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NHL Off-Season Outlook: New York Rangers

The Metro won't be an easy division again in 2022-23, but the New York Rangers look ready for the challenge after an impressive campaign last season.
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Here’s the latest file in THN.com’s ongoing analyses of the off-seasons of the NHL”s teams.

Today, we're examining the New York Rangers.

2021-22 Record: 52-24-6
Finish In The Metropolitan Division: 2nd
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $4.8 million
Restricted Free Agents: Kaapo Kakko, F

What The Rangers Have: Arguably the best goalie in the league in Igor Shesterkin; one of the savviest GMs in Chris Drury; an above-average top-four defense corps, including Norris Trophy-winner Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller; off-season veteran additions including No. 2 goalie Jaroslav Halak and second-line center Vincent Trocheck; elite offensive forwards including Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider; an upper-tier head coach in Gerard Gallant

What The Rangers Need: Increased production from their third line, and from young forwards Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere; depth on their third defensive pairing

What’s Realistic For The Rangers Next Season: Thanks in no small part to the heroics of Vezina Trophy-winning superstar and Hart Trophy finalist goaltender Igor Shesterkin, the Rangers rose through the ranks of the difficult Metro Division and finished the year just two wins behind the first-place Carolina Hurricanes. They continued their success in the playoffs, first knocking off Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games of their opening round series, then outlasting the ‘Canes in a seven-game series victory that sent them to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2014-15.

They lost both of those Conference Final series to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and there’s no shame in being defeated by the modern-day dynasty Bolts. But when you play in Manhattan, excuses for ultimate failure don’t go very far, so changes to the Blueshirts’ lineup were expected, and changes came quickly: forward Ryan Strome was allowed to depart to Anaheim via free agency, and he ostensibly was replaced by former Hurricanes and Florida Panthers pivot Vincent Trocheck; in addition, forwards Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano – both mid-season acquisitions by GM Chris Drury – also moved on as free agents, as the salary cap crunch took effect.

Drury added some veteran help for Shesterkin, adding Jaroslav Halak on a one-year, $1.5-million deal. He also signed depth forward Ryan Carpenter on a league-minimum contract. But otherwise, Drury was limited in the changes he could make. He still has nearly $5 million in cap space, but some of that will have to go to restricted free agent forward Kaapo Kakko – and while the 21-year-old Finn has had his goal total drop for two consecutive seasons now, the Rangers aren’t giving up on him. It’s a matter of finding an appropriate middle ground pay-wise, and Kakko doesn’t have a lot of leverage at the moment, so expect him to re-sign a short-term deal that leaves management a couple million in cap space to use during the season.

There’s no question the Blueshirts will need Shesterkin to be as brilliant as he was for them last year if they’re to challenge Carolina for top spot in the Metro. If Halak can give them strong play, Shesterkin will be more rested for another long playoff run, and the entire Eastern Conference will have an extremely difficult time beating him in a seven-game series. But make no mistake – nothing less than another trip to the Eastern Final will make ownership and management happy.

Can they do it? Absolutely. After the season Shesterkin had, nobody should question his ability to repeat it. He’s the Rangers’ best player, and other teams would trade virtually anyone to acquire a goalie of his caliber. But the rest of the roster needs to take some of the pressure off him, and if well-regarded head coach Gerard Gallant can squeeze more out of his skaters, the sky could be the limit for this team.

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