The last time we saw the New York Rangers they were shaking hands with the Boston Bruins in Madison Square Garden as their season came to a disappointing end. After a dominant year in 2011-2012 the Rangers were expected to be one of the elite teams in 2013. Unfortunately things did not go according to plan as the Rangers struggled mightily to score goals on a consistent basis. Although they did come a spirited comeback in the playoffs against the Washington Capitals the Rangers were bounced rather easily in the second round by the Bruins, much earlier than the experts predicted. This lead to the firing of John Tortorella and the hiring of former Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vignealt. Vignealt is noted for his Canucks teams that routinely were among the league leaders in offensive production and the Rangers’ brass is expecting that he can help solve this team’s scoring woes.
Alain Vignealt was brought in not just because of his success, but also because he is as different from John Tortorella’s fiery demeanor as you can get. Allegedly players complained to Rangers management about Tortorella and General Manager Glenn Sather decided the locker room had tuned the coach out and a change was needed. This point was brought up again just two days ago when Tortorella admitted in an interview (ironically in Vancouver where he was hired to replace Vignealt) that he hasn’t talked with Brad Richards, a player he loves, in months. While Vignealt may be easier on his players he does have some drawbacks. His Canucks teams routinely bowed out early in the playoffs despite dominating the regular season and could appear soft at time.
In many ways Brad Richards may be the key to the Rangers season. He went from being the prized free agent two summers ago to benched in the playoffs this season. Many assumed he would be bought out this offseason but the Rangers decided to keep him for one more year. The Rangers decided to move him to left wing this year and are buying into the fact he can turn return close to his usual form. So far this preseason results have been mixed. Unless he wins the Hart Trophy this year expect him to be bought out at the end of the season. Also of note is the fact that Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan will begin the season on the injured reserve after offseason shoulder surgeries. This has led to the Rangers calling up prospects Jesper Fast and JT Miller. Both players impressed in the preseason and while it is assumed they will be sent down once Callahan and Hagelin return, they could play their way into staying with the big club.
The biggest thing for this group is the return of Marc Staal. Staal missed the second half of last year after taking a puck to the eye that many feared could end his career. Those worries were put to rest as Staal looked very good in preseason and is now thankfully wearing a visor. John Moore is a young player that came over in the Marian Gaborik trade at the deadline that has also been very impressive in the preseason due to his skating ability and offensive upside. All in all the blue line looks very good for the Rangers.
Lundqvist is at worst a top three goalie in the league. I know he had two bad preseason games and that the NHL mandated goalie pads be shorter this year, but I’m still counting on him to be nominated for a Vezina at the end of the year. Marty Biron is a backup goalie that is loved by his teammates and will be counted on to play a lot to give Lundqvist a break around the Olympics. Goaltending is the least of Rangers worries
If there is one immediate place the Rangers needed work on it’s the power play and Vignealt knows it. Fixing the power play will go a long way into fixing this team’s offensive problems. Vignealt has said his power play will focus on quick passing and then puck and bodies to the net. Expect better things out of the unit this year.
At times last year the Rangers seemed to struggle with sticking up for their teammates and establishing a “no crap from anybody” mentality. I’m not saying the Rangers have to lead the league in fighting like they did in 2011-2012 but they do need some people who can account for the physicality that was lost when Prust went to Montreal. Look for Dominic Moore and Benoit Pouliot to help in this department.
The Rangers are implementing a new system, start the first ten games on the road, and are going to be without Callahan and Hagelin for at least ten games. I can see this struggling a little out of the gate. That being said, once this team gets everyone back and on the same page I can see this team going on a run around late November/early December. I don’t think they will catch the Penguins but I do see them finishing second overall in the Metropolitan division.
Be sure to check back next week as the Rangers continue their quest for the Stanley Cup!
About the Author
Written by Eric O'Connell
Eric O'Connell is Junior at St. John's University in Queens, New York but hails from Connecticut. He has been a life long fan of the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New York Rangers. Other interests include hanging out with friends, listening to music, having a good time, and Coffee Oreo Ice Cream. Follow on Twitter @EOCONN36 (opinions are mine and not Pro Sports Blogging)