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Previewing the Metro: New York Rangers

The Blueshirts have a new coach, some other new faces but still have same old stupid, sexy Lundqvist.

Heather Barry ©

One reason the Flyers could very well return to the playoffs lies in just what their division rivals did this offseason, or what they didn’t do in the Rangers’ case.

The Rangers’ run of seven-straight playoff appearances ended with the Blueshirts bottoming out in dead last in the Metropolitan last season. With their window basically slammed shut, the Rangers sold off the farm leading up to last year’s trade deadline with veteran stalwarts like Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, and J.T. Miller heading out the door. And suddenly the Rangers were staring a full-on rebuild mode square in the face. Heck, they even sent out that crazy letter to season ticket holders letting them know that things were about to get way less fun and fast.

After the deadline, the Rangers dropped to the bottom of the division as questions about the future of franchise netminder Henrik Lundqvist arose. New York held onto Lundqvist, though, and watched him post a second-consecutive sub-par season by his standard. Now 36, the Swede has posted a 2.87 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage over his last 120 games. His save percentage in that time hovers around league average after a near decade of .920+ or better work in that department. He’s a legend in New York, but he never won a Stanley Cup and doesn’t figure to do that in the Big Apple anytime soon, so he could Cup chase in the twilight of his stellar career.

Lundqvist’s situation sort of confirms that the Rangers were close to dipping into full rebuild mode, but instead have made some roster decisions to indicate that they don’t quite want to bottom out Sixers-style, either. Make no mistake, there is loads of talent on the Rangers’ roster on opening night, but the mix between veterans and young players could have the Blueshirts looking like the post trade deadline version (six wins in 18 games) that wasn’t very good.

Additions and subtractions

New York Rangers 2018 offseason moves

Additions Subtractions
Additions Subtractions
Fredrik Claesson David Desharnais
Adam McQuaid Ondrej Pavelec
Dustin Tokarski Steven Kampfer
Michael Lindqvist Ryan Sproul
Ville Meskanen Adam Tambellini
Jeremy Brodeur Paul Carey
Alexei Bereglazov
Sergei Zborovsky

They brought in Adam McQuaid on defense for a pair of draft picks, which is odd since he’s roughly average at this point of his career and takes away a spot from a young prospect while giving up assets.

They also brought back Jimmy Vesey and Ryan Spooner on deals that are questionable given both have likely maxed out at 25 and 26-years-old respectively. But more so because they take away a roster spot from prospect Lias Andersson, who had a strong preseason but will start the year in the AHL with the Hartford Wolfpack. Leaving Andersson off the opening night roster is a shock given the Rangers aren’t expected to compete this season and you would think they’d like to see some return on their former seventh-overall pick sooner rather than later.

But the Rangers will add a full season of top prospect Filip Chytil, who had three points in nine games a year ago as an 18-year-old. Downside, he’ll start the year on the fourth line, not optimum for development though he likely gets to play alongside Vladislav Namestnikov.

Other than that, the Rangers made their big changes before the trade deadline and more or less stayed the same though that could change quickly as some of the kids get their feet wet in the AHL while the big club forges forward.

Strengths and weaknesses

The Rangers have some pretty well established veterans on the roster, and names like Kevin Shattenkirk, Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Lundqvist will keep the team competitive most nights despite a defense that isn’t all that deep or impressive. New York will have scoring depth with a pretty solid top-six with some of the above mentioned and while Lundqvist has seen some decline the past two years he’s still far from replacement level.

Special teams weren’t much of an issue for the Blueshirts last season, though they weren’t a huge strength either, falling above the league average in both penalty killing (12th overall, 21.2%) and on the power play (14th overall, 81.4%).

The Rangers were the worst possession team in the league per NaturalStatTrick, posting a 45% Corsi For as a team last season. They allowed far too many chances at 5-on-5 and didn’t capitalize on their chances at even strength. New York posted a 45% Goals For percentage at 5-on-5, which was fourth-worst in the league with only the dreadful Sabres, Canadiens, and Senators worse.

On top of the lack of goal production, their defense is still a few pieces away. Marc Staal is barely serviceable (Ditto Brendan Smith) and Shattenkirk has never been the strongest in his own end. Brady Skjei looks promising though, posting a +1.7 Corsi Relative on a bad team a year ago. Neal Poink and Anthony DeAngelo are still unproven while McQuaid does provide a solid if unspectacular minute eater if nothing else. This group doesn’t light your hair on fire, to say the least.

No doubt this club needed an overhaul after reaching their peak under Alain Vigneault, a welcome change as new coach David Quinn tries to turn things around. A good starting point would be channeling some changes into the Blueshirts’ 5-on-5 play in order to make respectable special teams and save percentage numbers help produce more points and wins.

One big question

The big question is just what the Rangers will look like under the new direction of the former Boston University coach. Quinn’s BU teams made back-to-back NCAA Regional Finals in his final two seasons there and was NCAA runner-up in his second season there. He coached a handful of NHL talent at the school like Jack Eichel, Charlie McAvoy, and Shattenkirk back when he was an assistant.

Quinn knows NHL talent and how to win, but dealing with the personalities of professionals can be a challenge and the former North Stars first-round pick will try to get the most out of a young, skilled lineup that is bound to have some ups and downs along the way.

Preseason action isn’t enough to judge just how a team will play under a coach, so it’ll be some time before we find out just how the Rangers will look under Quinn’s direction. One thing is clear, though, is that he has a solid pool of players to work with and could turn the Rangers back into contenders sooner rather than later.

2018-19 outlook

Much like their New York neighbors in Brooklyn, we’re not really too sure what to expect from the Rangers this season. They have a collection of NHL talent with established veterans and a slew of young players ready to become NHL regulars. They’ve also got a 36-year-old goalie who could age quickly without much of a backup plan, or he could age like a certain NFL quarterback and continue his reign of terror on the league.

Coaches coming from the college ranks haven’t had a long (or successful) history in the NHL, so exception some rough patches in Quinn’s debut season as head bench boss is probably to be expected. Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has assembled a skilled and speedy roster, but the defense still leaves much to be desired behind an offense that hasn’t added much goal scoring.

The Ranges should battle with the Islanders in the basement of the division by design, but could surprise with a deep forward group and a bounce back season from Lundqvist to keep the team more competitive than they should be.