Another championship drought ended on Wednesday night when the St. Louis Blues won their first-ever Stanley Cup in a dominant Game-7 showing against the Bruins in Boston.
It was the final stroke of a masterpiece put together by general manager Doug Armstrong and interim head coach Craig Berube. The two took the Blues from dead-last in the NHL on Jan. 3 to champions on Jun. 12.
Such a drastic turnaround provides the elusive promise that the Stanley Cup can be won by anyone in any given year. And it offers hope for both the New York Islanders and Rangers as they enter the most important parts of their offseason.
With both New York City-area teams currently at different phases of building a contender, importance varies on each of the three main transactional avenues: Free agency, the trade market, and the draft.
Here is a glimpse at what the Rangers and Islanders might be planning over the next few weeks as the draft begins on Jun. 21 and free agency starts up on Jul. 1.
For a franchise that admitted the ugly truth to its fans just 16 months ago that a full rebuild was on the way, the Rangers are very much ahead of schedule.
Granted, they received plenty of help from the NHL Draft Lottery, which awarded them with the No. 2 pick despite finishing the season with the league’s sixth-worst record.
It guarantees that the Blueshirts will be getting a game-changing talent in either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, depending on who the New Jersey Devils select at No. 1.
Hughes had long been considered as the top prospect of the 2019 draft class, but a strong showing by Kakko at the 2019 IIHF World Championships with Finland closed the gap.
Regardless, the Rangers are adding another premier talent to an already deep prospect pool that includes Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, and Vitali Kravtsov.
The pick will only help them become a larger player on the free-agent market. It will be plenty appealing to some big-name stars to join a young core that can compete in the Eastern Conference for at least the next decade.
It’s been well known that the Rangers will be in the running for playmaking winger Artemi Panarin, who is coming off a career season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Rumors have swirled since the beginning of the 2018-19 season that his preferred destinations are New York and Florida.
Rick Carpiniello of the Athletic also noted on Wednesday that the Rangers could pursue restricted free agents like Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Islanders catapulted from rebuilding to contending thanks to the stability brought in by Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz.
It’s been a tentative offseason, however, since they were eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs. With several tentative free agents ready to hit the market on Jul. 1, Lamoriello has only been able to re-sign Brock Nelson in the last month.
Islanders fans are still waiting to hear any news on the possible extensions involving captain Anders Lee, winger Jordan Eberle, and goaltending stalwart, Robin Lehner. Expect things to heat up, even more, the closer we get to Jul. 1.
That first day of July will also be the starting gun for the Islanders to go after some much-needed scoring help. Whether that means going all in for Panarin or Matt Duchene remains to be seen considering Lamoriello loves to keep his cards close to the vest.
The Islanders have the money to make a strong case for any big name. They currently have the eighth-most projected cap space available this summer at around $27 million, per CapFriendly.com.
To address additional offensive depth, the Islanders have an opportunity to deal from a position of strength to address a point of weakness.
Defensemen Nick Leddy and Thomas Hickey are reportedly on the trade block and could bring in second or third line talents. Arthur Staple of the Athletic noted that Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks and Mike Hoffman of the Florida Panthers could be prime trade targets, as well.
While Saad provides Cup-winning experience, Hoffman is coming off a career year in which he recorded 36 goals and 34 assists. Half of those goals came on the power play, which is something the Islanders struggled mightily with last year.