1. Things so far appear to have gone as planned for the Rangers, with a 5-2-1 record through eight games. What's been the most unexpected storyline of the season's first two weeks for the Blueshirts (i.e. who's emerged or even faltered that was not expected to)?
New York Rangers fans have been excited about Oscar Lindberg and how good he could be for a couple of seasons now, but no one was expecting him to come out of the gate like this. Five points in eight games for a defensively-inclined forward is pretty damn good, but it is helped along by a 36.4 shooting percentage. What's been so great about Oscar Lindberg is that he has done a lot more to help the Rangers win games than scoring four goals and picking up an assist through the first two weeks of the season. With Tanner Glass finally being sent down to the Wolf Pack we're anticipating Oscar to make more of an impact on the penalty kill despite the presence of veterans like Dominic Moore, Jarret Stoll, and Viktor Stalberg.
The consensus among Blueshirt Banter contributors and other Rangers' writers was that Lindberg definitely had what it took to play two-way hockey in a bottom six role at the NHL-level this season, but I don't think anyone was expecting him to transition so smoothly to the next level after two solid seasons playing with the Wolf Pack in the AHL.
After the blistering start he got off to a season ago, it has been some cause for concern to see Rick Nash struggle to get pucks past goaltenders early in this season. We're all hoping that his bizarre first goal of the season against the Coyotes from [this past Thursday] will get things rolling for him.
With that being said, there isn't too much cause for concern for Nash and his lack of offensive production thus far. All of the chances have been there and all signs point to him being a productive and impactful player like he was for the Rangers last season. He is a seriously underrated player without the puck and is among the team's best penalty killing forwards, so he brings a lot more to the table than just scoring goals... but, you know, the goals are important with a cap hit of $7.8 million.
2. How are you all feeling about the Rangers' blue line so far? Ryan McDonagh is obviously outstanding and Keith Yandle -- despite the steep cost the Rangers paid to get him -- is a great player. How much concern is there over the rest of the guys on defense?
Issues with the blue line? Yeah, you could say that. The Dan Girardi contract is looking like more and more of an issue with each passing month and the same can be said of Marc Staal's contract. Girardi really excelled in John Tortorella's system, but he is (in my opinion) overpaid for the quality of play that he brings to the Rangers' blue line. Girardi's lack of foot speed often results in him being out of position and having to resort to sprawling around on his stomach to make defensive plays. Desperation does not a good defenseman make. Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist are so good that they often cover the warts in Girardi's game, but I assure you that they are there and they are a significant problem for the Rangers. The Rangers chose to invest long term in Girardi and Staal and it hasn't taken long for some Rangers fans to lose sleep over their contracts. The Rangers have a ton of cap space tied up in their blue line which is going to make negotiating with their key RFAs in the upcoming offseason a nightmare.
GOTTA HEAR BOTH SIDES
GOTTA HEAR BOTH SIDES
There were a lot of Rangers fans, including myself, that wanted to see Kevin Klein moved during the offseason when his trade value was at its highest to create some cap relief and flexibility. As you might have guessed from seeing Klein play with the Rangers in the first eight games of the season, that didn't happen. The Rangers do and should want Keith Yandle to remain a New York Ranger after this season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, but it seems unlikely that they will have the cap space to make something work without moving some pieces like Kevin Klein around. Thankfully, Dan Boyle's $4.5 million of cap space is going to free up after this season. Boyle was made somewhat redundant when the Rangers acquired Keith Yandle before deadline day last season and he has already been a healthy scratch once this season. The foot speed isn't there for Dan Boyle even if the will and hunger to play still are. He has been more than a little bit underwhelming as a New York Ranger.
3. What's the level of urgency like in New York as this season gets underway? So much has been made of how the team is all-in for right now, with recent trades having depleted the prospect group a bit. Is there any outcome whatsoever short of a Stanley Cup that won't be seen as a failure for the Rangers this year?
Every team's goal is to lift the Stanley Cup in the spring and the Rangers are certainly no different. There is a very real sense that this could be the Rangers last best chance while Henrik Lundqvist is still one of the two best goaltenders on the planet, so the urgency to win now is real. The Rangers have a great team, a good coach, and they won the Presidents' Trophy last season. A lot of their key young players like Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and J.T. Miller learned a lot from the Rangers' 2015 Playoff run and are poised to be impact players with the club this season.
I do believe that this is likely the Rangers' last best chance to get to the Finals and to win the Stanley Cup in the foreseeable future. You just don't come across goaltenders like Henrik Lundqvist very often and you very rarely get skaters like Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, and Derek Stepan all playing in their prime hockey years on the same team. If it doesn't happen for the Rangers this year, I'm just not sure how much longer Henrik Lundqvist can be Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers past the age of 34. If it doesn't happen soon for the Rangers, the chances are it might be a pretty long wait until the Blueshirts have another team of this caliber and a chance to win the Cup that is as good as it is this year.
Thanks to Mike for answering my questions. I also answered three Flyers questions of his, which you can read over here.