Adam Fox, Brady Skjei, Jacob Trouba
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Rangers made great moves this offseason. We know the offense will be great, but the defense needs to step up. 

The NHL season is less than a month away and the hometown New York Rangers will open their season on Oct. 3 against the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden. After all the big signings, trades and snagging the second-overall pick the draft, it’s safe to say that fans are much more optimistic this time then they were last year.

The Blueshirts are way more improved than they were last year, no doubt about it. However, this team is not elite, at least not yet. They are good enough to compete for a spot in the playoffs but don’t expect them to make a deep run unless they catch fire heading in. There are still areas of concern.

Looking back at numbers from last season, perhaps the biggest area of concern for the Rangers is still the defense. Last year, the Rangers gave up the eighth-most goals in the NHL with 272. On the penalty kill, the Rangers had the fifth-worst percentage in the league with 78.2%. Finally, they averaged the third-most shots against per game with 33.8%.

Now, among the big moves made this offseason, plenty involved the defense. They brought in Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox in trades with the Jets and Carolina Hurricanes. These two are key young pieces that will help the team succeed in the future.

However, there is one young key piece still missing, Tony DeAngelo. After taking big steps in his development last year, DeAngelo is still a restricted free agent. The Rangers are not in the best situation salary cap wise with just barely over $1 million in space. They need to make a move in order to bring DeAngelo back in.

They also cut some guys loose. The Rangers bought out Kevin Shattenkirk after he was not able to find his game in New York. In the trade for Trouba, they shipped off Neal Pionk, who started out well but then declined as the season went on.

Not all the dead weight has been cast aside though. Veteran defenseman Marc Staal is 32-years-old and has been past his prime. He hasn’t put up the numbers he used to and has the second-highest cap hit among defensemen with $5.7 million. It also doesn’t help that he has a full no-trade clause. Can the aging Staal find his game again so that he can keep up with the youngsters? Maybe these new additions will help him.

Then there’s Brendan Smith, who also has two years left on his contract. His deal could be buried in the minors like it was two seasons ago. However, the Rangers still need to sign the aforementioned DeAngelo, otherwise, they might not have a choice but to call Smith’s name.

Now, the Rangers have some good defensive players in their farm system. Guys like K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist, just to name a couple. But those guys are very young and not ready to join the NHL just yet.

If the Rangers want to show how much they improved, they need to raise those defensive numbers out of the basement of the NHL. The offense is poised to be phenomenal this year, but a well-balanced team is what wins championships.

Up front, the Rangers are set up to put up a lot of goals, but if they don’t limit the number of goals they give up, they are going to have a hard time transitioning out of this rebuild and into a top contender.

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