New York, NY – In regards to the New York Rangers, 2016-17 NHL Season poses more questions than answers.
This could be the first year in quite some time that the team isn’t a forgone conclusion to occupy a playoff spot. Shaky defense, new faces and the downturn of veteran players all raise more questions than answered. On top of that the team’s preseason form has given little to soothe worried fans.
This is also general manager Jeff Gorton’s first real off-season test as he has made some impressive moves to bring in talent that will hopefully pay off quickly. The most notable pick up was rookie Jimmy Vesey.
The 23 year old Hobey Baker Award winner was easily one of the best collegiate players and a steal for the Rangers. Forward Brandon Pirri also joined the team from free agency and Mika Zibanejad looks to replace the talented Derick Brassard.
Are Gorton’s Gambles Going to Pay Off?
Gorton has a history of taking big risks. Back in 2006 when he was the interim general manager of the Boston Bruins, he traded goaltender Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for prospect Tuukka Rask.
Gorton is hoping that the same level of risky moves pays off for the New York Rangers and that he can be around to see the fruits of his labor.
Mika Zibanejad seems to be the biggest risk. The team let go of Derick Brassard who was arguably one of their best players in 2015-16. There is a potentially higher upside to Zibanejad.
He is younger, larger and a better all-around player. Over the last two seasons he has put up impressive stats with 41 goals and 56 assists over 161 games. By contrast Brassard scored 46 goals with 72 assists in his last two season.
The other big risk is free agent signing Brandon Pirri who has been a bit of a journeyman in his career. The Rangers will be his fourth team in just over two years. He’s also looking to recover some of his form from the 2014-15 season where he scored 22 goals.
The Defense Needs to Improve
The magic of the more successful Rangers runs has been their backchecking but that failed them last season. Dan Girardi, who has one of the team’s bigger and more ironclad contracts, has spent the last few seasons on the downturn. Marc Staal has also lacked the bite of previous seasons.
Captain Ryan McDonagh has gone out of his way to mentioning his own shortcomings from last season in interviews, promising an effort to return to prime form. Whether or not that will happen is one thing but it is always a positive when a team captain can acknowledge his and the team’s issues.
Will the King Return?
Henrik Lundqvist is the glue that holds the New York Rangers together and in last season’s playoffs he was anything but spectacular. His goals-against average was an abysmal 4.39 and he was even pulled from a few games against the Penguins.
Fatigue was certainly an issue but the Rangers star goaltender isn’t getting any younger. He’s 34 years old and looking like his best years are behind him. Granted, Lundqvist did have a great run in the World Championships with Sweden.
However, he will need to reclaim some of his magic this season if New York anticipates an effective run for the Stanley Cup. Sitting on the bench will be highly-touted prospect Magnus Hellberg.
Last season Hellberg had three shutouts with a 2.48 GAA. Should Lundqvist stumble out the gates, he could find himself riding the bench and Hellberg between the pipes.
Washington and Pittsburgh still remain the top teams in the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders continuing to improve themselves. Arguably the Metropolitan division is one of the toughest in the NHL with only eight points separating fifth and second place.
New York should be able to maintain their place at third in the Metropolitan division but could find themselves chasing first should the new players find themselves producing quickly. Expect New York to be a playoff team but it won’t be as easy as it appears to have been in previous seasons.