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The Rangers are being overlooked, and that makes them even more dangerous

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers celabrate a win 12-8

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Despite finishing last season with 113 points, the Presidents’ Trophy, and coming within one win of returning to the Stanley Cup Finals, the New York Rangers have found a way to fly under the radar in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. And they’re all the better for it.

The Metropolitan Division is in contention for the strongest division in the entire league. Many people have predicted that they will send five of the eight teams to the playoffs. Teams like the Blue Jackets, Capitals and Penguins all improved their team, with a lot of fantastic scorers and defenders spread out amongst the eight teams.

The Metro really does have the talent to send five teams to the playoffs, with those teams being The Rangers, the Penguins, the Capitals, the Blue Jackets and the Islanders. All five of those teams are extremely good, and they all have potential to make a run in the playoffs.

Despite the Rangers consistent success over the past four seasons, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals three times and the Stanley Cup Finals once, the majority of fans, writers and analysts aren’t picking them to remain as division champions, opting to choose the Penguins or the Capitals instead.

Let’s start with the Capitals. During the offseason, they made two quality acquisitions, signing Justin Williams, also known as “Mr. Game 7,” and trading for TJ Oshie, the young, budding star from the St. Louis Blues. But did they really get much better?

alex ovechkin

Photo courtesy of Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports.

While they did acquire Oshie and Williams, giving Ovechkin more help in the top six, they wound up losing a lot of quality depth forwards and a good puck moving defenseman.

Eric Fehr, Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer all found new homes, no longer playing in the Nation’s Capital. The three of them combined for 59 goals last season. Mike Green, usually a force on the power play, is now playing in Detroit, and not setting up Ovechkin for one timers anymore. That’s another 45 points gone.

While Oshie and Williams are certainly better players than all of the forwards that they lost, combined, Brouwer, Ward and Fehr were extremely important pieces to the Capitals offense, and valuable depth players. The Capitals got bigger names, but I don’t think that they really improved all that much.

The Penguins made the biggest splash during this offseason, acquiring Phil Kessel in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, giving them three of the most dangerous offensive players in the NHL. The fact that Kessel could play alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is truly terrifying. However, the problem for the Penguins lies in the restrictions of the salary cap.

Pittsburgh has a lot of their money tied up in just a few players. The Penguins have $38 million tied up in just five players; Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, the oft-injured Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Because of that, they have very little wiggle room to fill out the rest of the lineup, especially on defense, where they are noticeably thin.

marc-andre fleury 4-22

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

However, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has still been able to assemble a pretty nice team, complementing his three superstars with players like Patric Hornqvist, David Perron, Chris Kunitz and Eric Fehr. The Penguins should be an improved team, and a competitive one at that, as long as guys like Letang, Malkin and Pascal Dupuis can stay healthy.

Then you have the Blue Jackets, who added Brandon Saad to a very strong top six group of forwards, and are ready to compete and hoping to avoid the massive amount of injuries that afflicted them last season. The Islanders are a very young and talented team that is only getting better with each passing season.

When you look at the New York Rangers, they’re returning almost their entire team, and they even improved the team by adding depth to the lineup on both offense and defense. Jarret Stoll, Viktor Stalberg, and Emerson Etem all made their way to the Big Apple, and youngsters like Oscar Lindberg could potentially play and produce for the Rangers.

rick nash 11-5

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

While there are definitely question marks, mainly about how the second year players will play and how the lines will come together, there’s reason to be optimistic.

In a piece from a few days ago, I wrote an article on what the Rangers offense could look like for next season (LINK). Even with expecting some dip in production from Rick Nash, players like Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Kevin Hayes could all have massive years. And on top of that, many of the young players like Emerson Etem, JT Miller and Jesper Fast all should produce and a good rate too.

Yes, there are question marks. And yes, we really don’t know for a fact that this Rangers team will be the same deadly offensive force that they were last year. But when looking at the lineup, the young players ready to breakout, and the defense plus goalie tandem, it’s hard not to be optimistic.

So let the Rangers fly under the radar. Let people think that the Islanders, Capitals and Penguins will run the Metropolitan. All that means is that the Rangers will catch everyone by surprise yet again.

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Posted on September 4, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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