Other than the departure of Carl Hagelin, Cam Talbot, and Martin St. Louis the 2015-16 Rangers really don't look that much different from the team that won the Presidents' Trophy last season. The priority for the club this offseason was extending star center Derek Stepan and that is just what they did. There were several big moves from the other teams in the Metropolitan Division, which is something I will cover in a story that will be up in the next few days, but the Rangers were not one of the teams that brought in new weapons like Phil Kessel or Brandon Saad. A new seventh defenseman, three new forwards (one of which is set to be Oscar Lindberg), and a new backup goaltender are the only new faces in the club's locker room. This team is going to look a lot like it did just a few months ago when they were on the ice competing for the Stanley Cup, and that is a good thing.
The Rangers had the single best ratio of goals for versus goals against at evens last season which was a big part of their success. I know we say this at the onset of every season but the forever irksome power play can really only get better now that we'll have Keith Yandle around for a full season. The only big concern facing the Rangers with the new season just 66 days away is finding a way to replace the offense that left with St. Louis and Hagelin who had a combined 38 goals last season.
The little moves that the Rangers made on July 1st and the days that followed it might just make them a better hockey team than they were when they lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Joe touched on this about a month ago, but given the team's cap constraints some outstanding work was done by the management group to add players that addressed the club's needs. They certainly weren't the kind of signings and trades that stole headlines, but they added some key depth and role players to a successful team that was a poorly-timed offensive drought away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015.
While I was impatiently waiting for news to break about signings on July 1st I blurted this out on twitter:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Bring back Lee Stempniak. I said it.</p>— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) <a href="https://twitter.com/DigDeepBSB/status/616344385404321792">July 1, 2015</a></blockquote>
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The Rangers didn't bring back the infamously misused Lee Stempniak (who is still an unrestricted free agent), but they did bring in Viktor Stalberg who looks like a great fit for Alain Vigneault's team much in the way that Stempniak did. Stalberg's combination of speed and size is something that will be very much welcome in a Rangers' lineup that just lost a lot of speed in the Hagelin trade. Along with youngster Emerson Etem, we can expect Stalberg to be a guy who will be playing in the bottom six but could move up into the top six in the event of an injury or a need for shaking things up. Stalberg effectively replaces Martin St. Louis in the lineup, but that doesn't mean he will be replacing Marty's 52 points. Instead, the Rangers are going to have to turn to young players like Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, and Chris Kreider to build on last season's success and give us all nervous breakdowns next offseason when they join Emerson Etem as RFAs (that won't be fun, I assure you).
The Rangers will also be counting on Derek Stepan to stay healthy and crack 60 points for the first time in his career this season now that he is the second highest paid forward on the team. A season of a fully acclimated Keith Yandle, a happy and healthy Derek Stepan, and several excellent young players that are (probably) only going to get better will all hopefully add up to the Rangers' replacing the offense lost with St. Louis' retirement and the Carl Hagelin trade. Stalberg and Etem, if they're utilized correctly, are both players that can make a significant impact on the attack and should help ease the load for the Rangers' stars and young forwards.
Oscar Lindberg's two year contract extension at a spectacularly cap friendly $650,000 makes him a fantastic candidate for the team's bottom six forward group. Now that he can be claimed on waivers by other clubs, the Rangers will have to make sure they give Oscar a chance to succeed in a role as a responsible defensive forward. By all accounts Lindberg is a solid young player who plays the game very well between his ears. After seeing what Jesper Fast did in the bottom six last season, I think we're all deservedly excited about a player that has a much higher ceiling than Fast does in regards to NHL performance and production.
Bringing back Raphael Diaz might be my favorite move of the offseason for the Blueshirts. Diaz has been perpetually underrated and misunderstood during his time in the NHL and the Rangers will benefit from that fact by paying him only $700,000 to be the club's first second option on the blue line. Picking up Antti Raanta from the Blackhawks for 22 year old prospect Ryan Haggerty was another solid move. Haggerty was an unsigned college free agent who had 33 points in 76 games for the Wolf Pack last season. It's nice to have players with offensive upside like Haggerty in the system (you can never really have enough), but adding a quality goaltender like Raanta, even if he only stays for just this season, was a big get for the Rangers. He might not be named Cam Talbot, but Raanta is a very capable netminder that has shown flashes of skill and brilliance on par with the best goaltenders in the NHL.
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So, even though there are just a handful of new faces in the locker room it appears, at least for the moment, that they are right new faces. Stalberg, Etem, Raanta, Diaz, and Lindberg are all players that can help the Rangers win hockey games. The forward group just got a little bit bigger and stronger thanks to the addition of Etem and Stalberg and the Rangers found quality players to serve as the club's seventh d-man and backup goaltender. There's little doubt that Martin St. Louis, Cam Talbot, James Sheppard, Matt Hunwick, and Carl Hagelin are going to be missed, but the players that are stepping into their roles for the 2015-16 season might just help make this team better than it was when it failed to score a goal in Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.
What move do you think was the best for the Blueshirts this offseason? Which one do you think the club and Rangers fans will soon come to regret the most? Do you think the Rangers are done or will we see the club perhaps bring in another free agent or move a contract or two before the regular season gets underway?
Any veterans you want to see get training camp invites if they remain unsigned? ... Lee Stempniak, anyone?
As always, thanks for reading. Let's go Rangers.