Their head coach: Alain Vigneault. By all accounts, one of the best coaches to have in this league if you want to get close to winning a Stanley Cup, without actually winning it. Vigneault was hired to coach the Canucks after the lockout in 2004-2005, and was able to establish the Canucks as one of the best regular season teams in the league, highlighted by consecutive President's Trophies in 2011 and 2012. When the Canucks ousted him following an embarrassing first round series loss to San Jose in 2013, the Rangers picked him up and he immediately took them to the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose to Los Angeles in 5 games. Since then, the Rangers have gotten progressively worse, losing in the East Final to Tampa Bay a couple seasons ago, and being ousted quickly by the reigning-Cup champion Penguins in the 1st round this past season.
Their captain: Ryan McDonagh. One of the best defensemen in hockey. At 27, six seasons into professional hockey McDonagh has established himself as one of the premier blue-liners in the sport. Health is McDonagh's biggest concern. Since his first season in the NHL, he's never been able to play all 82 games in a season, but that's not to say he's of the weak-minded. After the Rangers lost to Tampa in the aforementioned 2015 East Final, news broke he played 3 of the 7 games in that series with a broken foot. Tough cookie, but it didn't do him or his team any good, obviously. He was on the American Olympic team in Sochi two and a half years ago and will represent the US in the World Cup next month in Toronto.
Their 15-16 season: The regular season was good, as the Rangers amassed 101 points. Not as good as their 14-15 season when they won the President's Trophy (Vigneault's favorite trophy to win), but enough to put them among the top contenders to win the Stanley Cup. The postseason was a disaster, however. We'll touch on this more in today's 3 Questions segment, but the Penguins seemed to completely outmatch the Rangers at every angle except goaltending, where Henrik Lundqvist had to stand on his head a lot just to keep it somewhat respectable.
How did they do against the Avs? It was a split decision with the road team winning both contests. Each game was of good quality and good entertainment, which is not something I've been able to say yet for the Avalanche in any of these previews. New York beat Colorado 2-1 in Denver last November, and the Avs won at the Garden 2-1 in December.
When do they play the Avs this season? In Denver on December 31st, and at New York on February 11th.
Will they be good? I think they're going to be alright. This will be the first season since maybe 2013 I don't list them as a Cup contender entering the season, but they've tried to get better this offseason, even if they're not moves I consider ones to push them over the edge. They have Nick Holden now! He's surely been the Rangers' missing piece! They ditched Derick Brassard for Mike Zibanejad and signed Michael Grabner, which was their biggest free agency move. Eric Staal (acquired at the trade deadline) and Viktor Stalberg aren't there anymore, but they aren't necessarily major losses to a team that's backed by Henrik Lundqvist, who would be the best goaltender in hockey if Carey Price played squash or something instead. Rick Nash will be good for another really good regular season only to get 0 goals and 1 assist for every five playoff games he plays in. Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, J.T Miller, and Mats Zuccarello (best last name in hockey) will help the squad out tremendously, as always.
3 Questions with their SB Nation blog, Blue Shirt Banter:
-When I watched that series against Pittsburgh last year, I got the sense this was a team that relied too much on Henrik Lundqvist and needed more in front of him if this team wants to win a title. Would you agree? Why or why not? I would fully agree, and, sadly, that's been a problem for a long, long time. The Rangers entire system had issues thanks to the defensive problems on the team, and Lundqvist faced the most "in close" shots of anyone in the league. It was a major problem, and most of the team's deficiencies were masked by Lundqvist's brilliance.
-The Derick Brassard trade was an interesting one. Are you a fan of that move? I am! A huge fan, actually. Look I love Derick Brassard, but the Rangers got younger, better and cheaper. Zibanejad has already matched Brassard's highest offensive ceiling, is six and a half years younger and is going to continue to grow. Those are the moves savvy general managers make to keep the Cup window open. It's something that probably hurt to do, but the Rangers should have done it a long time ago (not with Brassard, specifically). That Jeff Gorton was able to use Ottawa's notorious cheapness to earn a second round pick was the cherry on top.
-Where does this team end up this season? And how quickly does a Cup need to be won before people get too impatient and the team gets blown up? I can't believe the older core of the team wasn't blown up already, to be honest. I think -- as presently constructed -- this team will make the playoffs because of the offense and Lundqvist, but I can't see them making too much noise. The defense is a major hole in the bottom of the ship and there doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel there.
Thanks to Joe Fortunato for taking the time to answer!