It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
In an up-and-down season that saw the New York Rangers on the playoff bubble near the end, they won when it counted: Rallying against the New Jersey Devils in Game No. 82, and then watching the Tampa Bay Lightning upset the Carolina Hurricanes on their home ice to give the Rangers a playoff berth — one year after the Flyers beat them out with a shootout win on the last day of the season.
Alas, the Rangers' playoff stay would be short, losing to the Washington Capitals in five games, partially because they went 1-for-20 on the power play.
The solution to that and other offensive issues? Win the derby for Brad Richards, the prized free agent from the Dallas Stars, who gives the Rangers the No. 1 center they've needed.
With Richards aboard and a great mix of veterans and young standouts in the supporting cast, are the Rangers a Cup contender?
Richards and his agents held court in Toronto during the free-agent frenzy, listening to pitches from several teams but ultimately settling for the Rangers' nine years and $60 million. (As well as the familiarity with Coach John Tortorella from his days in Tampa.)
Mike Rupp, the veteran power forward, arrived from the Pittsburgh Penguins for a three-year contract worth $4.5 million. After failing to come to terms with the Flames, former first-round pick defenseman Tim Erixon was shipped to the Rangers.
Among the players left unsigned by the Rangers were Vinny Prospal (signed with Columbus), Alex Frolov, Bryan McCabe, Matt Gilroy (Tampa Bay) and Todd White.
Chris Drury's massive contract was bought out and he subsequently retired due to injuries. Forward Derek Boogaard died accidentally in May, caused by an accidental mixture of alcohol and oxycodone.
At forward, Richards gives the Rangers the No. 1 center they've been craving for years. He's been well over a point-per-game in the last two seasons, and is two years removed from a 40-point season on the power play with the Dallas Stars.
He'll be paired with Marian Gaborik, whose numbers dropped from an impressive first season with the Rangers (22 goals, down from 42) and who struggled through some nagging injuries. (Gaborik? Injuries? No way.) Gaborik saw time with a variety of forwards last season, including Erik Christensen (27 points in 63 games) and rookie Derek Stepan (45 points in 82 games).
Brandon Dubinsky was the Rangers' leading scorer with 54 points in 77 games, earning a four-year, $16.8 million contract in the offseason. His linemate Ryan Callahan earned a three-year, $12.875 million contract after a terrific (if truncated due to injuries) year, including a team-leading 10 power-play goals. Callahan was named captain before camp. The third member of that trio was Artem Anisimov (44 points in 82 games).
Six-foot-seven Brian Boyle popped in 21 goals for the Rangers, skating with Ruslan Fedotenko (10 goals, re-signed in the offseason) and hardworking Brandon Prust, who had five shorthanded goals last season.
Wojtek Wolski, who had 19 points in 37 games after being acquired from Phoenix, is back. Mats Zuccarello was up and down to the AHL last season, using his Hobbit Wizard magic for 23 points in 42 games with the Rangers.
Sean Avery had a rather quiet offseason, battling for gay marriage in New York, getting arrested for an altercation with police and then having the Rangers assure the NY Post that he didn't threaten to beat up their gossip columnist. This stuff just doesn't seem to happen to Iginla ...
On defense, Marc Staal had his preseason interrupted by post-concussion symptoms (thanks, big bro) but should be ready to roll at the start of the season. Staal had 29 points last season, averaging 25:44 TOI per game last season. Together with Dan Girardi (31 points), they form one of the better shutdown defensive pairings in the NHL.
Michael Sauer (17:31 TOI) and Ryan McDonagh (18:44 TOI) formed a young but talented duo last season, combining to go plus-36.
Steve Eminger, Erixon and Michael Del Zotto, trying to re-establish himself on the lineup, are also in the mix.
In goal, it's Henrik Lundqvist's world and we're all just living in it. King Henrik posted a 2.28 GAA and a .923 save percentage last season to go along with a career-high 11 shutouts. He's won over 35 games each season since his rookie year. Martin Biron will back him up.
"Return of the King." Crazy old guy puts together a collection of young dreamers, gritty veterans and a King to lead them, hoping to finally accomplish their mission involving a prized ring. Also, the Sean Avery/Smeagol annoyance factor can't be ignored.
John Tortorella is entering his fourth season behind the Rangers' bench, having coached them to the playoffs twice, losing to the Washington Capitals both times. Richards gives him the center this lineup's always needed. He's a fiery coach — lord knows that we're salivating at the notion of Torts 24/7. But can he lead this team off the playoff bubble?
Glen Sather continues to be Glen Sather: a shrewd, smart decision for every questionable one. But he was great during the summer: The Erixon trade was great. Retaining both Dubinsky and Callahan for the right price was also solid. Winning the Richards Derby.
Ryan McDonagh played 40 games and finished with a plus-16 last season. With good size and a lot of upside, the former first-round pick could improve in his sophomore season.
"HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THE RANGERS ARE THE SENSIBLY BUILD HOCKEY FRANCHISE AND *MY* TEAM IS THE OLD, OVERPAID LOSER?"
Wojtek Wolski is getting a long look on the top line with Richards and Gaborik this preseason, but he's far too inconsistent to remain there.
Tremendous bit of acting here by Avery, as he mocks Max Talbot's fighting style.
If Richards can't solve the power play. The Rangers were 16.9 percent on the power play in the regular season and just 1-for-20 in the postseason. They play so many close games, a goal here or there on the man advantage could mean the difference between the playoff bubble and home ice.
The Rangers will qualify for the playoffs, with an improved offense and a strong defense in front of Lundqvist. Success in the postseason comes down to seeding and special teams, but the Rangers have a collection of gritty vets and solid young players that have the potential for something special.