New York Rangers
(also posted on HockeyAnalysis.com)
Kicking off my Atlantic division predictions and analysis, I present to you the New York Rangers.
What they lost: A ton of stars and payroll. Bobby Holik, Eric Lindros, and Mike Dunham have been lost since the Broadway Blueshirts last took the ice, and even more were shipped out before the last trading deadline. The biggest blow to the Rags could be the loss of captain Mark Messier. Reports say that he won’t report to camp and could possibly announce his retirement soon, thus becoming the latest future-Hall of Fame casualty from the long layoff (Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis being the others). They also lost their chance to bring back Brian Leetch, who signed in Boston. The Rangers have been somewhat of a running joke around the NHL for their high payroll and low output, so they’re switching to a youth movement in hopes to rebuild and change their fortunes.
What they gained: Finishing several seasons in a row low in the standings does have its benefits. The Rangers now have a stockpile of young talent led by Fedor Tyutin. Their future in net looks bright with Henrik Lundqvist and Al Montoya battling for the #2 spot behind Kevin Weekes. As far as veteran additions, the Rangers picked up Steve Rucchin, Ville Nieminen, Martin Rucinsky, Jason Ward, Marek Malik, and Devil-killer Martin Straka. None of these guys are mega-superstars, but that’s exactly what the Rangers need. These could be the character players they’ve needed for the past eight years.
Staying at home: The Rangers did not do to Darius Kasparaitis what they did to Bobby Holik, and now he is the backbone of their defense. Jaromir Jagr will be expected to provide the offensive spark for this team, and justifiably so. He is arguably the most talented played in the NHL (I’d argue on his behalf), and if his heart is in the game, no one can stop him. Other notable returnees are Tom Poti and Michael "Born to Play for the Islanders" Nylander.
Bottom line: This is not the year the Rangers make a triumphant return to the playoffs. Make no mistake about it, this is a rebuilding season, and their final standings will be a reflection of it. Four or five years down the road, the Rags may be contenders once again, but not this year… not with this team. They’ll finish dead last in the Atlantic.