The NHL is considering temporary realignment for the 2021 season. This makes sense, as the travel restrictions coming with COVID-19 are going to impact the league. The NHL is the only league where international travel is a significant concern (Canada). Until the US gets its collective acts together and has federal and state guidelines to follow, then a normal regular season won’t be possible.
1. The realignment, according to Greg Wyshynski, would have four divisions: Canada, East, Central, and West. Obviously the Canadian Division is to limit international travel. It’s not ideal, but it at least gives us some hockey. The rest of the divisions are based on US Geography.
2. The Rangers would play in the East with Boston, Buffalo, Carolina, New Jersey, the Islanders, Philly, and Washington. This is basically the Northeast corridor, plus Carolina and Buffalo. Most travel can be done via train or bus. The idea is to limit cross country travel, and the East was the gimme there.
3. Absent are Pittsburgh and Columbus, which is interesting. They’d be in the Central Division with Florida, Tampa, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, and St. Louis. The new realignment means being creative, and that means no Crosby and no Tortorella. But it works, and again limits travel to the best of their ability.
4. The West has the most travel with Dallas, LA, Anaheim, San Jose, Colorado, Vegas, Arizona, and Minnesota. It’s odd, but I guess those are the leftover teams –specifically Minnesota and Dallas– once you have the other divisions. Temporary realignment wasn’t ideal for the NHL, but it is what it is.
5. Back to the Rangers – that division is a bloodbath. The Rangers are a flawed team, that we know. But they are also a skilled team that, with their talent and goaltending, could surprise a few people. The only teams they are 100% better than are Buffalo and probably the Devils. That puts them in 6th place in the division, not good enough.
6. For the Rangers to sneak into the playoffs, they need Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin to repeat their career years from last season. They also need elite level goaltending from Igor Shesterkin. On top of that, which isn’t an easy ask, they need major steps forward from their kids. It’s certainly possible, but that is the absolute ceiling of ceilings for them. Everything needs to click for that scenario.
7. The more realistic scenario is a grey area between the worst case (nothing happens) and the best case (everything happens). I’d put the Rangers at 4th-5th in the division, with a few kids taking a step forward, but Mika and Panarin unable to recreate ridiculous seasons. I mean, they will still put up great numbers, but maybe fall short of 50 goals/100 points, respectively.
8. Regarding #6 and #7, that’s fine! The goal is to develop this year. The first *true* competing year is 2021-2022. That’s why the Rangers mostly moved sideways this year. They need the kids to take the next step. The entire rebuild is predicated on the kids developing. We wanted the kids to get the playing time. They are about to.