Last season: (38-33-11, 87 points, 4th in Atlantic Division, 9th in Eastern Conference) The Rangers fell a shootout win short of making the playoffs then watched as the Philadelphia Flyers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. Ouch. The team depended a lot on young players, Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist and that formula wasn’t strong enough to win them a cup.
Head coach: John Tortorella is the hot-headed type who’s a great fit for New York … at least from an entertaining press conference standpoint. The jury’s out on him as a coach, though, as that Lightning Stanley Cup victory is looking more and more like an anomaly as every year passes.
Key departures: D Wade Redden, F Olli Jokinen, F Aaron Voros, F Donald Brashear. Technically Redden isn’t out of the Rangers organization, but let’s face it, he won’t play with the big club again at that $6.5 million annual cap hit. If GM Glen Sather looked at Olli Jokinen as an expiring $5 million contract, then maybe Sather deserves a little more credit for being with it.
Key arrivals: F Alex Frolov, F Derek Boogaard, D Steve Eminger, F Todd White. Frolov isn’t the most consistent player, but the Rangers got him on a solid, one-year deal. He could pay dividends at his price while Boogaard is wildly overpaid at $1.6 million. No big improvements in the Big Apple, but that’s what happens when your salary cap is managed so poorly.
Under pressure: The Rangers’ training staff is under pressure, because if Gaborik goes down with his typical array of injuries, New York’s offense is shot. Gaborik played an unusually high amount of games last year, but can he do it again?
Protecting the house: Lundqvist is a truly elite goalie. The Swedish netminder keeps the Rangers afloat despite the fact that they’re rarely strong in any other area. The team historically leans on him too much, though, so it’s great to know that they added a solid backup in Martin Biron. Maybe Lundqvist won’t suffer from his annual tough patch if he can have a little rest here and there.
Redden isn’t an enormous loss, but this defense is far from elite. Marc Staal is a nice player, but he might not be a great choice for a No. 1 guy. Really, the team is a collection of second and third pairing blueliners beyond Staal, with Matt Gilroy, Dan Girardi and Mike del Zotto being the other prominent defensemen.
Top line we’d like to see: Frolov-Brandon Dubinsky-Gaborik. Boy, are the Rangers weak up the middle or what? Some might put Chris Drury on the top line, but Drury plays better against second or third pairings (something you love to hear about a guy who makes $7 million per year, naturally). Frolov and Gaborik might skate a lot with each other in reality, unless the team wants to spread its offense out.
Oh captain, my captain: Drury carries Bobby Holik’s torch as a character guy getting paid like a megastar in New York. He is above average to great in the “little things” categories like winning draws, killing penalties and blocking shots. That might not make him worth the money, but it earns him clout as a leader.
Street fighting man: Boogaard is the ‘Boogey Man’ for good reason; he is huge and terrifying. Sure, his punching ability doesn’t warrant a $1.6 million salary, but he should beat a lot of people up in the suddenly staggering Atlantic Division.
Best-case scenario: Lundqvist wins his first Vezina Trophy because Biron lets him avoid the occasional back to back game. Gaborik stays healthy and helps Frolov enjoy a 30-goal rebirth. Sean Avery impedes the progress of other people rather than himself and his own squad. The team makes a nice run to the Eastern Conference finals as some of the favorites are upset by underdogs.
Worst-case scenario: Gaborik struggles with his usual injury troubles while Frolov drifts in and out of relevance. Avery alternates between self-destructing and getting injured. The Rangers defense cracks in front of a beleaguered duo of Lundqvist and Biron. The Rangers end up missing the playoffs but aren’t bad enough to earn a good draft pick, either.
Keeping it real: Lundqvist is strong enough to help the Rangers remain competitive, but the team around him is very weak. I think the most realistic outlook is a slightly peachier version of the worst-case scenario. Chances are they’ll end up just a touch better than the Islanders, with a fourth-place finish in the Atlantic and a 10th or 11th spot in the East.
Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, having talent like Lundqvist and Gaborik bumps you up one point in my eyes, so let’s give the Rangers a 2. The splendid Swedish stopper will have to play out of his mind for the Rangers to be a serious contender, though.