While flaws remain, Rangers will soon be back in Cup conversations
The perception of the Rangers among those in the hockey world isn’t pretty right now.
There are nay-sayers who’ve already slammed the Rangers’ Cup window shut for the foreseeable future. Some have even alleged that Henrik Lundqvist is a shell of his former self. I’m here to tell you the hockey world is going to be in for a rude awakening this coming season.
This new crop of Rangers aren’t the Rangers we saw struggling to keep up with the Penguins last April. Not even close.
Sure, personnel problems remain— Dan Girardi and to a lesser extent Marc Staal are still on the roster. The team still hasn’t found viable puck movers on the back end to replace Keith Yandle, or to a lesser degree, Dan Boyle.
But here’s why you should be excited about the 2016-17 Rangers:
Much like the Penguins at the onset of last season, the core pieces for a Cup run are in place. And much like those Penguins, moves will be made to fix this group’s flaws. For the Rangers, those exist solely and exclusively in one area: on defense.
Hear me out: the Rangers’ forward depth rivals that of any team in the league. This includes the reigning Champion Penguins, the Lighting, or even the San Jose Sharks out west.
Look for Alain Vigneault to utilize this throughout the season. They’ll be getting back to the up-tempo pace we saw from January of ’14 to the Spring of ’15. Make no mistake about it, this is a speed friendly, forward-driven league. Jeff Gorton gets it. He’s given his bench boss a plethora of forwards to create 4 lines capable of playing fast.
In fact, the aforementioned Penguins rode a strategy to the Cup Final that Rangers’ brass has seemingly taken note of: dress 12 forwards who can skate like hell and suffocate the other team in all areas of the ice. If you spent time studying the Penguins for handicapping purposes like I did, you’d have noticed. (and made some money, too)
So again, back to the defensive side of things.
Keep in mind that with a goalie like Lundqvist between the pipes, we’ve seen first hand that even if the team is literally one of the worst defensive teams in the league (in terms of shots against and high quality shots against), a 100-point season is still attainable. Let that sink in.
It’s going to be up to management to figure out the right combination of in-season maneuvers to get the blue line in order– this means not being totally awful for our purposes. We’d all sign up for a team that’s “middle of the pack” as far as shot suppression, where as the Rangers were in the lower third of the league last season.
And, for as bad as they were last season, it shouldn’t really be that tall a task. They have some pieces in place.
McDonagh and the defense
Despite playing with a weight in the form of Girardi strapped around his waist throughout his career, Ryan McDonagh is an elite defenseman in every way. Smooth skating sophomore Brady Skjei is primed to pick up a top-four role on either the right or left side. Kevin Klein has proven to be a serviceable piece up and down the depth chart.
A combination of Dylan McIlrath, Nick Holden, and Girardi (in that order) will give the Rangers a third pair that will be as good as they need to be. A longer than usual off-season of recovery and training could propel Staal back to his former status. Needless to say, this would be a huge plus.
With that in mind, what do these Rangers really need? A top-four, puck moving defenseman. Something that the Rangers are actively in the market for, as if you needed me to tell you that. With a surplus of forwards, it’s not a matter of if a trade is made, it’s when.
How They Will Get Back In It For The Cup
An upgrade on defense via trade, combined with Vigneault potentially dressing the six defenseman and twelve forwards who are playing– and skating– the best will yield results.
So friends, don’t buy into the doom and gloom. On the back of some speed and skill, scoring depth, and Henrik Lundqvist, these Rangers will cement themselves firmly in the Cup conversation into Spring of next year.