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.
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.
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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.
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