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Capitals' 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: New York Rangers

Capitals' 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: New York Rangers

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.

How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams?

This week, CSN is taking a look at each team’s offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

RELATED: CAPITALS' 2017-18 SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

Team: New York Rangers

2016-17 Results: 48-28-6 (102 points, fourth in the division). Defeated Montreal in the first round before losing to Ottawa in the second.

Notable acquisitions: D Kevin Shattenkirk, G Ondrej Pavelec, C David Desharnais, D Anthony DeAngelo and assistant coach Lindy Ruff.

Notable departures: F Derek Stepan, G Antti Raanta, F Oscar Lindberg, D Dan Girardi, D Kevin Klein and F Tanner Glass.

When they will play the Caps: At Washington Dec. 8, at New York Dec. 27, at New York March 26 and at Washington March 28.

MORE CAPITALS: RANKING THE CAPITALS MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS

2017-18 Rangers Analysis:

Following their second-round loss to the Senators, this much had become clear about the Rangers: in order to return to contender status they needed an offseason refresh on the backend.

So GM Jeff Gorton got to work.

He signed hometown standout Kevin Shattenkirk, the top prize on the free agent market, to a team-friendly deal. He re-upped late-season addition Brendan Smith. He also bought out longtime Ranger Dan Girardi, while 32-year-old Kevin Klein retired from the NHL.

As a result, the Rangers will enter camp next month with a revamped—and improved—blue line that’ll boast Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei and Smith in the top 4.

The third pair? There’s options, including 10-year vet Marc Staal, Nick Holden and 2014 first rounder Anthony DeAngelo, acquired in the June trade that sent top line center Derek Stepan to Arizona. (The Stepan deal, which also sent valuable backup goalie Antti Raanta to the Coyotes for DeAngelo and a first round pick, cleared much needed cap space, some of which was used to sign Shattenkirk.)

Up front, the Rangers’ offense (fourth best last season at 3.09 goals per game) figures to miss Stepan and his 55 points, but the group still looks awfully potent with the likes of Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Michael Grabner, Rick Nash and Mika Zibanejad shouldering the scoring load.

In all, New York returns nine of its top 10 point-getters from a year ago, while adding power play wiz Shattenkirk.

Over the past six seasons, the Rangers have advanced to the conference final three times and the Stanley Cup final once. With the renovation on defense, might this be the year Henrik Lundqvist and Co. finish the job?

2017-18 Rangers Season prediction: 

Speaking of Lundqvist, I suspect he holds the key to unlocking New York’s full potential.

He’s been the Rangers’ rock for past decade, but you can’t gloss over the fact that he’s 35 years-old, has logged some hard miles and is coming off the worst season regular season of his career, during which he posted a .910 save percentage and a 2.74 goals against average. He’s also returning from a sprained knee that he suffered while backstopping Sweden to the gold medal at the World Championships in May.

In a recent interview with NHL.com, Lundqvist said he doesn’t expect the knee to give him any trouble. But he also acknowledged the need to be more consistent, saying of last season, “The highs were as high as any other year. The lows were a little too low.”

Was it a blip? Or is King Henrik slowing down? The answer, right now, is not clear.

If Lundqvist bounces back, though, I like the retooled Rangers’ chances challenging for the division title…and, perhaps, a much bigger prize, as well.

More Metro Division previews:

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Capitals trim 11 players from training camp roster in first round of cuts

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Capitals trim 11 players from training camp roster in first round of cuts

The Capitals made their first round of roster cuts on Thursday, trimming 11 players ahead of their back-to-back preseason games against the Blues and Hurricanes.

Among the youngsters who were returned to their respective clubs: forwards Robbie Baillargeon, Tanner Jeannot, Brendan Semchuk, Mark Simpson, Jimmy DeVito, Damien Riat, Kristian Marthinsen, Beck Malenstyn, Garrett Pilon as well as defenseman Dmitri Zaitsev and goalie Adam Morrison.

Forward Kevin Elgestal, meanwhile, was returned to his European team on Wednesday.

MORE CAPITALS: EARLY ROSTER PROJECTIONS

A week into training camp, Washington’s roster now stands at 53—30 forwards, 17 defensemen and 6 goalies. That means 30 more players will be cut or reassigned as the team gets down to the roster maximum of 23.

Coach Barry Trotz said earlier this week that a second round of cuts could come over the weekend.

None of the Friday cuts qualify as a surprise; Pilon, Riat and Malenstyn—all 2016 draft picks—appeared in a preseason game before being released back to their clubs.

The Caps were off on Thursday. They return to the ice Friday for a morning skate at 10 a.m. (for players suiting up against St. Louis) and 11:15 a.m. (for players who aren’t).

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Projecting the Caps' roster after the first week of training camp

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USA TODAY Sports

Projecting the Caps' roster after the first week of training camp

The Capitals are one week into training camp with two preseason games already in the rearview mirror. The roster battles are coming into focus and some players are already staking their claims.

So what will the final roster ultimately look like on opening day? Here's a projection based on what we have seen and heard through the first week:

Forwards (14)
Andre Burakovsky - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Tom Wilson
Nathan Walker - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson
Anthony Peluso - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen (7)
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Aaron Ness - John Carlson
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey
Taylor Chorney

Goalies (2)
Braden Holtby
Philipp Grubauer

Notes:

  • According to Cap Friendly, this roster would put the Caps $40,000 over the salary cap. My caveat is that the salary cap is so complex that no one really knows exactly what a team's salary number is except for the team and the NHL. Cap Friendly is an incredibly useful tool, but it is a projection. A difference of $40,000 is well within the margin of error I consider to be realistic. for the Caps to make this roster fit under the cap.
  • If the Caps can't make this work, don't be surprised to see them start with 22 players.
  • Peluso is not talked about all that much, but the team needs Wilson to focus on his offense and not fighting. They need someone else to take that responsibility from his shoulders. Peluso may spend more time in Washington than you may think, even if he spends more games in the press box than on the ice.
  • Chiasson played well in Washington's first preseason game and his versatility makes him attractive to Washington. In a pinch, he could play on the third line, perhaps even the second if needed. The only way it can really work in Washington, however, is if he agrees to sign for a league minimum $650,000 which you would think is certainly doable. He was without a job a few weeks ago, is he really going to haggle over price?
  • Christian Djoos did not play particularly well in the team's first preseason game and given his size, the team will not simply give him a spot because they have a hole in the lineup. As of now, I would predict the Caps will send Djoos back to the AHL and hope his size will dissuade any potential poachers form snagging him. If he hopes to make the NHL roster, he needs to make an impactt with his next opportunity or he will almost certainly be back in the AHL.

 

MORE CAPITALS: JAKUB VRANA MADE THE MOST OF HIS OPPORTUNITY MONDAY