Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
The New York Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy last season thanks to a stellar season from Rick Nash, lights out goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot and a steady D-corps. The goal is to get back to the Stanley Cup final in 2015-16, but the Rangers have to be wary of taking another step back in the tough Metropolitan Division.
2014-15 Record: 53-22-7 (113 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 3rd, Metropolitan Division
What To Expect: A year after falling to the Kings in the Stanley Cup final, the Rangers surged to a franchise-record 113 points and a Presidents' Trophy. Despite an improved regular season, the Blueshirts couldn't get back to the main event. They fell short to the Lightning, blanked twice at home.
Martin St-Louis retired, and New York will miss his 52 points and work ethic, but the team remains exceptional on paper. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Metro Division looks a lot more dangerous, as the top rivals added artillery. Jeff Gorton takes over as GM while Glen Sather narrows his role to club president. Gorton used his first off-season to shuffle the bottom six forwards. He traded
Carl Hagelin for
Emerson Etem and signed
Viktor Stalberg and
Jarret Stoll after they flamed out with their previous teams. Stalberg can replace Hagelin's speed but is a downgrade skill-wise. Stoll, who pled guilty to two misdemeanors after being charged with felony cocaine possession this off-season, can step in as the No. 4 center and play a heavy game with a defensive slant.
Even without St-Louis, the top nine forwards are a potent group, anchored by 40-goal threat
Rick Nash. The 1-2 punch of
Derick Brassard and
Derek Stepan provide ample production up the middle.
Chris Kreider and
Kevin Hayes haven't approached their ceilings. This group won't repeat as the league's third-best offense, but it will still pack a punch. The trade deadline addition of
Keith Yandle solidified the Blueshirts' blueline as the East's best, and the group returns, led by the ironclad trio of
Marc Staal and
Dan Girardi. Team goals-against will remain top-flight, as should the penalty kill, which was sixth last year. The tone setter and team MVP remains goalie
Henrik Lundqvist. He's again expected to play 60 to 65 games. The Rangers won't have a road trip or homestand longer than three games, a first for them in the 82-game era. They'll play the second-most back-to-backs in the league, though, as they grind out a playoff berth in the Metro.
Best-Case Scenario: The Rangers have the offensive weapons in Nash and Stepan, they have the defensive talent in McDonagh and Yandle and, of course, they’ve got rock solid goaltending from Lundqvist. Getting back into the post-season isn’t a question. The Blueshirts’ past two seasons have ended in the Stanley Cup final and Eastern Conference final, and there’s potential for them to get back into the same position in 2015-16.
Worst-Case Scenario: There has been a trend with the Rangers over the past two seasons: the past two seasons, they’ve made it through one fewer round in the playoffs. That’s not a pattern they want to see continue, but while the rest of the Eastern Conference has gotten better, the Rangers have stayed very much the same. St-Louis and Hagelin have been replaced with Stalberg and Etem. That’s not a step up or a move sideways. It’s a downgrade.
Who To Watch: Nash’s name has been in the rumor mill throughout the off-season and there are some who believe this could be the final season on Broadway. The ball could be entirely in Nash’s court, however. If he has another season like his 2014-15 campaign, it might be difficult to even fathom trading him. This past season, Nash, at 30, produced the best goal total of his career with 42 markers in 79 games. He had only eclipsed the 40-goal plateau one other time in his career, more than a decade earlier when he scored 41 goals in 80 games during his sophomore season. He needs to pick it up in the post-season, however. In 19 playoff games, Nash scored just five goals and 14 points and it’s the third consecutive post-season where Nash’s production has been much worse than what the Blueshirts were hoping for.
What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
Click here for more detail on these predictions. The Rangers’ forecast for this season is probably much more pessimistic than most people see them, but they were hardly numbers darlings last season either so maybe they’ll exceed expectations again. They’re projected for 96 points and in a tough division they’re not exactly a playoff lock at 66 percent. The defending Presidents’ Trophy winners are solid across the board, but hardly wow in any one area. As mentioned above, the top-nine is stacked with good-to-great players, but very few game-breakers. Still, it’s a deep group that’s only offset by the decision to play Tanner Glass who is one of the worst players in the league. He’ll likely cost the Rangers almost one win if he takes a regular shift this season. The Rangers are regularly touted as having one of the best d-corps in the East and WAR agrees, putting them third in the conference. Where opinions differ is on two guys that the eyeballs love: Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Both had down years in 2014-15, but Marc Staal has had decent WAR numbers in the past which suggests a return to form is possible. That’s less likely for Girardi who has been hit-or-miss over the past six years and is now in his 30s.
In goal, the Rangers will be just fine with the ever-consistent Lundqvist. His age takes him down a little here, but that’s hardly a worry for the ‘King’ who should exceed these conservative expectations. That gives the Rangers very little flaw across their roster to exploit, but they don’t necessarily excel anywhere. They’re still a strong team, but it’s hard to see them as the bonafide Cup contenders that they’ve been over the past few years.
THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.