Over the span of six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, it’s the New York Rangers…
After being shut out of the playoffs entirely from 1998 to 2004, the New York Rangers have only missed the postseason festivities once (2010) since. But last year was a disappointment, as they bowed out to Pittsburgh in just five games.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Rangers haven’t had a first-round pick in the draft since 2012. So it’s not like their prospect pool is just overflowing with talent at the moment. In an effort to shake things up, they swung a deal to get Mika Zibanejad from Ottawa, then lured rookie free agent Jimmy Vesey to town. Not exactly blockbuster moves, but they at least bring a little upside to the table. And that’s a much-needed quality right now.
Has this group’s window to win a Cup closed?
The organization is in sort of a weird spot. They’re too good to just bottom out and start rebuilding. Far too good for that, in fact. But they also seem to be trending away from “legitimate Stanley Cup contender” status and more towards the label of “perennial playoff team that’s capable of advancing one or two rounds each year”.
Anytime you have a netminder like Henrik Lundqvist in the crease, you have a shot to win. And he’s especially dangerous in a decisive Game 7 scenario. But New York has to get to that Game 7 first, in order to really take advantage of their edge between the pipes. And that obviously didn’t happen last April.
In order to start moving in the right direction again, New York will need more production from Rick Nash, plus a boost from some of the younger guys in the lineup. And they’ll need to find a way to get the puck from their blueliners up to their forwards on a more consistent basis — something that could be even tougher with Keith Yandle now in Florida.
The Metro Divison is a tough one to get through. And while this roster still has the potential to upset the Capitals or maybe even the Penguins if everything goes their way in a playoff series, the idea of going through both of them — and likely Tampa Bay as well — seems a little overwhelming at the moment.
NOTABLE SUMMER ACQUISITION
Jimmy Vesey (from NSH and BUF somehow)
The reigning Hobey Baker Award winner hasn’t made a lot of friends around the league over the last five months — and he hasn’t even played a game yet. First, he spurned the team that drafted him by giving the Predators the thanks-but-no-thanks treatment just before their playoff run. Then the Sabres traded for his rights and he denied them too. Finally, he turned down his hometown club in Boston, and a variety of proven winners like the Blackhawks for so-called hockey reasons. And now he’s in New York.
Finally, he turned down his hometown club in Boston, and a variety of proven winners like the Blackhawks for so-called hockey reasons. And now he’s in New York.
If he lives up to the hype, most of this will eventually be forgotten. But he’s probably going to hear it from fans in a few cities this year. And he’s going to start hearing it in the Big Apple at some point too, if he can’t deliver on his immense potential.
Pavel Buchnevich (drafted: No. 75 overall in 2013)
Well, the Rangers don’t ever seem to pick in the first round anymore, so they have to hit on some of these later selections if they want to have any prospects in the system.
Buchnevich has had success in the KHL as a playmaker with good offensive instincts, and that’s pretty much exactly what New York needs up front right now. Depending on how quickly he can transition to the NHL game, he could be a key addition in the not-too-distant future.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million)
Suggestions that Lundqvist might be starting his decline because of one subpar playoff performance seem a little premature. He’s only 34, after all. And that playoff effort spanned just five games against the eventual Stanley Cup champs, who were out for revenge against a Rangers club that had ended their previous two seasons. Oh yeah, all of the skaters in front of him seemed to just let the Pittsburgh forwards walk right in for shooting practice in each of the last two contests too. He was basically on an island by the end of that series.
In other words, if you’re selling Lundqvist stock based on that tiny sample size, I’ll take a quick glance back at his previous 111 career playoff games and gladly buy.
2017 FREE AGENT TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Fresh off back-to-back 20-goal seasons — and still just 23 years old — Zibanejad could be an important piece of the puzzle for the Rangers as they move forward. After all, they did just trade leading goal scorer Derick Brassard away to get him.
Zibanejad will be a restricted free agent next summer, though, so the upcoming season is a pivotal one – both for him as an individual, and for the organization as they evaluate him.
Two years ago, Nash poured in 42 goals. Last season? Um, try 15. That’s a remarkable drop-off, even if he did miss 22 games in 2015-16.
For whatever reason, Nash just hasn’t been the same dynamic player in New York that he was for all those years in Columbus. But it seemed like he might have been turning a corner in the 2014-15 campaign, as those 42 tallies were a new career high. And that’s saying something for a guy who has now cracked the 30-goal barrier eight times in his career. Then again, all those stats with the Blue Jackets five years ago don’t really mean much to Rangers fans now. Just ask them.