(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!) To call the last few months a roller coaster for the New York Rangers would be understating it.
The Rangers began last season with the dawn of the Rick Nash Era; made a dramatic deadline move in sending a slumping Marian Gaborik to Nash’s former team; had defenseman Marc Staal have his career threatened after taking a puck to the eye; watched star center Brad Richards struggle mightily in the playoffs, having a fallout with coach John Tortorella, advancing to the second round, seeing Tortorella fired and then watching the man he’d replace in Vancouver, Alain Vigneault, replace him in New York.
It’s a team with untapped offensive potential, strong defensemen and the best goalie in the Eastern Conference. Free of Torts, can the Rangers finally win their first Stanley Cup in nearly 20 years?
Rick Nash brings the shootout nasty against the Boston Bruins. Did Jack Edwards make a Tarzan reference there?
The biggest departure was, of course, John Tortorella, whose abrasive comportment, commitment to shot-blocking and offensive challenges in the postseason final wore out their welcome.
The Rangers bid adieu to deadline acquisition Ryane Clowe, who signed with the Devils; depth defensemen Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy; and depth forwards Christian Thomas and Kris Newbury.
Justin Falk (Wild) and Aaron Johnson (Bruins) were brought in on defense, while Benoit Pouliot was signed as a free agent up front. Dominic Moore is back with the Rangers, attempting to make the roster after taking a year away from hockey to be with his wife, who died of cancer at age 32 in January.
Forward: The Rangers leading scorer last season was center Derek Stepan, who as of Sept. 19 was in a restricted free agent contract squabble with the team. His play with speedy Carl Hagelin and Nash, who had 21 goals in 44 games in his first season with the Rangers.
Captain Ryan Callahan continued to give the Rangers tough minutes, especially shorthanded, and dependable offense with 31 points. Derick Brassard found his offensive game after the Gaborik trade, scoring 11 points in 13 games and continuing to play well in the postseason. Hobbit Wizard Mats Zuccarello brings some skill to the wing, while Derek Dorsett is the kind of tough agitator teams love. Moore, Darroll Powe, Taylor Pyatt, Arron Asham and J.T. Miller fill out the ranks.
All that said, the Rangers’ have three complete question marks at the forward spot. The first is the incredibly talented Chris Kreider, who had just two goals in 23 games last season after a star rookie performance in the 2012 postseason. Out from under Tortorella’s thumb, can he shine?
Brian Boyle had two goals in 38 games after scoring 32 goals in the previous two seasons combined. What can he bring to the Rangers in a contract year?
Finally, Brad Richards is signed through 2020 at a $6.667 million cap hit. His reasonable stats in the regular season covered up what was, overall, a very average year. His postseason performance – 1 goal in 10 games, his ice time dipping to 14:43 – was one of the all-time flameouts for a star player. Can Vigneault help him recapture his game, or is he destined for a buyout?
Defense: A healthy Staal gives the Rangers an outstanding top four, with Dan Girardi (25:24 per night) leading the way along with Ryan McDonagh (24:21) and Michael Del Zotto, who makes up for some defensive liabilities with solid offense.
After that, the Rangers will be choosing from Anton Stralman, Falk, John Moore (who impressed after the Gaborik trade) and Johnson, with the ever-present Stu Bickell, journeyman Danny Syvret and bruising rookie Dylan McIlrath waiting in the wings.
Goalies: Once again, Henrik Lundqvist carried the Rangers when they needed him, with a league-best 24 wins and a 2.05 GAA along with a Vezina nomination. Will his numbers change minus Tortorella’s defensive front? It probably won’t matter to Hank if it means a few more Rangers goals in the playoffs that he hasn’t been getting. Marty Biron will be his backup.
Beyond how strange it is that the Canucks and Rangers flipped coaches, it’s equally strange that both lost their jobs because their teams could score in the playoffs. AV comes to New York with a reputation for offense; can he activate the latent scoring, while bringing a refreshing new attitude to what as a tension convention.
Glen Sather battled through health issues and remains one of the most respected general managers in the NHL. Well, at least when he’s making trades, rather than signing big free agents.
Here’s the official Rangers playoff song from 2012, and their goal song, and it’ll really get you going on that elliptical trainer.
Lundqvist. Could it be anyone else? As long as the King is between the pipes, the Rangers are a contender. Give him some goal support, and things could get really interesting.
McDonagh. Girardi’s probably still the best defenseman on the team, but McDonagh is quickly joining the conversation.
Stepan. He blossomed into a No. 1 center last season, and could play a prominent role for the U.S. in Sochi as well.
Richards. One hopes the veteran can turn his career around; but if he’s lost a step, it’s going to cost him ice time and, eventually, the Rangers a buyout.
It says here that Vigneault has a more positive impact with the Rangers than Tortorella does with the Canucks. The NYR will finish second in the Metro, and challenge for the Stanley Cup, with the itchy trigger finger of Sather willing to do what it takes to get them over that hump.