NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the New York Rangers:
1. Can Gerard Gallant turn them around?
Gallant replaced David Quinn as Rangers coach June 16 after they finished fifth in the eight-team MassMutual East Division (27-23-6) and failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The 58-year-old is 270-216-51 with four ties for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights. He’s 18-15 in 33 playoff games, including leading the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18.
“When I was in Vegas, we went into training camp with a plan, we put our systems in place and we expected everybody to play a 200-foot game,” Gallant said in June. “Everybody good defensively, everybody good offensively, everybody to handle a role on the hockey team. That’s what’s important for me.
“It’s not going to take 15 guys to win, it’s going to take 23 guys on your roster to win games every night. I will try to make every player important to our hockey team. Everybody has a role to play, and that’s what we expect.”
2. Have they changed their identity?
The Rangers injected grit and Stanley Cup Playoff experience this offseason with the additions of forwards Ryan Reaves, Barclay Goodrow and Sammy Blais, and defensemen Patrik Nemeth and Jarred Tinordi.
Reaves, acquired in a trade with the Golden Knights on July 29, has 937 penalty minutes in 686 NHL games and has played 84 playoff games. Goodrow won a second straight Stanley Cup championship with the Tampa Bay Lightning before being acquired in a trade July 17. Blais, acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues for forward Pavel Buchnevich on July 23, helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup in 2019.
Nemeth and Tinordi each signed with the Rangers as free agents July 28. Nemeth has 182 penalty minutes in 366 regular-season games and has 28 games of playoff experience. Tinordi has 123 penalty minutes in 102 games and had 56 hits in 21 games with the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators last season.
3. Has Igor Shesterkin proven himself as the full-time starting goalie?
Shesterkin, who agreed to a four-year contract Aug. 10 after going 16-14-3 with a 2.62 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and two shutouts in 35 games (31 starts), is expected to play the bulk this season. The 25-year-old built on his strong performance in 2019-20 (10-2-0, 2.52 GAA, .932 save percentage in 12 games, all starts).
The Rangers also have goalies Alexandar Georgiev (8-7-2, 2.71 GAA, .905 save percentage in 19 games last season) and Keith Kinkaid (3-2-1, 2.59 GAA, .898 save percentage in nine games).
4. Can Adam Fox be even better?
Fox won the Norris Trophy voted as the best defenseman in the NHL after he finished second at his position with 47 points (five goals, 42 assists), one fewer than Tyson Barrie of the Edmonton Oilers.
He was plus-19 in 55 games and led the Rangers in average ice time per game (24:42), three minutes more than defenseman Jacob Trouba, who was second (21:29). Fox led Rangers defensemen in power-play ice time per game (3:45) and shorthanded ice time per game (2:36). He scored 23 power-play points, had 102 blocked shots, and was third in takeaways (38).
“[Fox] will be the first one to tell you that he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in without his teammates,” forward Chris Kreider said Aug. 12. “At the same time, we wouldn’t be in the position we are as a team without him. He means so much to our group, within the locker room and on the ice.”
5. Will they name a captain?
General manager Chris Drury said he would like to have a captain this season, which the Rangers haven’t had since defenseman Ryan McDonagh was traded to the Lightning on Feb. 26, 2018.
Kreider is the longest-tenured player on the Rangers. The 30-year-old has played 573 regular-season games and 80 playoff games over nine seasons, all with New York.
“I think if we can keep moving this thing forward, a big piece of that for me would be getting a captain,” Drury said. “For me it’s a priority, but at the end of the day it’s got to be the right person. I’m not interested in giving it to somebody to just say we have a captain, but I think we have a lot of leaders in our room and leaders that have taken big steps in the last couple years, including the second half of last season.”