The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the New York Rangers.
Stanley Cup odds: 24-1
Key additions: Kevin Shattenkirk, D; David Desharnais, C; Anthony DeAngelo, D; Ondrej Pavelec, G; Neal Pionk, D
Key departures: Derek Stepan, C; Oscar Lindberg, C; Antti Raanta, G; Dan Girardi, D; Kevin Klein, D
Is this Rick Nash’s final season on Broadway?
The veteran power forward is on the final year of a contract that carries a $7.8 million cap hit and a modified no-trade clause. With the Rangers in position to make another playoff run, there probably isn’t much fear in him being approached about a trade during the season, but whether Nash returns to New York in the future is obviously an important debate point.
By all accounts, the big sniper wants to remain in New York, but his performance this season will go a long way in determining whether it’s feasible from the Rangers’ point of view. Nash’s production has slowed down and considering he’s 33 with a lot of NHL miles on him, that’s not surprising. Possession numbers weren’t great last season either, so there is definitely all the motivation in the world for Nash to come back and make a splash in his contract year.
While the Rangers do have some nice young forwards pushing up on the roster (Jimmy Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich, Lias Andersson), they also didn’t have a single player crack the 60-point mark last season. If Nash can somehow return to earlier form, he’ll help his team – and perhaps earn himself another run in Manhattan.
The last time we saw Henrik Lundqvist, he was backstopping Sweden to a gold medal at the World Championship, defeating Canada in a shootout. This was a good omen, assuming ‘Hank’ has recovered from William Nylander’s celebratory tackle. If Lundqvist can get back to his perch in the top echelon of NHL goalies, New York is in a great position. The Rangers landed the biggest free agent of the summer in puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and, along with his own talents, he’ll help captain Ryan McDonagh unlock another level to his blueline game. With Brady Skjei and Nick Holden coming into their own, the Rangers have a very strong and diverse blueline, with veteran Marc Staal and Brendan Smith rounding things out. In short, New York will be tough to score on.
Up front, the Rangers have an array of weapons, led by Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash. If youngsters Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich can continue the trajectory they established as rookies, New York will give opponents all kinds of matchup problems thanks to its depth of talent.
The Rangers traded away Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona in the summer, and both moves could stagger the franchise. Lundqvist showed big cracks in his armor last season, and if that happens again, the team no longer has Raanta to clean up the mess. Is Ondrej Pavelec the answer as backup? No. He was Winnipeg’s third-string goalie in a non-playoff year. In a division featuring the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares and Artemi Panarin, goaltending cannot be a weakness.
Losing Stepan also exposes a hole in the depth chart at center. Can Zibanejad take on enough responsibility to mitigate the departure of the two-way stalwart? The only pivot addition was David Desharnais, and he’s a depth guy at best. Perhaps Hayes and J.T. Miller can step into bigger roles, but again: there are some fantastic centers in the Metro, and New York can’t afford to be outgunned. The offense was dynamite last season – fourth overall – but did so by committee. No player hit 60 points, so the ceiling is low with this group. In a tough division, the Rangers could struggle to make the playoffs.
THN’s PREDICTION: 4th in the Metropolitan. The Rangers have enough talent to be one of the top-end teams in the division. Once they get to the playoffs, the fun really begins: can Lundqvist make one more magical run, or has that window closed?
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