Season Preview: New York Rangers
After a sluggish start under new coach Alain Vigneault, the Rangers went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last season.
Can the blue shirts repeat that feat? Or go one better this season?
Having one of the worlds best goaltenders certainly doesn’t hurt…
New York cut ties with Brad Richards over the summer; freeing up a considerable amount of cap space and bringing to an end something of a circus surrounding the player. The veteran centre did not look like the force he once was, and his mega contract became a weight around both his and the clubs neck.
Will the same now happen to Rick Nash? Arguably the biggest question mark for the Rangers heading in to the season is the former Rocket Richard winners form. The 30-year old was not the same after recovering from a concussion last season, with his production noticeable falling away.
Whilst Nash still did a lot of things right, he’s paid to score goals – and if he can’t do that, $7.8m is a lot to pay for a glorified grinder.
Veteran Martin St Louis enters the final year of his deal, after the controversial trade that took him to Broadway last season. A fierce competitor, St Louis has already ‘volunteered’ to play down the middle while Derek Stepan recovers from a broken leg.
Winger Chris Kreider began to bloom as the season progressed, finishing the year with 17 goals and 37 points in 66 before adding 5 goals and 13 points in 15 play-off contests.
With the addition of college star Kevin Hayes, New York seems to have maintained a good balance of youth and experience along the boards.
Hayes and Kreider and joined by Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarelo and veteran Lee Stempniak, with former Pittsburgh and Tampa winger Ryan Malone also given the opportunity to get his career back on track.
At centre, the Rangers add former Predators forward Matthew Lombardi, who should get some competitive minutes while Stepan is out. Derek Brassard agreed a 5-year, $25m extension during the summer, with veteran Dominic Moore bringing a wealth of experience to the bottom 6.
The loss of Derek Dorsett and Brian Boyle is not ideal from a ‘sandpaper’ point of view, but the biggest departure for the Rangers this summer may prove to be Benoît Pouliot, who developed in to a strong possession player for the club.
At The Back
Ryan McDonagh assumes the role of Captain this season, as the Minnesota native continues his rise to ‘elite’ status among NHL defencemen.
Marc Staal and Dan Giradi are now well established along the clubs blue line – though the latter had some issues with form last season. Sophmore John Moore will be keen to build on a promising start to his NHL career, while veteran Kevin Klein begins his first full season with the club, after being acquired from Nashville last year.
Former Tampa and San Jose D man Dan Boyle joins as a free agent, effectively replacing Anton Stralman – who heads to Florida to join the Lightning.
The end result is another solid defensive core for the Rangers – providing them the the backbone required to succeed in the NHL now.
Between The Pipes
What can be said about Henrik Lundqvist that hasn’t already been said?
The veteran Swede has been the cornerstone of the franchise for almost a decade now. Whilst he made a slow start last term, he still posted a .920 save percentage in the regular season and dialled it up a notch at the Olympics and in the post season.
Though some may consider a cap hit North of $8m steep for a goaltender in the modern game, Lundqvist is arguably the best in the world – and as such gives New York an elite performer in the team’s most important role.
Cam Talbot, who impressed last season, returns as backup.
Behind The Bench
Alain Vigneault appears to have revitalised the Rangers after they went stale under John Tortorella.
Entering the second year of his 5-year deal; Vigneault’s teams have not missed the post season since 2008, and he’s been to the Stanley Cup Final twice in the past four years.
Biggest Addition – Ryan Malone
A controversial choice perhaps, given his recent run in with the law. But on a single year deal under $1m, Malone could be a solid power forward on a budget for a Rangers team who lost two gritty wingers when Dorsett and Boyle left.
Biggest Loss – Benoît Pouliot
Say what you will about ‘advanced stats’, but the way Pouliot helped New York control play cannot be ignored.
Bound for Edmonton, the 27-year old was not the flashiest of players but he was effective.
Key Man – Rick Nash
Nash was brought in to give the Rangers an elite scorer.
A lock out shortened first year on Broadway still yielded 21 goals, but concerns about the 30-year olds health spread as he struggled after returning from a concussion.
Nash still scored 26 goals in 65 games, but potted just 3 goals in 25 post season games. A return that’s simple not acceptable from one of the teams biggest names.
If Nash can get back on track, the Rangers have one of the games most potent scorers.
This Seasons Chances…
New York still possess good depth across the board. After last years trip to the Final, it’s hard not to feel their roster could make a run at the Cup again – but concerns over the form of players like Nash or Giradi are unwelcome distractions that the club will seek to put to bed early if they are going to chase the clubs first championship in a decade.