Probably the two biggest moves the Rangers made this offseason were deciding to keep forward Brad Richards in the mix after he was scratched during last season’s playoffs, and opting instead to fire outspoken head coach John Tortorella in favor of Alain Vigneault, who had previously coached the Vancouver Canucks.
The Rangers are typically toward the top of the league in terms of defensive capabilities, finishing fourth in the league last season with a 2.25 average goals allowed per game, but Vigneault will have to implement a plan to help the Rangers score goals as well. The team finished 15th last season in goals scored per game, which should be considered a step backward—especially considering that they added power forward Rick Nash to the mix for last season. Vigneault will also need to work on the team’s power play, which finished last season 23rd in the league, converting on only 15.7 percent of their opportunities.
The Blue Shirts will look to Nash and Richards to lead the way offensively, but they will get some help from Derek Stepan, who led the team with 44 points in 48 games last season, and Ryan Callahan, who tallied 31 points of his own. With Marian Gaborik gone, there will certainly be plenty of opportunities for other players to step up and help in the scoring department. In addition to Stepan and Callahan, the team is hoping that Derek Brassard is one of those players. With 11 points in 13 games for the Rangers last season, Brassard should get a long look to contribute both during 5-on-5 play and on the power play.
Still, the bread and butter of the team remains their defense, and a big reason for that is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has consistently been one of the top goalies year in and year out. His numbers last season – a 2.05 goals against average and a .926 save percentage – were some of the best of his career. And having defenseman Marc Staal back for an entire season, after missing half of last year due to injury, will be a big help as well—especially on the power play.
One of the big hurdles facing the team is the fact that Lundqvist will be a free agent at the end of the season, and if the team isn’t showing a commitment to winning, he might opt to find that commitment elsewhere come next season. Hopefully the thought of looming contract negotiations doesn’t stutter his stellar play, but there’s always the chance, and that could be devastating for the Rangers who hang their hat on Lundqvist year after year.
With a coaching change and a commitment to Brad Richards (for the time being), the team figures they have the tools to make a run for the Stanley Cup. Strong defensive play will be critical to their success again this year, but they need to find ways to score more goals, especially on the power play, if they intend to go all the way.