DETROIT – The Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference next season where they will be reunited with a trio of Original Six rivals (Boston, Montreal and Toronto) in a division that also includes Buffalo, Florida, Ottawa and Tampa Bay.
Throughout the summer, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose will take an analytical look at a different Eastern Conference team. This week it's the New York Rangers:
NEW YORK RANGERS
2013 Record: 26-18-4
Head Coach: Alain Vignault (first season)
Home Rink: Madison Square Garden
Pending Unrestricted Free Agents: Defensemen Steve Eminger, Roman Hamrlik.
Pending Restricted Free Agents: Center Derek Stepan; left wing Mats Zuccarello (arbitration).
Free Agents Lost: Left wing Ryane Clowe; defenseman Matt Gilroy.
Free Agents Gained: Defenseman Aaron Johnson; center Dominic Moore; left wing Benoit Pouliot.
Red Wings All-Time Record vs. NYR: 261-210-103-1
Can a coaching change really make a difference with the New York Rangers this season?
Definitely. Parting ways with John Tortorella and bringing in former Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault will provide a climate chance both on the ice and in the Rangers’ locker room this season.
Gone with Tortorella is his my-way-or-the-highway relationship with some of his players and the New York media in five contentious seasons in the Big Apple.
Vigneault will be a breath of fresh air for the Rangers, while is approach and system should give New York a bit of an offensive boost, particularly for young forwards like Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider, who have some speed and skill to be big-time offensive contributors with Vigneault now calling the shots.
Under Vigneault and his coaching staff, players like Brad Richards, Rick Nash and franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist will likely find a more agreeable environment. Vigneault added assistants with NHL coaching experience in Scott Arniel and Ulf Samuelsson to implement his systems. Arniel is a former head coach, having worked with Nash in Columbus, and Samuelsson worked with coach Dave Tippett and Wayne Gretzky before then in Phoenix.
The Rangers struggled to give Lundqvist goal support, averaging just 2.62 goals per game, which was a four-season low for the Blueshirts. He’s a five-time Vezina Trophy finalist, who has been in New York spotlight for awhile, and now he’s in his final year of a six-year contract that has paid him $41.2 million.
The consensus in New York was to pay Richards a lot of money to go away, however, the veteran third-line center is still a savvy contributor with plenty of imagination and playmaking ability.
Rangers GM Glen Sather said his decision to not buy out Richards’ contract was simply that the 2004 Conn Smythe winner is still a good player.
“I think he had an off year, and we think he'll be much better next year, so that's the deciding factor.” Sather told NHL.com.
In 2011, Sather signed Richards to a nine-year contract worth $58.5 million. Last season, the second year of the deal, he produced 34 points in 46 regular-season games. In the playoffs, Richards had one goal in 10 games and was a healthy scratch in the last two games of a series loss to Boston.
Derek Stepan emerged as the Rangers’ top-line center, producing team-highs in assists (26) and points (44), and his plus-25 rating ranked fifth in the league. However, entering this summer, he was one of three key restricted free agents the Rangers needed to sign, joining Hagelin and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who both locked up new deals this month.
As far as the defense goes, Dan Girardi, who led the league with 125 blocked shots, returns. The club also hopes to get a healthy Marc Staal back on the point by the start of the season. The 26-year-old blue-liner was hit near the right eye by a puck in early March. As of late May, he was still experiencing blurry vision and altered depth perception, though he believes his eye will improve even if it doesn’t return to 100 percent.
Feel Good Stat
183 – Total minor, major and misconduct penalties collected by the Rangers last season, representing the fewest in the league. New York’s penalty kill ranked No. 5 in the Eastern Conference with an 81.1 kill percentage (120-of-148). The Rangers PK was a smidge stronger at home, clicking at an 86.2 percentage (69-of-80). … It was the first time in the last 15 seasons that the Rangers led the league is fewest penalties.
271 – Regaining puck-possession was an issue for the Rangers, who were in the bottom third of the takeaways category at No. 24 last season. They were also ranked No. 24 in takeaways on the road with just 120, which was a paltry 2 ½ takeaways per game. As a team, the Rangers possessed a minus-63 takeaway/giveaway ratio. Stepan and Richards were the Blueshirts’ best defensive responsible forwards with 34 and 31 takeaways, respectively.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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