Who is poised to make a run for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division this year? The chances are good that we could see a new pecking order by the time the regular season ends in April 2015.
Some teams have become better this offseason and some are regressing. The Metro division isn’t stocked with stellar teams, so it’s a wide-open race to the playoffs. We’ve looked at the Carolina Hurricanes, the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders to this point in time. With National Hockey League training camps set to open in just over four weeks, we now turn our attention to the bridesmaid of the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals.
Today: the New York Rangers
After a grueling and somewhat slow start to the season last year, the Rangers slowly climbed the standings to finish second in the division with 96 points. Alain Vigneault became the 35th head coach in Rangers history after replacing the mercurial John Tortorella behind the bench in June 2013.
The team made headlines in March 2014 after trading their captain, Ryan Callahan, plus a second round pick in the 2014 draft and first round pick in the 2015 draft to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for their captain, Martin St. Louis.
In the playoffs, they beat the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games of the first round. After falling behind 3-1 in the second round series, they rallied to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the Eastern Conference Finals they took the Montreal Canadiens to six games, setting up their first return to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1994 when they won Lord Stanley’s Cup.
After playing twenty games en route to the Finals, they were a team that was out of gas. They fell behind 3-1 in the series, but could not recreate the magic of their second round series with the Penguins, ultimately falling to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
Can the Rangers repeat the magic that took them to the Stanley Cup Finals again this season? They bought-out the contract of Brad Richards in June. Anton Stralman and Benoit Pouliot were allowed to seek employment elsewhere this offseason. General Manager Glen Sather, in this position since 2000, has decided that the team that went to the Finals last season will pretty much stay intact for this season.
July brought about contract extensions for a few Blueshirts that Sather deemed necessary for another strong season, with right wing Mats Zuccarello signing a one-year deal for $3.5M on July 22. On July 27, Sather signed center Derick Brassard to a five year, $25M contract extension. The team agreed to a contract with left wing Chris Kreider for two years at $4.95M four days prior to the Brassard extension.
The Rangers signed free agent Dan Boyle to shore up their blue line for two years, $9M. They signed free agent Tanner Glass to a three year, $4.35M contract, while also adding free agents Matthew Lombardi (two years,$1.6M), Lee Stempniak (one year, $900K) and Nick Tarnasky (two year/two-way deal, $1.15M).
They are set in goal with Henrik Lundqvist as the undisputed number one and Cameron Talbot as their backup. Their have defenseman Ryan McDonagh (possibly their next captain), defenseman Dan Girardi, center Derick Brassard and left wing Rick Nash all signed to long-term deals. This is also a "show me" contract year for players such as defenseman Marc Staal, left wing Carl Hagelin and center Derek Stepan.
Sather has yet to sign restricted free agent defenseman John Moore, although that should happen prior to the beginning of training camp. The Rangers have $1.3M of cap space with which to sign John Moore, leaving them with very little wiggle room should they want to make any moves.
With such little room under the salary cap, Glen Sather must fervently hope that the Rangers stay healthy during the 2014-15 campaign.
Look for the Rangers to try and pick up where they left off last year. Some think that they over-achieved to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals and will fall back to earth this season. If they are able to stay healthy and get consistent production from their players, look for them to finish in the top-half of the division, possibly as high as second place for the second year running.