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With season over, what’s next for New York Rangers?

New York Rangers
New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) skates off as members of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate a goal by Ondrej Palat during the third period in Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals Tuesday.
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

The New York Rangers surprised just about everyone this season with their run to the Eastern Conference Final, but now that the dust has begun to settle following their emotional Game 6 loss in Tampa Bay last Saturday it’s time to look at what is next.

It has been a little over four years since the Rangers released the now-famous letter announcing their planned rebuild and after that time the Blue Shirts find themselves on the cusp of being a perennial contender. That means the pressure is on for general manager Chris Drury to make this offseason count so that New York can get back to the conference final or reach its first Stanley Cup Final in eight years. 

Deciding who stays and who goes

The Rangers have a number of unrestricted free agents that they’ll have to decide whether or not to keep on Broadway. Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Strome take the top spots when it comes to their importance for the Blue Shirts. 

Copp and Vatrano both joined the team in the middle of the year via trades and became instant difference makers during the final stretch of the season and during the playoffs. Strome too — a self-described New Yorker after spending much of his career playing in the area — will need a new deal and his absence was felt during the games he missed in the Eastern Conference Final.  

The Rangers also have a need at center which, makes the decision surrounding those three specifically that more complicated. As a team, the Rangers won 43.9% of their faceoffs in the postseason which dipped from the 48.1% of faceoff wins they had during the regular season. 

Additionally, Tyler Motte, Justin Braun, Greg McKegg and Kevin Rooney will also be UFAs this summer. Alexander Georgiev, Kaapo Kakko and Samuel Blais are also slated to be restricted free agents. 

“There’s a lot of free agents and restricted free agents,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said on Monday in Westchester. “Drury has a lot of work to do, like every GM, in the next couple of weeks.”

Kaako Kappo and the Kids 

There was plenty of concern surrounding Gallant’s decision to scratch Kaako Kappo in Game 6, but at the end of the day, it appears that the Rangers are still quite high on the forward. Gallant said the decision was made so that he could ice the best team he felt would help win. 

The Rangers bench boss added that Kappo was a “good young player.” Drury echoed similar sentiments during a conference call with a select group of reporters on Wednesday morning. 

“There’s obviously a lot of belief from me and the staff of what his future holds,” Drury said, according to Lohud’s Vince  Mercogliano. “I know he’s excited for a good offseason and to come back next year and be ready.”

New York Rangers
New York Rangers’ Filip Chytil (72) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in New York.AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

With a bit of the drama now behind them in regards to that, the Rangers front office and coaching staff will need to decide how to utilize its young group of Kappo, Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil. The “Kid Line” as it was affectionately known as this year became big contributors during the course of the season and playoffs. 

Gallant hinted that they may not stay together next year, but still had envisioned them in the top-six of the Rangers lineup. 

How do the Rangers get over the hump?

This is the biggest question for the Rangers that they’ll need to figure out during the summer months before training camp opens. Drury will have to work some cap magic like many teams have to do this time of year, to free up space for any possible free-agent signings. 

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The lack of experience will no longer be a factor after going through the seven-game series with Pittsburgh and then Carolina. Then they followed it up by going six games with Tampa Bay Lightning. The belief is in the room among the players, who were vocal about it during their final meetings with the media on Monday. 

“We got young kids that are getting older,” Gallant said. “We got a nice window here coming up if everybody keeps developing and playing well. I don’t think we have to do a whole lot much different. We’re going to see what’s going to happen with free agents and stuff like that, but I’m real happy with our group.”

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