We could have written the same preview for the New York Rangers for at least the last three years, probably the last five, maybe the last ten. They’ll get more TV and press time due to their locale and Original Six status, but this is the same collection of small, quick, faceless forwards who don’t quite do enough in front of a top-heavy blue line that’s slightly better than it was but the bottom sucks so hard so who cares and all in front of an aging Henrik Lundqvist who will remain handsome but not able to bring this team through. The most interesting thing about the Rangers was that run-on sentence I just produced. And we do this every year. One day, maybe the Rangers will have a center. I’m just sure I’ll be incontinent by the time it happens.
New York Rangers
’16-’17 Record: 48-28-6 102 points (4th in Metro, lost to Ottawa in 2nd round after beating Montreal)
Team Stats 5v5: 47.9 CF% (25th) 48.6 SF% (24th) 48.4 SCF% (23rd) 8.8 SH% (4th) .923 SV% (18th)
Special Teams: 20.2 PP% (11th) 79.8 PK% (18th)
Goalies: The starter is obviously set, but King Henrik comes into this season with more questions than he ever has, and they’re not about what he puts in his hair. Lundqvist will turn 36 during the season, and last year he was actually somewhat terrible. His overall SV% of .910 was the worst of his career and the worst he’d put up in eight years. His .918 even-strength SV% was a 16-point drop from the previous year and also the worst mark of his career. Whether that’s a one-year blip or the beginning of the end for Hank, who has racked up 742 regular season games worth of miles and another 128 in the playoffs, is the question that pretty much the entire Rangers season hinges on. Worryingly for the Blueshirts is that Lundqvist got worse as the season went along, though he did rebound a bit in the playoffs.
They may want to try and get him more nights off, and they’ll attempt to do that with Ondrej Pavelec as the backup. We’ll wait while you clean off the drink you just spit all over your screen. Pavelec spent most of last year in the AHL, such was his career in Winnipeg. In his brief cameo in the NHL he was awful, as he’s been pretty much his entire career. Maybe playing behind an actual goalie for once will help. Maybe goalie coach Benoit Allaire can unlock something. The Rangers had better hope so, because if Pavelec continues to produce a skunk-like smell and the Rangers have to ride Lundqvist hard (as pleasing a thought as that might be for some of you), you could see this going belly-up quickly.
Defense: Well, the Rangers finally figured out that Dan Girardi was dragging the entire operation down, and bought him out and then watched him hilariously resurface in Tampa. Bringing in Kevin Shattenkirk is an obvious huge upgrade, and Ryan McDonagh might not die of exhaustion trying to cover for Girardi anymore. What Shattenkirk can do as a genuine top-pairing d-man is anyone’s guess though, because he’s never done it and his stint in DC at the end of last season and playoffs was not particularly impressive. He is one of the game’s better puck-movers if unencumbered, but he’s going to have to do it now against the toughest competition. If he can’t, the Rangers have no get-up-and-go from the back.
Now that Girardi is gone, most eyes will shift to see Marc Staal really isn’t any good either, and his pairing with Brendan Smith–my pick for worst player in the NHL for about five years now if not more–has the chance to redefine comedy in our society. Nick Holden and Brady Skjei is actually a pretty good third-pairing, and Skjei can be the puck-mover for this team whether Kirk ShattenKevin can or not with his greater responsibility. If Alain Vigneault figures out his second pairing blows, he’ll have to find out if Skjei and Holden can take on more. Skjei might, Holden can’t.
Forwards: This is basically a boggle unit, as you can shake it up and have it come out in any order and then figure out what you have in various combinations. But after years of trying to convince the world, or maybe just themselves, that Derek Stepan was a #1 center, they’re going to do the same thing with Mika Zibanejad. Captain Stairwell looks to be the #2 center, with J.T. Miller as the third. And if you’re thinking that’s pretty piss poor depth down the middle for an NHL team, you win. David Desharnais could move to the middle, except he sucks there. Though he sucks on a wing, too. The Rangers once again are filled with gnats and an alleged wiener tucker on the wings. Kreider, Buchnevich, Zucharello, Grabner, you’d be excused for thinking they all came off the same assembly line in Penn Station. The Rangers are faster than most teams, but there isn’t quite enough finish here. No one topped 60 points last year, and it’s hard to see who will here this year.
Outlook: Normally, we regard Vigneault as a pretty good regular season coach who loses his shit when the chips are down. But even his possession-heavy ways went by the boards last year. ShattenKevin is probably meant to help with that. But the bottom half of this blue line is still toxic, and it’s now a genuine question if Hank can bail them out anymore. If he can, the Rangers should relatively easily make the playoffs. If he can’t, the Rangers might be diving head-long into a rebuild they definitely don’t want.
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