked solid at times but lacked true consistency to leave a dominating presence that their draft status expects. Kakko and Chytil may be coming off career years but they need to be even better than last season.
Then there is Lafreniere. The former first-overall pick hasn’t shown much improvement through the preseason and has continued to struggle to find a true role on this Rangers roster. If the Blueshirts are going to succeed this year, they need the best version of Lafreniere possible. If not, a potential move could certainly be on the horizon for the winger.
There’s no doubt about it, this is a make-or-break year for the kids this season.
Have the Rangers found their ideal final defensive pairing?
The Rangers’ top two defensive pairs are pretty clear to everyone. The Adam Fox-Ryan Lindgren duo is among the best in hockey and the K’Andre Miller-Jacob Trouba duo is a high-reward pair. The biggest question over the last few years has been who is a part of the final defensive pairing with Braden Schneider.
Perhaps the Rangers have finally found that player in Erik Gustafsson. He’s looked the most stable of any pairing with Schneider to this point. A lot of people within the organization are still high on Zac Jones, but as long as Gustafsson plays well with Schneider, there’s very little reason to change what works.
Stability is always key when it comes to a championship roster and that’s what the Rangers still believe themselves to be.
How do the Rangers go further in the Eastern Conference Playoffs?
New York faces a matchup nightmare through the entire Metropolitan Division. New Jersey and Carolina both have an identity that suits them well in the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders can cause problems for the way the Rangers want to play.
In short, how the heck do the Rangers even get past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, not just go on a deep playoff run?
That is the question that will be asked of this team after every game and every bad performance. The best way for the Rangers to answer this question is to play hard every rush, and not have lapses in focus – a key problem over the last few years. While this can certainly be tied to how the locker room responds to Laviolette, it’s also about how the players react to each other.
Too many times in 2022 saw the Rangers come out of games flat or have mental lapses in games that changed the course of the season. The only way that changes is if the leadership group and the rest of the organization step up in major ways.