Capitals

The Rangers got tougher, but did they get better?

Capitals

2021 record and finish: 27-23-6, 5th place in the East Division, did not make the playoffs

Coach: Gerard Gallant

Notable additions: F Sammy Blais, F Barclay Goodrow, F Dryden Hunt, F Greg McKegg, D Patrik Nemeth, F Ryan Reaves, D Jarred Tinordi

Notable departures: F Pavel Buchnevich, D Tony DeAngelo, F Phillip Di Giuseppe, F Brett Howden, D Jack Johnson, D Brendan Smith

Schedule against the Capitals

At Washington 7:30 p.m., Wed. Oct. 13

At New York 7 p.m., Thurs. Feb. 24

At New York 7 p.m., Fri. April 29

Outlook: The Rangers had one of the more interesting offseasons as they emphasized adding toughness and experience, which they did with players like Blais, Goodrow, McKegg, Reaves and Tinordi.

The reality, however, is that New York's overall success is going to be determined by skilled players like Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox.

In terms of superstar talent, they have it. Depending on where players like Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko are in their development, New York could suddenly boast one of the more formidable forward groups in the division.

On defense, K'Andre Miller's development is the key to a formidable top-four. Regardless, however, Fox is the defensive leader and already has cemented himself as one of the top defensemen in the NHL.

In net, the Rangers also managed to keep both Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev despite the Seattle expansion draft. This is a formidable goalie tandem, especially as Shesterkin continues to develop and play like a bonafide NHL star.

 

Gerard Gallant takes over behind the bench for David Quinn which should be an upgrade. Quinn was a great fit for the rebuilding Rangers, but Gallant looks like a great fit for a team looking to take the next step.

Biggest question: Have the Rangers derailed their rebuild with their sudden obsession with getting tougher?

The Rangers' offseason appears to be a product of the wild overreaction to Tom Wilson and the Capitals' physicality. It's not that wanting your team to be tougher is a bad thing -- the Caps won a Cup playing this way and it's entirely reasonable for a team to want to protect star players like Panarin -- it's that New York's rebuild focused around skill and just when it looked like the team was about to take the next step, management decided to go in an entirely different direction and sacrifice skill to overpay for toughness. As a result, the Rangers got worse in the offseason, not better.

Blais, Goodrow, Hunt, McKegg, and Reaves -- the forwards acquired in the offseason -- combined for 49 points in 2021. Buchnevich by himself had 48 and now he's gone. Granted, those players are going to fill different roles for New York, so it is not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, but it reflects where the Rangers' priorities were this offseason. They decided to bring in as much toughness as possible to play the Caps, seemingly forgetting there are 30 other teams they will have to play this season besides just Washington.

Expectations: Gallant is an upgrade behind the bench and the continued development of its young players may mask what the team lost in terms of skill this offseason. But I do worry about this team struggling with its identity. I think the players could get sidetracked trying to show the league how tough they are because they are taking their cues from management.

Midway through last season, I would have pegged New York as a no-brainer playoff team in 2021-22. Now, I see them more as a bubble team. I would not be surprised to see them make it, but I also would not be surprised to see them miss. The first few months of the season will tell us a lot about where the mindset of this team is and if everyone is pulling in the right direction, or if the Rangers have become sidetracked trying to flex their muscles.