Henrik Lundqvist (NYR - 30) awaits the faceoff.

“Retooled” Rangers Look for A Bounce Back Season

NEW YORK – Its time to wake up from that long summer’s nap because the NHL season is fast approaching. In fact, training camps are open and the season begins October 12th. For the New York Rangers, its been a summer of “retooling” and a long one. The Broadway Blueshirts have a chip on their shoulder after a disappointing first round exit last season to the Pittsburgh Penguins who then went on to win the Stanley Cup.

From that moment on, general manager Jeff Gorton had made it clear changes were going to come. A fresh new look or change in culture needed to come because the main core of the team had fallen short and taking steps backwards. What made Rangers fans have hope once the season ended was the draft wasn’t too far away. Speculations of massive changes were coming and possibly at the draft. The draft came and went and the Rangers failed to make a major trade as many expected.

Given the benefit of the doubt, Gorton did say he wasn’t going to sell his players for 50 cents on the dollar. Why should he? This team still had value at that point. What we learned over the summer was Gorton was a patient man and a man with a plan. It took just over two weeks after the draft when the first major move was made. Derick Brassard was traded. One of the few players who was contributing down the roller coaster stretch for the Rangers last season. He was going to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad, a player who was younger, faster and had a more cap friendly contract. Gorton’s patience paid off and he was also able to steal a 2nd-round pick in the deal as well.

The Rangers added speed with not just Zibanejad but with free agent acquisitions such as Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe. The Rangers have lacked speed since shipping Carl Hagelin away last off-season. They also were able to grab Brandon Pirri, who, could be one of the under-the-radar bargain signings. The Rangers indeed have an interesting team going into this season.

Many people of course, are worried about the team’s blue line. Hard to believe just two years ago the blue line was considered the Rangers best asset. When you play a multitude of games over the last five years it tends to wear on you so you can give a slight benefit of the doubt. The Rangers are counting on guys who may have been put on notice at season’s end to step it up in a big way. Rick Nash is coming off a underproductive year and rumors have swirled all summer about the possibility of being moved for St. Louis Blues D-man Kevin Shattenkirk. In the four years Nash has been on Broadway he’s scored 21 goals in his first campaign (2012-2013) playing just 44 games. In 65 games the year after (2013-2014), he scored 26 goals then followed up his best season in the Rangers sweater playing 79 games and scoring 42 goals. Last season he didn’t eclipse 20, he finished with 15 goals in just 60 games played. Nash could very well be on the trading block if production doesn’t improve dramatically early in the season.

Other Rangers players who have taken their fair share of criticism last season were once the dynamic duo of shut down defensemen. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi who are both coming of their worst seasons of their careers. It might have been just bad luck but anytime both were on the ice mistakes would happen and goals would be scored against and fans would call for their heads. Purely unfair but this is what happens when you play in New York.

With a decent amount of youngsters ready to make a mark in camp and crack the NHL roster, you better believe guys have been put on notice. Most people may not agree, but the extended off-season for guys like Staal, Girardi and even aging goalie Henrik Lundqvist could prove to be beneficial. Anything short of a Stanley Cup is a disappointment but if the window is even slightest bit open for the older guys then the rest was best for them to try and make another run.

As far as the new additions to the team, expect major contributions. The preseason schedule got underway Tuesday night for the Rangers and Zibenejad got right to work. His line mates, Chris Kreider and the highly touted prospect Pavel Buchnevich were flying all over the ice creating chances. That is certainly a line to watch and has been working well together from the start of camp. For Kreider, this could be a fresh start for him. He has seem to be the guy who has this load of talent but can’t seem to consistently get it going. Maybe having some younger guys with good puck movement and fantastic vision could be beneficial to him and give him the chance to break out of this voodoo like spell he’s been under.

Lastly, we come to the guy who year after year has been the backbone and the reason the Rangers compete each year, Henrik Lundqvist. The King is entering his 12th year and will be turning 35 in March of 2017. There may not be too many years left for Lundqvist who sits just 26 wins away from 400 in his illustrious career. Problem is, no Cup. If there is anyone in this league who deserves a Stanley Cup ring, it is Lundqvist. He just hasn’t had the support you should get when putting up the numbers he puts up year in and year out. The Swedish native though, still has an aggressive work ethic and looked very sharp in the World Cup of Hockey tournament so don’t call him old just yet.

Lots of people will start to doubt Lundqvist now that he begins hockey life on the other side of 35 but that’s just a number. We have seen many of the great goalies of the game still put up consistent numbers as they got older. You could look at the adage of “the older you get, the wiser you get”. For Lundqvist, he’s been here, he’s played on the biggest stages but he’s fallen short each time with the exception of of winning a gold medal for team Sweden in 2006. This could be a historic year for Lundqvist, not only chasing 400 wins but it could be his last few shots at grabbing the ring he truly deserves.

The season begins for the Broadway Blueshirts in grand fashion, October 13th vs. the Islanders. Nothing says opening night then going against your biggest rival. The Rangers have high expectations and they are heading in a new direction. As pointed out in the training camp T-shirts the Rangers are “building our team together”.

Happy hockey season Rangers fans. Stay tuned for season long coverage from yours truly and Diana Driscoll.