New York Rangers: Can They Finally Win The Eastern Conference?
For the New York Rangers, last season provided a step in the right direction, making it past the postseasons first round for the first time since 2015. This season the logic says they should advance to the conference finals. Screw logic though. This team didn’t make a splash in the offseason just to make a cameo appearance in the Eastern Conference finals. They have their eyes set on capturing the East crown and playing in their first Stanley Cup final since 2014.
A team that has the ability to light up a scoreboard, the Rangers need bounce-back years from some of their top scorers. Rick Nash and Chris Kreider top the list, finishing fourth and eighth in team scoring respectively a season ago. Their playoff performance was worse, as both combined for nine points in 12 games. Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast will need to build off of solid first seasons in the Big Apple, something likely to happen.
The loss of center Derek Stepan will hurt a little, but that’s why GM Jeff Gorton brought in free agent David Desharnais. At 30 years old, Desharnais struggled offensively last year, tallying 14 points in 49 games split between the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers. Not the biggest upgrade, though with the expansion draft costing them another center (Oscar Lindberg) they were thin at that position. One has to hope Zibanejad continues where he left off in the playoffs, leading the Rangers in points with nine.
Defensively, the Rangers bought out veteran Dan Girardi. Ravaged by injuries and steadily declining the past couple of seasons, the move seemed wise for a team slowly rebuilding. They then went out and landed the biggest prize of free agency, signing blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk to a four-year contract worth $6.65 million. He’s expected to join the top line pairing, alongside Ryan McDonagh, and serve as a power play threat. Another underrated acquisition was that of Anthony DeAngelo, traded from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta.
In net, the Rangers live and die with one of the league’s best in Henrik Lundqvist. Now 35, he’s shown a few signs of slowing but still remains among the NHL’s elite. Any questions surrounding whether he’s past his prime were answered in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. His heroics were the main reason New York advanced to face the Ottawa Senators in the conference semifinals.
Keeping Lundqvist’s age and health in mind, the Broadway Blueshirts were smart, signing backup goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to a one-year contract. While coming off a down year in Winnipeg, he has the ability to post decent numbers. He spent years as a starter, so being the backup might be exactly what he needs to revive his career.
Can the New York Rangers finally put things together and clinch their first Stanley Cup final berth in four years? While unknown, they have the pieces to make a deep playoff run. One that could end with them holding a parade on Broadway, celebrating a long-awaited Stanley Cup victory.