Friday, September 15, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: New York Rangers

GM: Jeff Gorton (since 2015). 7.5/10
Coach: Alain Vigneault (since 2013). 8.5/10

2016-17 record: 48-28-6, 102 points, 9th overall, Wild Card, lost in second round.

Departures: Derek Stepan (C), Dan Girardi (D), Antti Raanta (G), Brandon Pirri (RW), Oscar Lindberg (C), Kevin Klein (D), Adam Clendening (D), Taylor Beck (LW), Marek Hrivik (LW), Tanner Glass (LW).

Arrivals: Kevin Shattenkirk (D), Anthony DeAngelo (D), Ondrej Pavelec (G) David Desharnais (RW), Paul Carey (C).

Top forwards: Mats Zuccarello (55-65 points), J.T. Miller (40-50 points), Mika Zibanejad (45-60 points), Chris Kreider (45-55 points), Kevin Hayes (40-50 points), Rick Nash (35-50 points), Pavel Buchnevich (40-65 points), Michael Grabner (30-35 points), Desharnais (30-35 points), Jimmy Vesey (25-35 points).

Must-improve forward: Remember when Nash was a threat to score 35-50 goals, not points? Whether the injuries have taken their toll, or the pressure of New York got to him, or maybe even the complacency that inexplicably comes when a star player puts on a Blueshirts uniform in the twilight of his career... whatever the case may be, it's getting extremely hard to make a case for defending him.

Top defensemen: Shattenkirk (45-60 points), Brady Skeij (40-45 points), Ryan McDonagh (35-45 points), Nick Holden (25-35 points), Brendan Smith (20 points), Marc Staal (10 points).

Goalies: Henrik Lundqvist (87/100), Pavelec (61/100).

Top rookies: Cristoval Nieves (23 years old, C), Ryan Gropp (21, LW), Alexei Bereglazov (23, D), Sean Day (19, D), Lias Andersson (19, C, 2017 first-round draft pick).

This is the year the Rangers start falling down the standings. Lundqvist is still excellent, but he's getting too old to stay consistent for 70 games plus the playoffs, so he needs his backup to provide some 25 quality starts; Pavelec is not the guy who will be able to do that.

Also, hey, DeAngelo was a nice trade pull, but it cost the team's #1 center (Stepan, in a salary dump) and the second-straight quality backup with starter potential in Raanta, after losing Cam Talbot two years prior. That costs you a few wins as well.

Shattenkirk was the year's prized free agent, but like most of them, he will prove to not having been worth the hype; he is, however, much better than the bought-out Girardi, who like Staal was hampering the entire team's defense with his lackluster and slow play. That's a slight win, right there, though the loss of Klein negates a bit of the "win factor" on this one.

Cynics will point to Gorton not re-upping Glass as a victory, because by his being unavailable to suit up, Vigneault will have to ice a better lineup rather than a hard-working weaker one.

As I said, the Rangers will fall, from 102 points to perhaps 94, which will be good enough to bypass both the Montréal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers for the last Wild Card spot in the East.

Prediction: 5th in the Metropolitan Division, Second Wild Card spot in the East.

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