New York Rangers, 48-28-6, lost in second round, $3.1 million in cap space
Biggest changes: General manager Jeff Gorton made some bold moves over the summer by sending top-line center Derek Stepan and backup goaltender Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for the seventh overall pick (center Lias Andersson) and defensive prospect Anthony DeAngelo, who was taken 19th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014. Gorton also bought out aging but respected defenseman Dan Girardi, who had three years remaining on his contract. Stepan and Girardi were assistants under captain Ryan McDonagh last season, and where that leaves a team that was upended in the second round by the Ottawa Senators is worthy of debate. "I'm going to look, and my staff is going to look and find out who wants to do more, not just on the ice but in the room," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who is trying to extend his team's playoff streak to eight years. "Who wants to expand his role as far as leadership and example and influence?" The Rangers also lost forward Oscar Lindberg to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, and the departures of Stepan and Lindberg will leave plenty of ice time for potential starsMika Zibanejad, 24, Jimmy Vesey, 24, and Kevin Hayes, 25, who combined for 47 goals last season. The biggest splash will be the arrival of smooth-skating, free-agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who should do wonders for the Rangers' puck movement and power play, which finished 11th in the NHL last season. Ondrej Pavelec will take on a new and possibly increased role as Henrik Lundqvist's backup.
Case for: The decision to trade Stepan, who finished third on the club last season with 55 points, will seem less risky if Andersson cracks the roster. The 18-year-old center scored just nine goals for Jonkoping in the Swedish League last season, but he has a creative flair and, according to Vigneault, showed some "bite" to his game in his first NHL preseason action. Vesey scored 16 goals as a rookie last season and the Harvard product will be counted on to increase that total, especially if he plays on a top line with Zibanejad and Rick Nash, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Rangers should get enough offense from Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider to remain one of the top five teams in the East, but once again, the onus will fall on Lundqvist, 35. He looked vulnerable during stretches last season and played through a knee injury for Sweden in the World Championships. Lundqvist's goals-against average has swelled in each of his last two seasons, and for the Rangers to be good this season, they'll need Lundqvist to be great.
Case against: Is it possible the Rangers parted ways with two of their most respected veterans because they are rebuilding? If so, why would they give Shattenkirk a four-year, $26.6 million contract? And if Shattenkirk was not the answer for the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals, where playing beyond the second round seems to be mission impossible, what makes the Rangers think he'll be the perfect fit on Broadway, where the spotlight is much brighter? The Rangers finished 19th in penalty killing last season and although Girardi has his limitations, he did effectively kill penalties. That duty will now fall on the shoulders of McDonagh, Marc Staal and Nick Holden. DeAngelo, meanwhile, is trying to make a good impression on his third team in three years. And then there are the underlying concerns that Lundqvist's game is on the decline, which could mean more starts for Pavelec, who signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract. Pavelec, 30, split time between the Winnipeg Jets and AHL Manitoba last season and has not had a winning record in the NHL since the 2014-15 season. In fact, Pavelec has gotten his team into the playoffs just once in his 10-year NHL career, when he was promptly swept out in the first round in 2015.
Trade bait: The Rangers would need to be out of a playoff spot to entertain the idea of trading Nash, who is in the final year of a deal that pays him $7.8 million, second on the team behind Lundqvist. But if the two sides cannot agree to an extension by late February, the Rangers just might listen to offers. Center David Desharnais enters the season with a one-year, $1 million contract, but could be moved if he's not effective in a fourth-line role.
Goalie situation rating: 7. Once considered the Rangers' greatest strength, goaltending might be a legitimate concern in the Big Apple this season. The Rangers weakened the position by replacing Raanta with Pavelec, and that move could backfire if Lundqvist requires more rest than in the past. Lundqvist is coming off his worst statistical season (2.74 GAA, .910 save percentage) and will be tested behind a defense that is more mobile but less defensive.
Scout's take: "The Rangers are always a dangerous team because of the depth they have and the speed they have through their lineup. That makes them a difficult team to defend against. The X factor is always their goaltender and his ability to steal games."
Prediction: 4th in Metropolitan