Last year, the New York Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy and ran away with the Metropolitan Division with a record of 53-22-7 (113 points). They were one win away from making a consecutive return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden.
What Would Make 2015-16 a Success?
The Rangers firmly believe they are within in the window of contending for a championship, with the core of their team intact and many of their players in their prime. With new general manager Jeff Gorton at the helm after Glen Sather stepped down, the Rangers see themselves sitting pretty for the foreseeable future.
“We signed most, if not all, of our core guys to pretty good contracts as far as length, so we have to believe that these guys are going to give us good years,” Vigneault told NHL.com. “Are we in our window, and how many years is that window? We’re a good team. I’m going to let the experts decide if we’re in the window or not.”
Rick Nash led the team with 42 goals and 69 points in 79 games last season, while Derick Brassard had a career-best in goals (19) and points (60).
While the hope is that Nash can replicate that performance, realistically he should have a mid-to-high 30 goal season. This shortfall in production, while not bad, will need to be made-up by others. They will also have to contend with the lost production of Martin St. Louis (21-31-52) after he retired this summer.
Two players that are expected to step-up are Mats Zuccarello (15-34-49) and Chris Kreider (21-25-46). Zuccarello should see his power-play time increase with the departure of St. Louis, and it’s not unrealistic to expect Kreider to reach the 30-goal plateau. They acquired Emerson Etem from the Anaheim Ducks for Carl Hagelin, with the hope being that Etem can show more offensive upside.
They re-signed J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast and avoided arbitration with Derek Stepan, believing that they will help in contending for the Stanley Cup. Kevin Hayes is expected to move to the wing after the team signed Jarret Stoll to a one-year deal.
Their defensive corps is intact, as they returned their top-six defensemen for this season. 26 year-old captain Ryan McDonaugh still has four years remaining on his contract. He’s joined on the blueline by Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle. Familiarity breeds chemistry, making the Rangers defense one of the tougher to play against.
“That doesn’t happen too often anymore, to have the same starting six guys,” said Ryan McDonagh to NHL.com. “It shows that the organization feels strongly that this is a group that can accomplish something.”
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, 34 years old and the highest paid goalie in the league, is squarely between the pipes and looks to maintain his status as one of the NHL’s elite for a few more years. Although he missed 25 games with a neck injury, he managed to go 30-13-3 with a 2.25 goals against average and .922 save percentage. They traded Cam Talbot to the Edmonton Oilers for picks and filled the backup role with Antti Raanta.
What Could Derail the Rangers?
If the Rangers don’t get increased production from the aforementioned players, they will find themselves in the thick of a tight battle within the division.
And while the Rangers have largely the same team they had last season, the majority of the Metropolitan Division has gotten better. They could very well be in the midst of a unexpected dogfight for playoff positioning.
Is This a Playoff Team?
The signs all point to a return to the postseason, although don’t expect them to walk away from the field as they did in 2014-15.
How they finish: 47-28-7 (101 points), 3rd in the Metropolitan Division.