Head coach Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff have a lot to do to get the New York Rangers ready for the season opener.
When this 2016-17 season concluded, the New York Rangers organization realized that the current team needed to be improved in different areas if it was going to get deeper in the NHL playoffs next season.
General manager Jeff Gorton began right away and the new look Rangers began to take place.
Gorton had to free up some salary cap if he was going to be able to bring in the players he wanted to improve the team. His first move was buying out long time Ranger defense-man Dan Girardi. Next on the list of improvement was dealing with the NHL expansion draft. Here is where the team lost Oscar Lindberg to the Las Vegas Golden Knights — a tough loss that the Rangers really could not avoid because they didn’t have much to offer the Golden Knights to make a deal.
Following the expansion draft, Gorton made his best trade yet as he dealt center Derek Stepan and goalie Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes for D Anthony Deangelo and a first round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. That draft pick, seventh overall, brought the team Lias Andersson and with the Rangers second first round pick in the 2017 draft, 21st overall, they chose Filip Chytil.
When free agency began, the Rangers scored the best player available as New Rochelle, New York native Kevin Shattenkirk signed a four-year deal with the Rangers. Along with the team re-signing Brendan Smith the team appeared to improve from last season especially on the blueline.
Yet as the defense was improved, another problem became more apparent now the Rangers lacked depth at the forward position. The question that now needs to be asked is have they really improved from last season?
The expansion draft and the trade with Arizona, though very successful in improving the blueline, hurt the Rangers on the offense side of their game. The team now finds itself without two of last seasons starting centers. Oscar Lindberg was a valued player for AV. His numbers from last season weren’t outstanding, 65 games played with eight goals, 12 assists for 20 points with a 52.0 FO% rating, but sometimes a player’s stats are not what makes the player.
Lindberg was an excellent penalty killer and fast skater which allowed him to skate against the oppositions best players. Derek Stepan, a seven year veteran with the Rangers, was an Assistant Captain who registered 17 goals, 35 assists for 55 points and had a 47.0 FO%. The Rangers did sign C David Desharnais a solid third or fourth line player, but he’s not really a player you would consider to replace Stepan’s scoring.
The team also needed to find a new back up goalie for Henrik Lundqvist after Antti Raanta was traded to Arizona. They signed free agent Ondrej Pavelec to a one year contract but he only played eight games last year with a 4-4 win-loss record for the Winnipeg Jets. This move appears to have been done more on necessity rather than reliability. The Rangers need a goalie who can not only play 25 games during the season but win the majority of them playing in one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. Is Pavelec really the back up the Rangers can use?
The Rangers also have one more question that needs to be answered. That is Mika Zibanejad. He is a restricted free agent who has an arbitration hearing set for Tuesday, Jul. 25. The team can ill-afford to lose another center. This is more important than signing another center or forward. The Rangers traded Dereck Brassard last summer, should the team should fail to get Zibanejad signed it would be a significant blow to improving the team for this season.
Many Holes to Still Fill
Now that all of this has been laid out, what does it mean for AV and the team?
There are a lot of questions to be addressed. The team still needs to find another center, as AV has stated that J.T. Miller will not start the season at center. Jesper Fast will start the season out of the lineup as he recovers from hip surgery. Who will step in his spot come the season opener? Can Kevin Hayes be a legitimate second line center? Will Michael Grabner continue to have the scoring touch he had much of last season? Who replaces Stepan’s 17 goals last year?
Things are not looking as rosy as they seemed when Shattenkirk was signed right?
Not to Worry: Rangers are in Solid Shape
With all the questions, the core of this team is solid. They have a good balance of scoring and play making. Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider are the leaders of this squad. Expect big things from sophomore players Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich.
Henrik Lundqvist will carry the team as always through the regular season. The much-improved defense now is the new star of this Broadway team. The organization will continue to work this off season to get the team stronger and competitive.
Great moves were made already, but more questions than answers remain as there is much more work to be done.