Will Rangers enjoy the silence with Torts gone?
Justin Falk, Aaron Johnson, Danny Kristo, Dominic Moore, Benoit Pouliot, Danny Syvret.
Ryane Clowe, Steve Eminger, Benn Ferriero, Matt Gilroy, Kris Newbury, Christian Thomas.
Last year: The Rick Nash era began on Broadway, albeit a bit later than Glen Sather and the Rangers’ brass would have liked.
New York got off to a shaky start with their new star acquisition, dropping their first two contests of the season. Nash would help provide a spark in the team’s third game, as he’d be placed on a line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, the latter providing a hat trick including the game-winner in OT.
The Rangers battled through their first 10 games, playing .500 hockey before a streaky February saw them reel off a 4-0-1 stretch followed immediately by a 0-3-1 streak.
March followed in equal measure: Winning streaks and losing streaks in nearly equal measure. Compounding the problem were Richards and Gaborik, both of whom were unable to break the 20-point barrier through the first 30 games of the season.
Carrying a combined cap hit of over $14 million, the Rangers were justifiably underwhelmed by both players.
When the trade deadline rolled around, Sather decided some change was necessary. In came Ryane Clowe from the Sharks in an attempt to add some toughness and playoff savvy. Gaborik was shipped to Columbus in a seven-piece deadline deal.
While Gaborik played better in Columbus, he was not enough to lift the Jackets into a playoff spot. Clowe, meanwhile, only equaled Gaborik’s output with eight points over the last 12 games and not a single playoff goal after having his post-season shortened by injury.
Still, the Rangers put together a strong April, going 10-3-1 and securing the sixth seed in the East. The Washington Capitals, having earned just one more point than the Rangers were awaiting them in the post-season, thanks to a high seeding after winning the “SouthLeast” Division.
The Caps had the Rangers over a barrel with a 3-2 series lead, but Henrik Lundqvist pitched a pair of shutouts in Games 6 and 7 to send the Caps packing.
Round Two of the playoffs would be less kind to the Blueshirts, as the eventual-Eastern Champion Bruins would dispatch them in five games, including the surprise benching of Richards in the decisive game of the series. The off-season beckoned with the Rangers knowing something had to give.
This Year: That something was bristly, vocal head coach John Tortorella.
After butting heads with more than a few of the team’s stars over his five seasons in Manhattan, it appeared Torts’ time was up. What ended up happening behind the bench worked out to effectively being a coaching swap with Vancouver.
Alain Vigneault – despite having led the Canucks to five straight Northwest Division titles – had run out of time to return the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final.
The difference could be marked, with Vigneault being a strong enough personality to handle the New York media but also being accustomed to managing a star-studded line-up on the ice to potentially be able to get the most out of Nash, Richards and others.
The players themselves have some work to do, but a healthy Marc Staal may go a long way. The 26-year-old shutdown blueliner was limited to just 26 games last season after suffering an eye injury. Staal is an elite weapon in neutralizing opposing talent and if the Rangers get a full season of him ahead of perennial Vezina threat Lundqvist, the Rangers could be well set-up to keep up the defensive end of the bargain.
As for scoring, a bounce-back from Richards could cover the difference after Nash and Derek Stepan both had 40-plus point seasons.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Rangers' performance after a shortened season?
The Rangers could need the extra time to adjust to the new voice behind the bench but there shouldn’t be any worries about the team’s legs, since the team is mostly in the under-35 age bracket.
Nash, too, could be greatly improved after his 48 games of adjustment, so perhaps time is on his side.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Rangers make to get themselves back in cap shape?
For a change, the Rangers avoided big ticket additions this summer, perhaps signaling that either they’ve learned a lesson from spending freely or that they thought a coaching change was overhaul enough for this group.
The Rangers enter the season about $2 million under the cap, thanks mostly to the savings from dealing Gaborik and using a compliance buyout on Wade Redden prior to last season.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Rangers after realignment.
The curiously named “Metropolitan” Division could be the NHL’s way of telling the Rangers how important they are to the League.
The division looks a lot like the old Patrick Division with the Capitals back in and the Carolina Hurricanes will be an interesting dance partner for New York by virtue of the Staal connection. Columbus, too, makes for an interesting opponent, given the trade history.
The larger effect, however, is minimal on the Rangers. The three added teams ebb and flow in competitiveness. The Rangers don’t inherit a behemoth like Detroit or Vancouver in the shuffle, but they do currently reside in the League’s tightest division, both geographically and in terms of playoff hopes.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Derick Brassard, C - His rookie season in 2008-2009 was cut short by injury and Brassard never returned to that level of production over the rest of his time in Columbus, yet he made the most of his new surroundings when he was dealt to the Rangers late last season, scoring 11 points in 13 regular season games before scoring a point-per-game in a dozen playoff contests.
As a centre, Brassard faces a challenge for ice time, since Derek Stepan and Brad Richards are also lining up down the middle, and there is obviously a new coaching staff to impress, but Brassard could, at the very least, be effective in a complementary role, providing secondary scoring for the Blueshirts.
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Pressing Question: What will it take for the Rangers to get over the hump?
They’ve now burned all the quick fixes in the book to get the most out of this group.
The superstar additions did not get them to even a Cup Final, so the coaching change had to come next.
Having won at least one round in four of their last post-seasons, Vigneault inherits a team very similar to the one he just left. The Rangers have proven (mostly) that they can make the playoffs … now they need to do some damage.
New York’s future clearly rests with Lundqvist, Staal, Callahan and Nash, so major player movement should be largely discounted, apart from possibly cutting Richards adrift if this season is not prosperous for the NHL’s all-time leading PEI-born scorer.
The team may respond to AV’s approach. But if they don’t, what’s the next step for a talented, expensive team expected to do better than a second-round playoff exit?
- New York Rangers Preview by Shane McNeil, TSN.ca