It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: New York Rangers
How they did last season: 46-27-9 (101 points), 3rd in the Metropolitan, 4th in the Eastern Conference. Lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Penguins in an incredibly one-sided affair.
Notable acquisitions: LW Nathan Gerbe; RW Michael Grabner; C Mika Zibanejad; D Nick Holden; C Brandon Pirri; LW Jimmy Vesey; RW Josh Jooris
Notable departures: C Eric Staal; LW Viktor Stalberg; D Keith Yandle; C Derick Brassard
When they will play the Caps: Oct. 22 in Washington; Feb. 19 in New York; Feb. 28 in New York; April 5 in Washington
Analysis: Several years of mortgaging the future finally seemed to catch up with the Rangers last season. It took the Pittsburgh Penguins just five games to dispatch New York in what was one of the least competitive series of the entire playoffs. A team that had begun the year with Stanley Cup aspirations was eliminated in the first round by a team that started its third-string goalie in the first two games of the series.
That series showed the Rangers were clearly no longer among the top teams in the conference. There was also no real hope of the future generation taking over in New York as the Rangers had not selected in the first round of the draft since 2012.
Think about that. Four straight years with no first-round draft picks and New York had virtually nothing to show for it.
Usually that kind of strategy leads to a long and painful rebuild, but thanks to some very shrewd moves by general manager Jeff Gorton, the future suddenly looks bright again in the Big Apple.
The Rangers’ shift in philosophy was clear when the team traded center Derick Brassard for the 23-year-old Mika Zibanejad. Brassard may arguably be the better player right now, but he is five years older and already in his prime. Zibanejad recorded 51 points last season and is only getting better.
In addition, New York also added college free agent Jimmy Vesey. While we should temper our expectations — the buzz surrounding his free agency greatly inflated what people seem to believe he can do in his rookie season — his signing adds another young weapon to a suddenly stacked offensive lineup.
In fact, with the signings of Nathan Gerbe, Michael Grabner and Brandon Pirri in addition to Zibanejad and Vesey, the Rangers may now have too many weapons on offense and may have to ship one or two players out before the season starts.
And oh yeah, they still have the king between the pipes.
At 34, age is starting to become a concern for Henrik Lundqvist. Last season was not his best as he registered his a goals against average of 2.48, the worst of his career. But that had more to do with the team as Lundqvist still managed a good save percentage of .920. The Rangers must improve improve defensively and in terms of possession in order to help their netminder this season.
Season prediction: It’s hard to tell exactly what kind of team the Rangers will be because I don’t think they’re done dealing just yet. There are too many bodies on offense and too many concerns on defense for the Rangers not to make a move.
Lundqvist is still very good, but he’s not the brick wall he used to be and Dan Girardi looks like a shell of his former self. Many did not expect Girardi to be back for this season, but as of now he’s still there.
The Rangers had a tremendous offseason, but many of the moves they made were with an eye on the future and not the present. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but this is a preview for the 2016-17 season and in that sense it doesn’t look like the moves they made will catapult them back into serious contention. New York will have to worry more about fighting off the Islanders and Hurricanes for third place in the division than they will the Caps and Penguins for first place.
2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS
— Carolina Hurricanes
— Columbus Blue Jackets
— New Jersey Devils
— New York Islanders
— Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
— Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
— Washington Capitals (coming soon)