THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Second in the Metropolitan Division. 2013: 26-18-4. Sixth in East.
KEY DEPARTURES: Matt Gilroy, Ryane Clowe, Kris Newbury.
KEY ADDITIONS: Benoit Pouliot, Dominic Moore, Justin Falk.
PROS: The Rangers offense will be unchained with new coach Alain Vigneault’s more up-tempo style on Broadway – unfortunately, it comes too late to take advantage of a Rick Nash-Marian Gaborik combo. But the more wide open, free-wheeling style will work to the advantage of playmakers Derek Stepan (assuming he signs) and Brad Richards – who has a chip on his shoulder – playing alongside goal scorers Nash and Ryan Callahan. The defense is tough and should have a healthy Marc Staal. And it’s not as though Tortorella’s stifling, effective system will completely wash away. Henrik Lundqvist is New York's brightest star – and he could have as many as five Vezinas by now.
CONS: Even though Gaborik only potted nine goals with the Blueshirts last season, his elite goal-scoring ability was not replaced. Chris Kreider must raise his game to a level similar to what it was in the 2012 playoffs, when he scored five goals in 18 games – at the very least he, or someone in that spot, has to hit 20 goals this season. Derick Brassard finally hit a groove in New York after being acquired from Columbus, posting nearly a point per game, but consistency has been an issue for him throughout his career. These concerns are compounded by the fact that Richards, for all his playmaking abilities, was so ineffective by the end of last season that he was benched in the playoffs and considered for a buyout by the Rangers. The third pairing on defense needs some shoring up, as does the power play, which is still without a top-level quarterback. Last year’s 23rd-ranked man advantage unit should get a new look at least, since assistant coach Scott Arniel was brought in to take charge of the area.
X-FACTOR: The Rangers became one of the strongest defensive teams under John Tortorella, especially in the post-season, when they garnered overwhelming attention for their fixation on shot blocking. Now Vigneault is in place and will bring a much more wide-open approach. If the Rangers can change and bring a goal scoring touch to their game, while at the same time keeping a semblance of the shutdown conscience they’ve had, it’ll make for a dangerous, well-rounded team.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: After four years of plus-.920 save percentages under John Tortorella, Henrik Lundqvist’s rate drops below.
METROPOLITAN NO. 2: NEW YORK RANGERS