Kevin Klein

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Rangers are ‘right on the cusp,’ says Shattenkirk

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Since missing the playoffs in 2010, the New York Rangers have made it to the Eastern Conference Final three times, and to the Stanley Cup Final once.

A championship, however, has eluded them. Instead, they’ve lost to the L.A. Kings in the final and watched their division rivals from Pittsburgh win it twice in a row, even losing to the Penguins in the first round in 2016.

This summer, however, has brought considerable change to the Blueshirts through a blockbuster trade with Arizona, buyouts and a retirement.

Derek Stepan — gone.

Dan Girardi — gone.

Kevin Klein — gone.

Antti Raanta — gone.

Oscar Lindberg — gone.

There has been substantial change on the blue line. The Rangers went after prized free agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk with a four-year contract worth $26.6 million. They re-signed Brendan Smith, a late-season acquisition. They brought in Anthony DeAngelo in that deal with Arizona.

Read more: Optimism replaces pessimism after changes to Rangers defense

No surprise here, but Shattenkirk had an optimistic outlook when describing the Rangers, a team he believes is “right on the cusp,” according to a conversation with NHL.com.

“I think we have that capability of playing with a team like that,” Shattenkirk recently told NHL.com.

“We have great goaltending (Henrik Lundqvist). Our defense is fast and we can make plays, but I also think we have a little bit of edge as well. Up front, I’m sure we’re one of the fastest teams in the League. You look at how Pittsburgh is built, and that’s the way that they’ve won. We have some great depth on our team, and I think that’s what it really comes down to at that point of the season: How deep are you?”

Their success next season may also depend on which teams rise and fall in the Metropolitan Division.

Columbus took a big step forward with a franchise record-setting season and will look to replicate that beginning in the fall. The Penguins were the Penguins, advancing past Washington and Ottawa in seven-game series despite a plethora of injuries before besting Nashville in the final. One has to wonder how much of a toll the grind of two Stanley Cups will take on that club. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy but faltered in the playoffs, ushering in change to their roster with all the unrestricted free agents — including Shattenkirk for the playoff run — they had.

Can the Islanders get back into the playoffs? Same question for the Flyers. Will Carolina, with Scott Darling in net, get the necessary upgrade at that position and take the next step toward the playoffs? What will New Jersey, with an upgraded offense in addition to Taylor Hall, be capable of when the season begins?

The number of changes to teams in the Metropolitan may be enough to shift the balance of power in that division this upcoming season. The Rangers have seemed like a team on the cusp at least three times in the last seven years.

Shattenkirk mentioned goaltending, as well, calling it great. That’s an accurate description of what Lundqvist has been for many years in New York. However, at the age of 35, he’ll need to bounce back from what was a down season for him in 2016-17.

“I think everyone’s probably all going to judge [the window] based on Lundqvist, and everyone is talking about, ‘Well, how long does he have left?'” continued Shattenkirk. “We have a lot of young players on this team, though, to counterbalance that.”

Can prospect Neal Pionk start the season with the Rangers?

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The New York Rangers’ defense is going to look different next season, but training camp will show us just how different it’ll be.

New York bought out Dan Girardi, while Kevin Klein decided to retire from the NHL. Meanwhile, they signed Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency and they traded for Anthony DeAngelo.

One under-the-radar signing that could also crack the roster, is undrafted free agent Neal Pionk, who spent the last two years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The 21-year-old put up an impressive seven goals and 34 points in 42 games last season, and he believes he can make the jump to the NHL without spending time in the minors.

“Whatever happens after training camp happens, but my goal going into training camp is to make the team,” Pionk said, per NHL.com. “I think I can fit the Rangers’ style. I know coach [Alain] Vigneault likes to play an up-tempo game.”

On the surface, this just looks like a prospect that is saying all the right things, but when you consider the righty/lefty breakdown on New York’s defense, you realize Pionik might just have a chance.

Of the top seven defensemen on the roster, Shattenkirk and DeAngelo are the only righthanded shots. Ryan McDonagh, Brendan Smith, Brady Skjei, Nick Holden and Marc Staal are all lefties.

If the Rangers want to keep three right-handed blue liners on the roster, Pionk certainly has a chance to stick. It doesn’t mean he’ll play every night, but he could be a guy who sees some game action here and there.

“He has power-play potential,” Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark said. “He has a great mind on him. He can find the cross diagonal pass that makes you go, ‘Oh my god no … wait, how did he see him?’ He’s got that.”

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Optimism replaces pessimism after changes to Rangers defense

Optimism replaces pessimism after changes to Rangers defense

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Last summer, we wrote about the New York Rangers’ defense and how it was the biggest worry for the team.

Well, a heck of a lot has changed since then.

Gone are Kevin Klein (retirement), Dan Girardi, Dylan McIlrath, and Adam Clendening.

In are Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith, and Anthony DeAngelo. Those three join the remaining foursome of Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Brady Skjei, and Nick Holden.

Shattenkirk was the big addition, considered the best player available in unrestricted free agency. Not only that, GM Jeff Gorton was able to get the 28-year-old for less than market value. The cap hit’s a reasonable $6.65 million, and it’s only a four-year commitment.

For Shattenkirk, a New Rochelle native, it’s always been a dream to play for the Blueshirts. That’s why he left money on the table elsewhere.

“Obviously there were some sacrifices, but in my mind those sacrifices are what you leave on the table to live out a dream like this,” Shattenkirk said, per NHL.com. “As much as it is a dream for me, it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to joining a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup and that’s also a lifelong dream for me.”

Next season, one could picture a top four of McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Smith and Skjei. The latter, just 23 years old, took a big step last season, racking up 39 points in 80 games as a rookie. In the playoffs, he had four goals in 12 games.

But Skjei will need to keep progressing, and Smith will need to keep playing with an edge. That’s because Staal, the 30-year-old veteran, is aiming for a top-four role himself.

“Regardless of your role, you want to put your best hockey on the ice and I was able to do that at times this year, but not as consistently as I wanted to,” Staal told TBNewsWatch“That’s what I’ll be looking to do next year and getting back to playing elite hockey all year long.”

All in all, there are still questions that this new-look Rangers defense will have to answer. But there is more optimism now than pessimism, and that’s a big change from a year ago.

Now, about the centers…

Rangers d-man Klein announces retirement

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In a long-rumored move, Kevin Klein is hanging up his skates.

Klein, 32, has announced his retirement from the NHL after a 12-year career split between the Predators and Rangers. The veteran defenseman had earlier been linked to such a move, following a tough ’16-17 campaign that was derailed by back problems.

Klein penned a thank-you letter that was distributed by the Rangers’ Twitter account this morning. Shortly thereafter, the club made his retirement official.

With the move, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton now has some additional — and important — space under the salary cap. Klein was headed into the last of a five-year, $14.5 million deal, and by retiring his $2.9M cap hit will be wiped off the books.

That’s key, because the club still needs to sign RFA Mika Zibanejad, and would (presumably) want to upgrade the center position.

As for Klein, he walks away with over 600 games on his resume, and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final with the Rangers in 2014. He was also part of the first Nashville team to ever win a playoff series, as he and the Preds upended Anaheim in the opening round of the 2011 postseason.

Shattenkirk follows heart, signs with Rangers

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Kevin Shattenkirk is headed home.

The New Rochelle, New York native — who, earlier this morning, was the subject of conflicting reports — has now signed with the Rangers. Per TSN, it’s a four-year pact worth $26.6 million, one that carries a $6.65 million average annual cap hit.

The figures are extremely close to the ones initially listed by NHL Network’s Kevin Weekes, who later backed off his report after TSN’s Frank Seravalli and the New York Post’s Larry Brooks claimed it was premature and inaccurate.

Weekes had stated it was a four-year deal for Shattenkirk in New York, but with a $6.9M cap hit.

Whatever the case, the deal’s done now.

Known for his offensive abilities and power play work, Shattenkirk is a big get for the Rangers. He was named to the All-Star Game in 2015 and represented the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and will now fill the offensive defenseman void from when Keith Yandle departed New York last summer.

With the removal of Dan Girardi (via buyout) and the uncertain future of Kevin Klein (mulling retirement), the Rangers have dramatically remodeled their defense, with Shattenkirk being the signature piece. GM Jeff Gorton also added Anthony DeAngelo from Arizona in the Derek StepanAntti Raanta trade, and re-upped with pending free agent Brendan Smith.

As mentioned above, this is a homecoming for Shattenkirk — and he’s taken a hometown discount. It’s believed there were offers for more money and longer term available.

One has to think the New Jersey Devils tabled something of significance. The club had been linked to Shattenkirk and GM Ray Shero had a boatload of cap space, creating even more earlier this week by buying out Mike Cammalleri. Shattenkirk would’ve been a massive addition to the Devils’ blueline, one of the thinnest in the league.