Standing Pat: The 2013-2014 New York Rangers Season Preview

Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of his hockey season.  Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page.  Today we take a look at the 2013-14 New York Rangers.

Last season, the New York Rangers simply couldn’t put together consecutive good nights.  They started slow, ended weak and were a general disappointment to hockey pundits and their fans.  With a relatively unaltered lineup, the Rangers management will look to a coaching change to propel them over the 2nd round playoff hump and turn this group into a solid team of contenders.

The Rocky Road Behind:

The Blueshirts came out of the lockout with so much optimism surrounding them. If you had asked most people in hockey press, the Rangers should have been awarded the Cup before ever playing a game.  Then reality hit.  This team had traded away much of its vaunted depth to watch Rick Nash perform hockey porn every night.  They made the playoffs but at one point it looked like this team was simply not going to make it.  It was as if they didn’t want to make it.  Not only that, star center Brad Richards was virtually useless on the majority of nights, spending much of the last third of the season on the third line, and being a healthy scratch for the final games of their shortened playoff run.

The thing is, as talented as Nash is, they simply didn’t have enough talent to make it much farther than they did.  Not only that but the Nash trade, along with the other moves the GM Glen Sather made during the season, significantly changed the identity of this team.  They no longer could play the defensive shell game that they had been. Henrik Lundqvist, goalie extraordinaire and fashionista, kept them in games on a lot of nights despite his mates lackluster performances.  Then, almost as quickly as the season had begun, the Rangers were ousted out of the playoffs, and we were watch the King doubt his own throne in New York.

Time to Regroup:

Instead of taking a risk on whether or not John Tortorella would adjust his game plan and system to accommodate a higher octane approach, Sather and Gorton dispatched him only three days after break up day.  The search for a new bench boss ended at Alain Vigneault.  Some believed that Torts’ players were planning a mutiny, but Sather contended that his defense first mentality had worn thin on the organization, and Torts’ shelf life had expired.

Sather got one of his major pieces under contract, signing marquis defenseman Ryan McDonagh long term.  Diminutive hero Mats Zuccarello will also return.  Sather added Dominic Moore and Benoit Pouiliot for depth, as they weren’t able to do much else due to the falling salary cap for next season.  There’s one more person left to sign and it’s kind of a big deal.  The young squire, Derek Stepan, is rumored to be looking for a long term commitment from the Rangers, however Sather is in the habit of giving out bridge deals before the real pay day. No one expects Sather and company to let Stepan walk. It’s only a matter of time before he signs. That said, with a new coaching staff and subsequently a new system and philosophy, how long can Stepan really afford to hold out and still be an effective player under the new regime?

What to Watch:

Alain Vigneault’s Broadway debut is going to be interesting to watch.  There’s so many juicy hypothetical’s right now.  How will captain Ryan Callahan fit in now that the Rangers are going to be focused more on offensive creativity, rather than the bruising warrior mentality championed by Tortorella and embodied by Captain Cally?  Will the Rangers as a whole be able to catch lightning in a bottle with their offensive shackles removed?  Will Brad Richards make Sather regret not using his final compliance buyout before this coming season?

Another interesting storyline has to do with contracts.  If you look at the number of signed Rangers players for the 2014-2015 season, it is frighteningly low.  Callahan, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, John Moore, Anton Stralman, the aforementioned Lundqvist, Chris Kreider, Brian Boyle, Martin Biron, and Derick Brassard are all going to hit free agency in some respect.  One has to wonder if this was Sather’s plan all along.  If this squad doesn’t work out, he could easily blow it all up and start over.  It also begs to question whether all of those players in contract years will not step up and play at the very top of their games knowing that the better impression they leave, the better a contract they might get after the dust settles.

Who to Watch:

The biggest question mark this season is also the player the Rangers have committed the most time to.  Brad Richards needs to bounce back from a season that started with so much promise and ended in so much disappointment.  Immediately upon hearing that the Rangers were not going to give him his walking papers, Broadway Brad put aside his Untuck’d clothing line and started a much different workout regimen than he had used in the past.  According to his Instagram feed, he has spent very little time in social circles and seems quietly committed to producing on a higher level than he did even during his Rangers debut season.  Honestly, it can’t get much worse.  The Rangers have taken a major risk keeping Richards on the payroll, with the possibility of getting hit with a Cap Advantage Penalty is the situation warrants it.  Maybe Richards realizes this and will use that commitment as motivation in the coming season.  Maybe with his former friend Tortorella gone and with him the creatively stifling system, Richards can find a better rhythm.  I’d count on a very different Brad Richards this coming season.

Another person you might want to keep an eye on is Marc Staal.  After sustaining a major career threatening eye injury, he said at the Team Canada Olympic Orientation Camp that he has no ill effects from the injury.  However, he did say that he has had to adjust to his altered depth perception among other things.  Will Marc Staal be the powerhouse defenseman he was before the injury?  This writer’s guess is that he will be used very carefully, but if he says there’s nothing to see there (pun not intended, I swear), he’ll go back to logging big minutes against the opposition’s top forwards.  Heck, he might even be able to cash in on AV’s creativity first system as well.

 

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Main photo credit: bridgetds via photopin cc