For the first time in 20 years, the Stanley Cup Final returned to Madison Square Garden.
The New York Rangers put up a solid fight, but the Los Angeles Kings secured their second championship in three seasons and showed the Eastern Conference champs what flaws needed to be corrected. Before there was a salary cap, general manager Glen Sather's offseason would have involved spending to correct them.
Instead it was an interesting summer for the Rangers. New York became one of the best puck possession teams in the East in coach Alain Vigneault’s first season, but two key players on that front signed large contracts elsewhere.
The Rangers still have a formidable group of forwards, one of the best young defensemen in the League and maybe the best goaltender in the world.
Here's a look at the 2014-15 projected lineup for the Rangers:
Brad Richards was bought out and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks. Derick Brassard signed a five-year, $25 million contract, and he’s the unquestioned No. 2 center. J.T. Miller has a chance to earn a permanent place in the lineup, but newcomer Matthew Lombardi or Dominic Moore could slide into the middle of the third line if Miller isn't deemed ready.
Brian Boyle is also gone, but the key loss could be Benoit Pouliot, a possession dynamo for the Rangers last season who signed with the Edmonton Oilers. Lombardi, Lee Stempniak and Tanner Glass are the reinforcements. Stempniak had a nice season for the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins, but Glass was one of the worst regulars in the NHL.
Ryan McDonagh had a huge season, and another would cement him as one of the League's top defensemen. Dan Girardi's play has declined in recent seasons, and he struggled mightily against the Kings in the Cup Final.
The big loss here is Anton Stralman, who signed a $22.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stralman played in tough situations and the Rangers still carried the play. His traditional numbers were not flashy, but he was clearly the team's second-best defenseman and performed well in the postseason.
In his place is Dan Boyle, who will cost the same against the salary cap. The former San Jose Sharks defenseman is not what he once was, and he might not "fix" the power play as some have suggested. New York converted a better percentage of its extra-man opportunities in 2013-14 than Boyle's team in San Jose did.
Kevin Klein was a nice change of pace from the more erratic Michael Del Zotto after a trade with the Nashville Predators, and the Rangers added a couple of potential depth options in Mike Kostka and Matt Hunwick.
Henrik Lundqvist had some wobbles in the early part of last season, but was in world-class form while helping the Rangers reach the postseason and then during their playoff run. Lundqvist is now the highest-paid goalie in the League because his contract extension begins, but it is hard to argue he doesn't deserve to be.
Cam Talbot was the best true backup goaltender in the NHL in his rookie season. He had a .941 save percentage in 21 appearances. If he has another season like that in 2014-15, he could be a coveted free agent next summer.
*Restricted free agent
2014-15 FANTASY PREVIEW: RANGERS
Undervalued: Rick Nash -- Since 2012, no player averages more goals per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 regular-season action than Nash (followed by Corey Perry, Max Pacioretty, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel, Jamie Benn, etc.; you get the drift). Since that time, Nash also averages more shots on goal per 60 minutes than any NHL player (per Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com). Despite his struggles in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Nash is an elite goal-scorer at even strength; if the right wing can get it going on the power play he has the potential to be a top 20 overall fantasy player.
Overvalued: Martin St. Louis -- St. Louis had a solid season with 30 goals and 69 points playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Rangers. However, he's 39 and had eight points in 19 regular-season games after joining the Rangers, so despite a solid playoff performance (15 points in 25 games), one has to wonder if the right wing's production will dip without Steven Stamkos on his line. St. Louis is still worthy of a pick in the top five rounds, but his usual point-per-game numbers shouldn't be expected.
Sleeper: Chris Kreider -- Though he's become a common name in fantasy pools, Kreider, an official rookie last season, fits the description as a post-hype sleeper. He had 13 points in 15 playoff games and 37 points and 72 penalty minutes in 66 regular-season games last season. He'll likely play on the Rangers' top line alongside Nash and Derek Stepan, and should see an increase in power-play time (2:10 per game), which could result in a 25-goal, 55-point, 80 PIM season.
Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes
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