The New York Rangers, ending with a 46-27-9 record and 101 points, had a very disappointing finish to another solid season, Pittsburgh dominating them in the first round, winning in five games. They were simply overmatched by a Penguins team that seemed unstoppable in the second half of the season.
New York’s main problem last season was defense. This has been an elite defensive team in the past, but looked totally different in 2015-2016. They survived the regular season by riding the back of Lundqvist, whose .920 save percentage gave them a lot of wins. The Rangers gave up 30.4 shots per game, 19th in the league. At one point during the season, they allowed over 31, ranking them at 27th in the NHL. They could not close off passing lanes and did not have good gaps. Guys like Marc Staal didn’t win battles along the boards like they should.
In the offseason, they let go of both Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle. Both are very good offensive defensemen, but a change on the back end might be good for New York. This gives young players like Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath to compete for those open positions. Both are very skilled defenseman that are going to be determined to prove they belong in the NHL. For New York’s defense to improve, however, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal need to step up and play like the top 4 defensemen they’ve proven themselves in the past to be. Fans are calling for their heads as of now.
The best move they made was trading Brassard for a 2nd round pick and Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad produced about the same amount as Brassard, scoring 21 goals and dishing 30 assists, compared to Brassard’s 27 and 31. Zibanejad, however, is 24, so, with still some more room for growth, he’ll most likely surpass the 29 year old Brassard. He also has a better two-way game, and he will be a big help on the penalty-kill. The Rangers were 26th on the pk at 78.2%, being another big issue for them. Zibanejad is also more consistent on the face-off circle, which the Rangers definitely need improvement in, especially now after losing Derek Moore, who won 55.4% of his face-offs.
Another solid move they made was signing Brandon Pirri, which has gone under the radar recently. Pirri has moved around recently and hasn’t played a full season in his career, but he’s shown he has an ability to score. He tallied 22 goals in 49 games during 2014-15, and 14 goals and 15 assists in 61 games last season. He might be somebody who can crack the top 9 and be a staple in the Rangers’ offense.
The last move they made was signing Jimmy Vesey, a very skilled young forward. He showed a glimpse of what he can do in the Traverse City Tournament, ending as the top scorer. It will be fun watching how he impacts the team.
Rick Nash came up during an interview with Alain Vigneault, as Nash has stated he presently doesn’t feel secure on the Rangers and needs to prove himself again. As Vigneault states, that is the right mindset, and, while he’s a good two-way player, they need his offense. He has been an elite offensive star in this league, and they need to see that from him. He can score plenty of goals and rack up 70 points in a season, but they did not get that from him in 2016. After scoring 42 goals in 2015, he netted just 15 last season. That is just not going to get it done. The Rangers gave up a lot for him (and Brassard), sending out Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon, and a 1st round pick in 2012, and they aren’t getting what they imagined, especially come playoff time. In 12 games in 2013, he produced 1 goal and 4 assists. In 25 games during their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, he notched 3 goals and 7 assists. He was better the last 2, but still not to the level he should be at. For the Rangers to go far again, he needs to be more productive.
Alain Vigneault stated that the plan with Lundqvist this season is to give him more rest. Most of his career, he’s been playing 60-65 games a season. Vigneault mentioned that the recent Stanley Cup winners have all had their starters play around 50-58, making them fresher come playoff time. I believe this is a smart move on his part, especially with Lundqvist getting older.
The Rangers will make the post season this year again, but I can’t say whether or not they will contend for the Stanley Cup.