The New York Rangers, fresh off a President’s Trophy win and another appearance in the Eastern Conference finals, are a relative has been, at least according to Sports Illustrated’s latest NHL power rankings.
By Bryan Pol
With the puck set to drop on the New York Rangers’ season on Wednesday night against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, Sports Illustrated released their initial power rankings for the 2015-2016 NHL regular season.
Alas, SI deems the Blueshirts an also-ran, ranking them at sixteenth overall, behind the likes of their newly minted crosstown rivals, the New York Islanders (ranked sixth), and two teams whom they beat en route to last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins (ranked seventh off their acquisition of Phil Kessel) and the Washington Capitals (ranked fourth after bringing in Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie).
According to SI’s Allan Muir, head coach Alain Vigneault must coach “through limitations,” which Muir cited as the $11.2 million spent to retain “overrated” defensemen in Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Muir also claims the Rangers will miss speedster Carl Hagelin, dealt to Anaheim Ducks in order to carve out cap space for the Derek Stepan deal, and retired Martin St. Louis who, quite frankly, was MIA for much of New York’s President’s Trophy run, tragic considering all he accomplished in helping the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final the year before.
While New York will miss Hagelin’s speed and dynamic ability on the penalty kill unit, a unit that has had chronic issues, even during the John Tortorella era, the Rangers will feature Oscar Lindberg, unquestionably the club’s best rookie in training camp, a full season of Keith Yandle on the blue line, a healthy Mats Zuccarello, whom the Blueshirts sorely missed against Washington and Tampa Bay in last season’s playoffs, and a hungry Henrik Lundqvist, who believes his franchise is ready to hoist the Cup to punctuate what ought to be a compelling 2015-2016 campaign.
Acquired in the Hagelin deal was winger Emerson Etem, a former first round pick who infuses youth in the Rangers lineup. Also brought in was forward Viktor Stalberg, who scored 23 points for the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in 2012-2013, and Antti Raanta, who should be a capable backup to Lundqvist.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) October 2, 2015
There was healthy competition for the Rangers’ final spots on the roster, and with Tanner Glass and Dylan McIlrath effectively making the team, New York will feature toughness up front (Glass was surprisingly a plus for the Rangers last postseason) and depth/youth on the defense corps, as McIlrath, at 23, will be making his first Opening Day roster.
The Rangers are bound to see jumps from the likes of Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, and Chris Kreider, who has the chops to be a star in the league; his seven postseason goals proved crucial to New York’s ability to stretch the likes of the Capitals and Lightning to seven games each.
In the process of opening the season on the road in Chicago on Wednesday, the Rangers will bear witness to a Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony that is sure to goad the Blueshirts on and take their hungrier-than-ever goaltender, the postseason-galvanized Henrik Lundqvist, a former Vezina Trophy winner, to even greater heights, especially since his legs will be fresher going into the season in light of a ruptured blood vessel that nearly cost him three months of action at the tail end of last season.
Without question, the Rangers, a game away last season from making back-to-back Cup finals, are far better than SI’s sixteenth-place ranking would indicate, but flying under the radar, as they had these past two seasons, is just how Vigneault’s Rangers would prefer things to fall.
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