The Rangers drop the puck on their 2017-18 season Thursday night, when they host the Colorado Avalanche at The Garden. The team will play 10 of its first 13 games at home [10 home games in October!], which will give the team a chance to gel and, hopefully, get off to a positive start.
There have been a number of changes to the Blueshirts roster; in the salary cap era, roster turnover from season to season is a given. But more than a quarter of the New York roster will be new in 2017-18. The major moves the team made in the off-season seemed to fall into different categories:
They lost Oscar Lindberg to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft
They released Dan Girardi [though they will be paying him for the next six seasons]. He was then signed by Tampa Bay.
Kevin Klein retired.
They traded Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and Arizona’s 1st round pick in the 2017 entry draft.
They signed free agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who actually agreed to sign with the Rangers for less money than other teams were offering him [4 yrs, $6.65M avg].
And they drafted Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil in the 1st round of the 2017 NHL Draft.
Lindberg [8g, 12a in 65 games in 2016-17] will be missed; the Golden Knights chose him over Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast, and others. Girardi [4g, 11a in 63 games] had seen his productivity decline; it will interesting to see how he does with the Lightning.
Stepan [17g, 38a last season] had scored 50 or more points 5 times in his 7 seasons with the team. Raanta [16-8-2, 2,26 GAA in 2016-17] was a first-rate backup to Henrik Lundqvist and deserved to get a shot at being the starter somewhere, so his trade value was very high. Trading Stepan and Raanta allowed the team to sign Shattenkirk.
After seeing him the pre-season, Shattenkirk [13g, 43a with St. Louis and Washington] is the real deal. He’s terrific bringing the puck up-ice and getting things started in the offensive end, and is great as the quarterback on the power play. It will be fun to watch him play, and watch him team with Ryan McDonagh. The New York defense is immediately better than it was in 2016-17.
Both draftees, Andersson and Chytil, showed promise in the pre-season. Andersson was loaned to Frolunda in the Swedish professional league for more ‘seasoning’, but the 18-year-old Chytil will be on the Opening Night roster.
If the lines in the final practice last week are any indication, the team with start the season with the following lines:
Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich
Rick Nash-Chytil-Mats Zuccarello
Grabner-Kevin Hayes-J.T. Miller
Jimmy Vesey-David Desharnais-Paul Carey
Brady Skjei-Brendan Smith
Notes: Nash is entering the final season of a contract that pays him $7.8M/year. Zibanejad [5 yrs, $5.35M avg] and Smith [4 yrs, $4.34M avg] were re-signed in the off-season]. Fast will be out for a few weeks following off-season hip surgery. Desharnais played 49 games in 2016-17, for Montreal and Edmonton. The 30-year-old Pavelec was signed in the off-season to back up Lundqvist, after 10 seasons with Atlanta/Winnipeg.
Are the Rangers a better team than the one that was eliminated by Ottawa in the 2nd round of the playoffs last May? The defense, on paper, looks better. Lundqvist is still one of the best goalies in the game. But the offense will need several players to step up.