The New York Rangers were just three wins away from bringing the Stanley Cup to New York for the first time in 20 years during last year’s Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings.
New York lost the best of seven series in five games, with three losses coming in overtime and watched the Kings skate away with their second Stanley Cup Championship in three seasons. The Rangers will now have to play through another 82 game season to get a chance to return to the finals.
“It was such a emotional defeat,” said senior and Rangers fan John Sorentino. “After the playoff run we had, anything short of a championship this year is a failure.”
The road begins today, when the Rangers visit the St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m.
But New York will have fight to make the playoffs all over again with a new look roster after losing forward Brian Boyle and defenseman Anton Stralman through free agency. The team also parted ways with gritty forward Derek Dorsett in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks and bought out veteran forward Brad Richards to clear space under the salary cap to resign other key players.
The Rangers will also be without first line center Derek Stepan for the start of the season. Stepan was placed on the team’s injured reserve after sustaining a fractured fibula during training camp.
Stepan posted career highs in points (57) and assists (40) last season and the Rangers will certainly miss his production for at least the first month of the season; however, the Rangers do have some new faces in the locker room to make up for the offseason departures, including 38-year-old defenseman Dan Boyle, a Stanley Cup Champion in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Rangers want Boyle to serve as a replacement for Richards with his veteran presence and leadership. Boyle is also a power play specialist and should be an upgrade from Richards on the point.
New York also added depth players by signing free agent forwards Ryan Malone, Lee Stempniak and Tanner Glass. Glass, who has 458 penalty minutes in 377 career games, gives the Rangers an enforcer, a roll left open when Dorsett was traded.
Other new faces for the Blueshirts this season are rookies Kevin Hayes, 22, and Anthony Duclair, 19. While both these rookies showed some potential during the preseason, both are completely unproven at the professional level.
Last season, Duclair played for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and notched 50 goals and 49 assists for 99 points in 59 games.
Hayes was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in the NCAA, last year with Boston College with 27 goals and 38 assists for 65 points in 40 games. He will be joining former Boston teammate Chris Kreider this season in New York.
The duo was part of the Boston College team that won the NCAA tournament in 2012.
“I think the roster has a lot of young guys that are really going to make an impact this year,” Sorentino said. “Not just the rookies, but the core of the team is still pretty young and they are going to be hungry for another chance at the Cup.”
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, 25, became the fourth youngest captain in Rangers history when he was appointed Monday. Kreider, 23, Carl Hagelin, 26, and Mats Zuccarello, 27 will all be expected to match or improve on their offensive contributions last season.
Veterans Martin St. Louis, 39, and Rick Nash, 30, are being counted on to have bounce back seasons. Nash had 39 points in 65 games last season and struggled with concussion issues. He scored just three goals in 25 playoff games.
St. Louis, on the other hand, flourished in the post season with 15 points in 25 games coming up with several key goals to extend the Ranger’s postseason run. To start last the season, he had 61 points in 62 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning before being traded to New York in March. He had just one goal and eight points in 19 regular season games with New York.
The Rangers will turn to the same goaltending combination as last year with Cam Talbot backing up Henrik Lunqvist, who became the Ranger’s all time leader in wins (309) and shutouts (50) last year.
“With Henrik between the pipes, you have a chance to win every game,” Sorentino said. “Talbot proved last year that he is a more than capable back up.”