When the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs last April, by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, many wondered whether the Blueshirts’ window to win a Stanley Cup was closing.
Rather than stand pat, the team had a busy off-season. In the process, two popular players, the one with the most goals in 2015-16 [Derick Brassard] and the one with the most assists last season [Keith Yandle] are gone. While there are still aging players under long-term contracts, the team added speed, youth, and promise. Leaving Rangers fans feeling cautiously optimistic, going into the 2016-17 season.
The biggest deal in the off-season was the trade that send Brassard to the Ottawa Senators for center Mika Zibanejad. In August, the Blueshirts ‘won’ the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes, convincing the highly-touted free agent forward to sign with the team. The team signed other free agents, including forward Brandon Pirri, who made quite an impression in the pre-season, forcing the team to make room for him on the roster.
Others who are not back from 2015-16 include Dan Boyle, Eric Staal, Viktor Stalberg, and Dominic Moore.
But things are not all sweetness and light. The defense and special teams would have to be called the team’s biggest concerns. It may be too much to expect Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal AND Dan Girardi to all have bounceback seasons. Someone – perhaps Brady Skjei – will have to fill Yandle’s skates.
Coach Alain Vigneault will start the season with a 13-8-2 roster. Looking at that roster, the lines could end up as:
Chris Kreider-Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich
J.T. Miller-Kevin Hayes-Rick Nash
Vesey-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello
Pirri-Josh Jooris-Jesper Fast
with Michael Grabner as the 13th forward. Oscar Lindberg had hip surgery in the off-season, and a move would have to be made when he becomes healthy.
And the defensive pairings may be:
with Dylan McIlrath and Adam Clendening in the mix.
Henrik Lundqvist remains one of the league’s premier goaltenders. As long as Lundqvist is between the pipes, the Rangers have a chance for a magical season. The popular Antti Raanta is back as the backup.
If players like Zibanejad, Vesey and Buchnevich make a splash, players like Zuccarello and Miller continue to grow and improve, players like Nash, McDonagh and Girardi return to form, and if Lundqvist plays like Lundqvist, it could be a fun year to follow the Rangers.