Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2015-16, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our collective LWOS 2015-16 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we continue the series with the New York Rangers.
Puck Drop Preview: 2015-16 New York Rangers
The defending Eastern Conference champions entered the season with high expectations, hoping to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals, and have a different outcome. The Rangers didn’t get off to as hot of a start as some of their division rivals did, as they watched the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders battle for top spot for a large chunk of the season. They started to get their groove going, and by the trade deadline, they were looking poised to take the division. Even when Henrik Lundqvist missed time with a vascular injury, Cam Talbot filled in admirably for New York. They bolstered their blue line at the trade deadline, bringing in Keith Yandle, and added some forward depth in James Sheppard. They went on to win the Metropolitan Division, and the President’s Trophy with 113 points.
In the playoffs, they eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second consecutive year, this time in five games. They then dug themselves a 3-1 series deficit against the Washington Capitals, one that they would claw their way back and force a game seven. It went to overtime, where Derek Stepan’s goal ended a hard fought, exciting series. The games went back and forth against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but ultimately the Rangers would fall in game seven. It was a rare game seven loss for Lundqvist, but his team couldn’t generate any offence in the final game at Madison Square Garden. Ryan McDonagh playing hurt, and Mats Zuccarello being out of the lineup didn’t help their cause.
Unable to agree on a contract, the Rangers traded speedy winger Carl Hagelin and draft picks to the Anaheim Ducks for Emerson Etem and a draft pick. Etem should help replace some speed lost by Hagelin’s departure, and comes at a cheaper cap hit. After his performance, Cam Talbot looks ready to be a starting goaltender, and was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for draft picks in the second, third, and seventh rounds. With Talbot’s absence, New York traded Ryan Haggerty to the Chicago Blackhawks for Antti Raanta, who could be their new backup.
They re-signed Derek Stepan to a six-year deal with an AAV of $6.5M. They also re-signed Etem, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, and Oscar Lindberg. They brought in free agents Viktor Stalberg, Raphael Diaz, and Jarret Stoll. Sheppard and Matt Hunwick were let go, and Martin St. Louis announced his retirement. General Manager Glen Sather stepped down, and Jeff Gorton was named his replacement.
2015-16 Opening Day Lineup
Rick Nash – Derrick Brassard – Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Kevin Hayes
Jesper Fast – J.T. Miller – Emerson Etem
Tanner Glass – Dominic Moore – Oscar Lindberg
Jarret Stoll, Viktor Stalberg
Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Keith Yandle
Dan Boyle – Kevin Klein
Players to Watch
Nash had a great bounce back season, posting 42 goals and 69 points to lead the offence. The question is, can he do it again? He hasn’t scored that many points since his 2008-09 season when he lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to the playoffs. And surprisingly, his 42 goals are the most he’s scored in a single season throughout his career. It’s possible that he’s now more comfortable playing in New York, and therefore could replicate his numbers of last year, but the Rangers shouldn’t count on it. He’s known to be inconsistent at times, especially in the playoffs, so it remains to be seen how he’ll do this year. Luckily for the Rangers, they have enough depth up front in case Nash doesn’t produce at an elite level.
Yandle is an excellent offensive defenceman, and his numbers prove that. He fit it right away with the Rangers, putting up 11 points in 21 games, then another 11 points in 19 playoff games. The Rangers are very good defensively, boasting one of the best defence corps in the league. If Yandle plays on a pairing with Marc Staal, Yandle will be given more freedom to generate offence, knowing Staal can bail him out if need be. Yandle should see a lot of time on the team’s top power play unit, and with the amount of skill they have on that unit, Yandle should be in for a big season.
On the Rise
The 23-year-old former first round draft pick tallied 17 goals and 45 points in his rookie season. With St. Louis’ retirement, a spot on the right wing in the team’s top six opens up. Hayes did play the majority of last season at centre, but if he can play the wing just as effectively, while beating out fellow teammates Miller and Fast, he could earn himself a full time role in the top six. He brings size (listed as 6’5″, 225 lbs per NHL.com) and could create a very potent line playing with Stepan and Kreider. St. Louis posted 21 goals and 51 points last year, which is exactly the level of production we could see from Hayes this year.
On the Decline
Stalberg has been trending in the wrong direction ever since his 2011-12 campaign when he scored 22 goals and 43 points. Playing in only 25 games for the Nashville Predators last year, it’s hard to imagine him having a big impact on a cup-contending Rangers team. There are a number of players ahead of him on the depth chart, and he will constantly be fighting to earn ice time. It’s possible the change of scenery will revitalize Stalberg, and maybe earn himself a spot out of training camp. But if he plays at the same level that he has over the last couple of years, he’ll spend most nights in the press box, waiting for his chance to play when injuries pile up.
The Rangers are still a cup contender. They are deep at forward, very deep on defence, and have one of the best goaltenders in the world. After two straight seasons of deep playoff runs, the blue shirts will hope that fatigue doesn’t catch up on them. The other problem they face is that many teams in their division have improved over the summer. The Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Columbus Blue Jackets will all be battling with the Rangers for playoff positions.
The Rangers are still mostly the same team that won the President’s Trophy, and while they may not win it again, they should be able to secure themselves a playoff spot among the top three. However, another deep playoff run will be no easy task. It took seven games to knock out the Capitals, and while it only took five to defeat the Penguins, each game was decided by a single goal. Depending on how the Rangers’ youth performs, they may need to bolster their forward group a bit if they want to get past their division rivals. With the Metropolitan Divison so difficult to predict this year, it’s entirely possible for the Rangers to get bounced in the first round, but it’s also just as possible they find themselves back in the Stanley Cup Finals this spring.