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With deep core, Rangers believe window stays open

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault knows how quickly the window can close for a team with championship potential. He experienced it with the Vancouver Canucks.

Vancouver reached the Western Conference Semifinals in 2009 and 2010 before going to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, when it lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games. The Canucks didn't win another playoff round under Vigneault, who was fired after the 2012-13 season.

Vigneault has since coached the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last season after finishing atop the NHL standings with 113 points. Those resulted in two banners for Madison Square Garden, neither of which represent a Stanley Cup championship. Instead they're for an Eastern Conference championship and a Presidents' Trophy, better known as consolation prizes.

So the window question, whether it's wide open or closing, is legitimate for the Rangers. How many chances does a team get before the bottom falls out? Does getting close put even more pressure on the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup this season?

Vigneault understands the queries, but he's not concerned with them because he sees the Rangers as a contender regardless of what they have done, or not done.

"We signed most, if not all, of our core guys to pretty good contracts as far as length, so we have to believe that these guys are going to give us good years," Vigneault said. "Are we in our window, and how many years is that window? We're a good team. I'm going to let the experts decide if we're in the window or not."

The Rangers should be in their window for the reasons Vigneault outlined, and many others. They should see themselves as contenders because their core is intact and in its prime.

Henrik Lundqvist will turn 34 this season but should be able to maintain his status as an elite goalie for several more seasons because of the shape he stays in and the way he maintains his body and mind throughout the season. He is entering the second year of a seven-year contract.

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh is a 26-year-old captain with four years remaining on his contract. Defenseman Marc Staal is 28 and entering the first year of a six-year contract extension. Defenseman Dan Girardi is 31 and has five years left on his contract.

The rest of the Rangers' top-six defensemen from last season are back, with Dan Boyle (39) and Keith Yandle (28) the only ones in the final year of his contract. Kevin Klein (31) is signed for three more seasons.

"That doesn't happen too often anymore, to have the same starting six guys," McDonagh said. "It shows that the organization feels strongly that this is a group that can accomplish something."

The veteran core forwards include Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello, all signed through at least the 2017-18 season.

Stepan, 25, signed a six-year contract this offseason. Brassard and Zuccarello will be 28 by the time the season starts. Nash is 31 and coming off an NHL career high 42 goals.

"We think we've got a real good chance to win with these guys," Vigneault said.

The Rangers feel better about their chances because of the improvement of their next generation of forwards: Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller. Every team in the salary-cap era needs its younger players to make an impact when they're on their first or second contract. New York has that in those four.

Offseason changes could help the Rangers, even if one of them is the retirement of forward Martin St. Louis, who was a key player on the ice and voice in the dressing room.

Jarret Stoll, signed as a free agent, is a veteran center who should make the Rangers better on faceoffs and could push Hayes to the wing. Forward Emerson Etem, acquired in a trade from the Anaheim Ducks, might be able to play the same role Carl Hagelin did as a third-liner with speed, offensive upside and penalty killing.

Vigneault said he expects forward Oscar Lindberg, one of the top players in the American Hockey League last season, to compete for a roster spot. He'll push, among others, Viktor Stalberg, who signed as a free agent.

"There are some guys that could be X-factors, guys with upside," McDonagh said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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