We're about halfway done with our season preview and are a little ahead of schedule. Hopefully we can get this kicked out well before September ends and the teams start their travel season in lovely Europe. Pre-season hockey rules so go check it out in a town near you!
And now, the New York Rangers.
Team M.O.: One of the Original Six, these guys seem like they're addicted to spending. Sometimes it works, like it did in 1994. However, more often than not, when you simply throw money at a situation and hope it goes away, you can only expect to be inconsistent at best when it comes to winning and that's exactly what we have here.
Last Season: Ninth in the Eastern Conference and out of the playoffs on a shootout goal. Talk about just coming up short. Will it be better this season? It depends on a few things.
Offense: Marian Gaborik's commanding a salary in excess of $7M but has been worth every penny so far; he'll be worth more if his next few campaigns happen to play out injury-free. The same can't be said for Chris Drury, who despite being a solid leader hasn't come remotely close to justifying the money he's been earning on that team (he has a no-movement clause though, so the team's stuck with him until the contract expires.) Brandon Dubinsky has a career season in scoring despite missing 13 games with injury; he'll probably get the top-center spot on the club along with Gaborik and newcomer Alexander Frolov (who himself is looking to rebuild his confidence after a disastrous season with the L.A. Kings.) The Vaclav Prospal experiment worked out well for the Rangers last season and he'll return to give the team a legit second-liner or top-line compliment if the team goes in that direction. Ryan Callahan's been relatively consistent as a scoring forward and wil be good for around 40 points if he can manage to get into every game. The real X-factor for the team's scoring will either be be newcomer Mats Zuccarello (though small he's very skilled and could breakout in a huge way in the "new" NHL similar to how he's done during his time in Europe) or free agent try out Ruslan Fedotenko, who has been decent but not spectacular since winning the cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
While the top-six is somewhat average, the depth forwards have both enough skill and sandpaper to make it a chore for the opposition to show up every night. Artem Anisimov did well in his first full year with the Rangers and gives the team an intriguing option at center (he could break out in a scoring role this season.) Erik Christensen's been passed around like a doobie but he's done better with the Rangers than he has with the other clubs he's been on; if he can get secondary-scoring with third-line ice time he'll give them a reason not to move him again. Todd White was brought over from the Atlanta Thrashers and while he's had solid production in the past, one has to wonder how much of that was thanks to playing with Ilya Kovalchuk. Brian Boyle did well in call-up duty for the Rangers last season, a good camp will parlay that into a permanent role with the big club. Tim Kennedy was brought over as an unqualified/unrestricted free agent to push for a depth forward position on the chart. In terms of the sandpaper, Derek Boogaard will become the resident enforcer, Brandon Prust will be the resident middleweight, and Sean Avery will always be the best agitator in the league. They'll definitely be keeping the flies off or the opponents in the penalty box.
All and all, there isn't so much a need for moves as there are a need for everyone to step up and do what they can to overachieve.
Defense: Though Wade Redden is set to appear at camp, there might be nothing he can do (short of being miraculous) to stop the Rangers from assigning him and his salary to the AHL so they can get cap compliant. The re-signing of Marc Staal would necessitate a move like this because Staal's maturity means his overall ability to handle a larger role with the Rangers. Michal Rozsival might draw some ire for his salary as well, but he gives the team over 20 points on a bad season and roughly 40 on a good one; he just needs to bounce back and produce as he did a few seasons back. Michael Del Zotto made a lot of noise early last season but then cooled; while prolific from the blueline, he'll need to tighten up defensively if he wishes to go from being a power-play specialist to first-pairing stud. Dan Girardi has improved defensively and gives the team a solid puck-mover who can break 20 points a season. Matt Gilroy was recalled last season and never got sent back down; he'll likely finish camp with an NHL job unless he takes a major step back. Steve Eminger gets traded (again) and will provide the Rangers with a solid Number 6-7 defenseman who is a jack-of-all trades and a master of none. The last spot (or few spots depending on what they do for salary management) will be fought for by Pavel Valentenko (who's coming back to North America after spending some time in Russia), Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, and free agent try-outs Garnett Excelby and Alexei Semenov.
All and all, not terribly mind-blowing but there's a world of potential for them to exceed the expectations of Rangers fans.
Goaltending: Kinda hard to complain about goaltending when Henrik Lundqvist is your starter. They brought over Martin Biron this season and will hopefully opt to work with a Number 1/1a type setup as opposed to relying on Lundqvist for 70+ games, which can leave him ineffective come playoff time. Chad Johnson will be a solid Number 3 option while the team develops Cameron Talbot in the minors. All and all, good stuff.
Management: I'm kinda mixed about how Glen Sather's done with his job. On one hand, I don't consider a GM to be incredible when his solution to addressing cap issues is to bury salary. On the other hand, he did land Lundqvist, Dubinsky, Callahan, Staal, and Del Zotto, so he at least has a nose for talent. John Tortorella will get the chance to bring the team back to the playoffs but you can bet his job will be on the line if the team goes in any other direction but forward.
Prediction: Fourth in the Atlantic Division and out of the playoffs.
I would like to be optimistic and say these guys are a bubble team because all things considered they could be. However, they're in the toughest division in their conference and with the overall improvement to the other Eastern Conference teams thanks to the salary cap, there's too much of a concern with injuries and underachievement to expect great results this season.