So, here we are. Once again, we find ourselves on the verge of another New York Rangers season, and, once again, shit is absolutely wild.
To help set the stage for what comes next we got a table, cut off the corners, and made it nice and round for you. In other words, we did a season preview roundtable where I threw some questions at Blueshirt Banter’s writing staff — including our recent new additions — and got some answers. Let’s dive right into some takes of various temperatures to help get you ready for the 2021-22 Rangers season.
Are the Rangers a playoff team?
Yes: Joe, Bryan, Brianna, Tom D., Leighann, Roberto
No: Tom U., Kevin, Jack
It looks like, as a whole, we’re an optimistic bunch — or maybe we are just uninspired by the other teams in the Metropolitan Division? I think the New York Islanders are the best team in the division but I don’t necessarily think they are a lock to finish first. The Atlantic has real superpowers in it whereas the Metro has the Islanders, a Carolina Hurricanes team without Dougie, and the worn-down Penguins and Capitals. There’s also the Flyers — I still don’t know what the hell the Flyers are but I do think Carter Hart will be just fine.
The bottom line is that the Rangers didn’t necessarily get better on paper with their offseason moves but the kids on this team will all be a year better, the Norris Trophy winner is here, Igor is the real deal, Mika is healthy, and Panarin is Panarin. That should be enough. Right? Sure.
Who has a breakout season?
Lafrenière: Joe, Bryan, Tom D.
Kakko: Tom U., Mike, Brianna, Jack, Leighann
Chytil: Kevin, Roberto
Who will end up as a scapegoat?
Kreider: Joe, Mike, Kevin
Goodrow: Tom U., Bryan, Brianna, Tom D., Leighann, Roberto
Oxford dictionary defines a scapegoat as “a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, especially for reasons of expediency.” With that definition in mind, the 2021-22 New York Rangers are chockful of scapegoat candidates and the consensus of the Blueshirt Banter staff is that recently named Alternate Captain Barclay Goodrow will be this season’s scapegoat. Goodrow came to New York via a July 17th trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning this past offseason and while the initial move was regarded as a solid trade, the return being just a 7th round pick, the Rangers needed to sign the 28-year-old forward to a new contract.
Goodrow came to New York with a Stanley Cup pedigree and added the requisite size and more physical playstyle that was a stated need for the Rangers. The Ontario, Canada native looked to bolster the depth of the lineup and add a different element to a roster loaded with young, skilled forwards. The question is, though, why would Barclay Goodrow be the scapegoat for the season? Well, a week after the Rangers traded for Goodrow they turned around and signed the 28-year-old forward to a six-year, $21 million contract. That deal carries a $3.641 million AAV with a No Move Clause in five of the six years and is a rather large commitment to make to a player that was already on the back nine of the age curve and plays a heavy game. On top of that, Goodrow will be seen as the poster child to the “new look” New York Rangers, fair or not, and because of all of the digital ink spilled about the makeup of the Rangers roster and its lack of muscle, Goodrow will have a target on his back with a fanbase itching to pounce on every mistake.
While the majority of the Banter staff said that Goodrow is this season’s scapegoat, the runner-up is probably the most familiar face on the roster. Chris Kreider can be a very frustrating player as his scoring touch is more volatile than the climate right now and there are times that he can seemingly disappear for games at a time. On top of that, Kreider is the elder statesman in New York and signed a seven-year deal worth $6.5 million per year and, of course, a full no-move clause for the first four years. At thirty years old, Kreider is no longer the hope of the Blueshirts, and as younger forwards develop and take the next steps, the tides will turn on the Massachusetts native rather quickly if he goes into a prolonged scoring drought.
Roster player most likely player to be traded?
[note: we asked our staff before the Kravtsov news broke on Oct. 12]
Georgiev: Joe, Mike, Kevin, Brianna,
Jones: Tom U.
Kravtsov: Bryan, Leighann, Jack, Roberto
Hajek: Tom D.
The general consensus is that Alexandar Georgiev is the Blueshirt on the roster most likely to be traded. Georgiev was vocal about his disappointment in the outcome of the last season, with rumors circulating that he requested a trade in the off-season. The 25-year-old goalie told Larry Brooks of the New York Post, “The rumors were false, I don’t know where that came from [...] You can be dealt pretty much as a player without a no-move clause, so I just worked as usual and tried not to think about it.” With only 18 starts out of the 56 games last season, Georgiev went 8-7-2, with a save percentage of .905 and a goals against average of 2.71. He is in the final year of his two-year bridge deal and will be in the backup goalie position with Igor Shesterkin signing a four-year, $22.667 contract in the offseason. If Georgiev wants to be the starting goalie with a larger contract, he most likely will find himself traded by next season.
Vitali Kravtsov is another name that appeared to have been seen as a trade option, but that was before he did not make the opening night roster. The cut from the roster led everyone to believe that Kravtsov would report to Hartford with the possibility for him to be called back up because he was exempt from waivers. However, this decision kept Libor Hajek on the roster and seemed to bother Kravtsov, who envisioned a different start for this season. Now that he has refused to report to Hartford, the Rangers will have to suspend him, having given him permission to contact other teams for a trade. So perhaps Bryan, Jack, Leighann, and Roberto’s predictions will come true in the very near future.
NYR Team MVP?
Fox: Joe, Kevin
Shesterkin: Tom, Brianna
Panarin: Mike, Bryan, Tom D., Leighann, Roberto, Jack
I picked Igor Shesterkin to be the Rangers’ team MVP, because I believe that he is still in line to be the biggest difference-maker. Offensively, the team should be better with progression of the kids which will hopefully offset the loss of Buchnevich, and I would expect there are steps the team can take defensively, but the margin for error based on public models puts the Rangers most likely on the cusp of making the playoffs. That means the team will need to find a way to steal some points along the way, and that’s where Igor comes in.
Last season was Shesterkin’s first “full” season as an NHL player, and he put up a pretty impressive performance. The Rangers’ starting netminder posted a GAR of 16.4 (Evolving-Hockey) which was ninth in the league, and I am predicting that he improves upon that in 2021-22. I believe Igor, much like Henrik Lundqvist before him, will be the big reason why the Rangers make the playoffs, if they do ultimately make it, and therefore will be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as one of the league’s top goaltenders. He has a solid track record in professional hockey thus far, and him taking another big step is something fans can hope for in 2021-22.
Tom Urtz Jr.
Wolf Pack Team MVP? (Roberto)
Schneider: Tom U., Mike, Brianna, Tom D., Leighann
Jones: Joe, Bryan, Roberto
The Hartford Wolf Pack’s roster is loaded with recent Ranger’s draft picks. The team is going to have a successful season, but there is one player who will stand above the rest — and once you learn that Zac Jones is only 5’10” that feat seems all the more impressive.
Jones only played two seasons for the UMASS Amherst Minutemen but averaged just under a point per game in each season. His cerebral approach has allowed him to scan the ice and predict plays as they are unfolding. This was on full display during the Frozen Four as he often walked the blue line while holding on to the puck, turning nothing into something. His poise and patience are elite, and it’s no surprise his former head coach has compared Jones to Adam Fox on numerous occasions.
Wolf Pack make the playoffs?
Last season, Hartford finished with a record of 14-9-1 in an Atlantic Division with three teams in it — listen, it was a weird year. So, why do the Wolf Pack make the playoffs this year? Well, my short answer here is that their goaltending only has room to improve from what we saw last year and there is a lot to like about the kids in Connecticut.
Zac Jones is good enough to be on a lot of NHL rosters competing for ice time right now but he will be working on his game in the AHL on a blue line that will also have Tarmo Reunanen, who was an All-Star last year. Oh, and Braden Schneider. And Hunter Skinner. And Matthew Robertson. Yeah, this blue line should be a blast to watch.
Morgan Barron is starting the year in Hartford, Ty Ronning’s confidence is sky-high, Tim Gettinger is coming off of a career year, and Lauri Pajuniemi has a shot that could be the Wolf Pack’s primary weapon on the man advantage this season. Overall, this Hartford roster is brimming with potential. It would be a big bummer if they fall short of the postseason.
O/U: Adam Fox with 75 points?
Over: Mike, Bryan, Brianna, Roberto
Under: Joe, Tom U., Kevin, Jack, Tom D., Leighann
I believe the reigning Norris Trophy winner cannot be stopped. In 55 games last season Adam Fox scored an incredible .85 point per game pace bringing him to a total of 47 points. When applied to a full 82 game season, this same scoring rate would round up to 70 points overall. However, I think there are a few key factors that could increase his point production.
Is Adam Fox, like, good or something? pic.twitter.com/bJJ29H6iiV— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) October 7, 2021
First, if we can anticipate anything from analyzing Gallant’s previous seasons, the new coach will bring a more cohesive system, enabling the team to produce more offense. Second, Artemiy Panarin missing 13 games last season dramatically impacted the New York Rangers’ ability to score, and while Fox can certainly do it himself, Panarin’s absence negatively affects everyone on the team including him. And I mean, come on — Adam Fox won the Norris Trophy! This alone should bring the young defenseman an enormous amount of confidence. Some could argue it also brings pressure, but I choose to bet on Fox succeeding.
O/U: Panarin gets 90 points?
Over: Joe, Tom U., Mike, Bryan, Brianna, Tom D., Leighann, Roberto
Panarin has been an immense force of a player since joining the Rangers, and finds a way to get better each and every season. The Breadman’s first season on Broadway was one that should have been capped off with a Hart Trophy, but the writers must have felt it “wasn’t his turn.” That year he finished with a dazzling 95 points in just 69 games, including 63 assists! Last year he finished his season with 58 points in 42 games, including 41 assists. Panarin has been on pace to finish with over 100 points in each of his first two seasons, as well as finish with an assist total that would be a league record at his position. Barring an injury or an unforeseen stretch of bad luck, Panarin should easily hit 90 points, and push for much more.
Tom Urtz Jr.
O/U: Zibanejad gets 40 goals?
Over: Joe, Tom D., Leighann
Under: Tom U., Mike, Jack, Kevin, Bryan, Brianna, Roberto
Mika Zibanejad’s new contract might be polarizing among the fan base, but most of the negativity comes with respect to thinking about that cap hit of $8.5 million years down the road. In the more immediate future, the 28-year-old pivot should continue his excellent offensive production.
Zibanejad scored 30 goals in the last full NHL season (2018-19) before notching an incredible 41 goals in just 57 games in a 2019-20 season that was shortened by injury for him personally and by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic league-wide. Last season, the pandemic hit Zibanejad personally, as a pre-season bout with the virus undoubtedly contributed to a very slow start. By the end of the abbreviated 56-game season, though, Zibanejad had caught fire once again, in a manner reminiscent of his scintillating 2019-20 campaign. He finished with 24 goals in the 56 games—a 35-goal pace for a full season, which is remarkable considering how poorly Zibanejad started.
Now, Zibanejad is healthy and no longer has the specter of contract negotiations and potential free agency looming over him. To start the season, he has a rising young star in Alexis Lafrenière on one wing, and longtime linemate and buddy Chris Kreider on the other wing. Mix in continued power-play time with Artemiy Panarin and Adam Fox, and Zibanejad should eclipse the 40-goal mark for the second time in his career.
O/U: Reaves has five fighting majors?
Over: Joe, Tom U., Bryan, Leighann, Roberto
Under: Mike, Kevin, Brianna, Jack, Tom D.
Under. Reaves has dropped the gloves three times in each of the last three regular seasons. The last time he had at least five fighting majors in a single season was in the 2017-18 campaign when he was playing with the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’m not saying Reaves isn’t going to fight in New York — because he absolutely will and we all know that — but I’m happy to take the under here. Fights don’t happen too often in the modern game but maybe the Rangers and Reaves want to change that this season. Oh joy.
Will the Rangers trade for Jack Eichel in-season?
Yes: Bryan, Roberto
No: Joe, Tom U., Mike, Kevin, Brianna, Jack, Tom D., Leighann
No. For me, this is no longer about the memes or riffing about the dumpster fire that is the Buffalo Sabres franchise. This is about a young man who is living with pain being prevented from doing what he wants to do with his body. That is profoundly messed up. It begs a lot of questions about how much control teams have over athletes and what role the NHLPA has in what happens here. I want so badly for this to be over with Eichel back on the ice after recovering from the surgery he wants to pursue playing for any team that isn’t the Sabres.
As for a deal with the Rangers — I just don’t see it happening. I didn’t think it was likely before Mika’s extension and I feel the same way after it. The Rangers definitely have the pieces to make a deal work but I feel like it’s more likely Jack ends up elsewhere.