The New York Rangers' 2013-14 season began with a number of major changes and ended with an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final. But the roster that takes ice on opening night against the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 9 will have some major changes from the one that lost in L.A. four months earlier, and the success of those changes figures to dictate whether they will make a return trip to the Final.
RANGERS' OFFSEASON OUTLOOK
2013-14 record: 45-31-6, 96 points, 2nd in Metropolitan Division, 5th in Eastern Conference
2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Lost 4-1 to Los Angeles Kings in Stanley Cup Final
Top 2014 NHL Draft picks: G Brandon Halverson (No. 59)
Free-agent departures, trades and a compliance buyout used on forward Brad Richards cost the Rangers five regular players from the team that won the Eastern Conference. The departures include top-four defenseman Anton Stralman, key checking center Brian Boyle and scoring wing Benoit Pouliot, all of whom left as unrestricted free agents. Replacing the skill sets of each player will be challenging, but the Rangers did their best to fill the holes on their roster.
"I think we look good. We're trying to fill in some depth positions, we lost some guys. Anytime you have success like we had, guys tend to get better opportunities somewhere else, more money, which in the cap world we couldn't handle," Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton said. "So you go out and you work with your staff and try to identify guys that you think can fill those holes. One of the things we tried to do was do it fairly cheaply, considering the cap didn't go up maybe as much as we thought it might."
Defenseman Dan Boyle was New York's biggest offseason acquisition, but the Rangers also brought in a slew of depth forwards to plug gaps in a unit that lost some important pieces. Lee Stempniak, Matthew Lombardi, Tanner Glass and Chris Mueller are being counted on to fill New York's forward holes. If the Rangers can again find chemistry up front, then second-year coach Alain Vigneault should be able to roll four lines. The ability to do that was a major strength during the team's run to the Final.
"Our success came from a four-line, six-D team that we rolled; we showed our depth. We're trying to stay with that plan," Gorton said. "With additions like Stempniak and Lombardi and Glass up front, I think it helps our depth. On the back end, we lost a pretty good player for us in Anton Stralman. We got a different kind of player and someone we think can help us in another way."
That "different kind of player" is Dan Boyle, a veteran defenseman who won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and Olympic gold with Canada in 2010. At 38, he's excited for a new start with a familiar face in forward Martin St. Louis, with whom he won the Cup a decade ago in Tampa Bay.
"I've always wanted to have that Original Six feel. New York is the center of attention. I'm not saying I need that, I just wanted to experience that," Boyle told the Rangers website in July. "[St. Louis] and I are cut from the same cloth. We have similar backgrounds, our parents were friends in Tampa. Reuniting with him was part of the decision also."
There is another change the Rangers will gladly accept: For the first time in four years, they will start their season without having to embark on a lengthy road trip. With the final stages of Madison Square Garden's renovation leaving their home rink unavailable until late October last year, Vigneault, his staff and team spent much of the preseason out west, then began the regular season with nine straight road games.
Not only are Vigneault and his staff coming back almost fully intact (assistant coach Dan Lacroix left to join the Montreal Canadiens' staff), but the Rangers won't be subjected to another marathon season-opening road swing.
"It will be good to have a normal situation with a normal training camp," Gorton said. "It looks good for us. Back to normal, I guess."