New York Rangers: Five Predictions for 2017

Happy New Year from Blue Line Station! 2016 has passed, and it is now time to look ahead to the 2017 New York Rangers year. Every year comes with plenty of surprises, but here are our best predictions at what will come in the coming year.

The New York Rangers owned a 49-25-6 record in the year 2016, a strong performance from an up and down team. In the 2016-17 campaign thus far, New York boasts a 24-12-1 record, good for a spot with the top teams in the NHL.

Despite their success, plenty will change this year for the Rangers. Every year brings changes, progressions, regressions, and unexpected twists and turns. Let’s see what’s due to come.

1. Henrik Lundqvist Continues to be Criticized-

Lundqvist’s stretch over the past year has been his most polarizing in the media. Some back Lundqvist’s play, stating the goalie is a victim of the poor defense in front of him. Others claim the Swedish netminder is declining, a scary thought for the Rangers.

Regardless of what the answer is, Lundqvist is the hot topic around the Rangers. With Antti Raanta’s terrific play as the backup, the storyline will not go away any time soon. Any time Lundqvist suffers an off night, pundits will turn their weary eyes towards Raanta.

Alain Vigneault has done Lundqvist no favors, allowing Raanta to steal starts away from the superstar goalie. If that continues, look for questions about whether or not Lundqvist is worth his $8.5 Million salary, and plenty of back and forth between his defenders and detractors.

2. Rangers Acquire a Top Pair Defenseman-

Jeff Gorton has shown he knows what he’s doing as General Manager in all aspects except for defense. His acquistions of Adam Clendening and Nick Holden have proven to be a start, but his inability to rid the Rangers of Dan Girardi’s contract does not bode well for his reputation.

That being said, Gorton must be of the understanding that the Rangers must win while Henrik Lundqvist is still at the top of his game. Unless Gorton believes the Rangers defense is not an issue, the way to solve that is to trade for a top defenseman.

Names come and go on the trade market throughout the year, but potential targets include Tyson Barrie, Dougie Hamilton, and Kevin Shattenkirk. Acquiring any top defenseman will take a high price tag, but the Rangers have forward depth to deal from. New York will get their top pair defenseman unless Gorton does not understand defense.

3. Derek Stepan’s Rangers Career Ends-

Speaking of depth to deal from, Derek Stepan will be the Ranger to go. Stepan’s no movement clause kicks in in July, and teams have often traded players before their respective clauses kicked in.

Stepan’s value to the team is tremendous. Besides the sentimentality factor, Stepan scores with the top centers in the league, plays heavy penalty killing minutes, and is one of the few right-handed shots on the roster.

However, all that makes him valuable to the Rangers also makes him valuable to other organizations. For the Rangers to be able to afford a top pair defenseman-be it by trade or signing-New York must free themselves of salary.

Stepan’s $6.5 Million is a fair deal, but New York must prioritize where their position of need is. With Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, and Mika Zibanejad capable of playing center and on special teams, Stepan does not fill any needs for the Rangers. His greatest value to the team is to help them acquire a defenseman.

4. Dan Girardi’s Rangers Career Ends-

The Expansion Draft will be a gift in disguise for the Rangers. New York must find a way to rid themselves of Girardi’s contract regardless of the Draft, but the Draft only makes the need more evident.

Should Girardi stay aboard, the Rangers will be forced to protect him in the Draft along with Marc Staal. Ryan McDonagh is the clear cut third protected defenseman, leaving any other defensemen unprotected.

So, if the Rangers do acquire a top pair defenseman, that defenseman would be left unprotected. Las Vegas would select that defenseman, leaving the Rangers without any bounty from their trade or signing. Another scenario is the Rangers protect that defenseman, leaving their captain, Ryan McDonagh, available for selection. Yikes.

Unless Marc Staal is dealt due to his superior trade value, Girardi will almost certainly be bought out or traded before the Expansion Draft. Whether the Rangers want to move him or not, there is no choice.

5. Alain Vigneault is Fired-

The boldest and least confident prediction, yet a prediction nonetheless. The Rangers must understand that winning with Henrik Lundqvist in net is crucial, and that early postseason exits are unacceptable.

New York’s Metropolitan Division is a nightmare this season, so whomever they play in the first round will be a difficult test. Perhaps if the acquisition of a top pair defenseman comes at the Trade Deadline, the Rangers could handle that test. If not, New York will bow out early once again.

Regardless, it appears Jeff Gorton is a follower of analytics, and New York’s analytics are consistently among the worst in the NHL. If the Rangers are eliminated early, the team can move on from Vigneault, like they did John Tortorella.

Perhaps a fresh start in the 2017-18 campaign with a top pair defenseman and a new Head Coach can kickstart the Rangers back to the Stanley Cup Final.