The IslesBlog team’s overview on the New York Islanders’ seven Metropolitan Division opponents continues, and today we’re taking a look at the Isles’ cross-town rivals: the New York Rangers. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get into it.
The Rangers are looking pretty different from the team we saw last season. In what could be looked at as their biggest addition of the offseason, the Rangers signed Gerard Gallant as the 36th head coach in franchise history. Gallant, coming off a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championships, was pretty high on the Rangers’ list of head coaches after relieving David Quinn of his coaching duties, and for good reason. He led the Florida Panthers to an Atlantic Division title back in 2015-16, although their playoff run lasted only six games (in a playoff series most of you should be familiar with…). He also brought the upstart Vegas Golden Knights to the top spot in the Pacific Division in 2017-18 and led the newest franchise in the NHL (at the time) to the Stanley Cup Final. Oh, and he also won the Jack Adams that same season as the league’s top bench boss… so yeah, the Rangers got themselves quite the coach. Rangers GM Chris Drury certainly agrees, saying “At the start of this process, I was looking for a coach with a proven track record and success at several levels. Turk (Gallant) checked all of those boxes.”
"I want us to battle"
— SNY (@SNYtv) June 23, 2021
The Rangers also made some significant changes to their on-ice personnel heading into 2021-22. Ownership and management alike wanted to address one thing in particular for the Blueshirts this offseason: they wanted to get tougher. Let’s start out with the additions through the trade market first, with the first addition being a familiar foe to the Islanders. The first domino that fell proved to be the Rangers acquiring the rights to unrestricted free agent (UFA) forward Barclay Goodrow from the Tampa Bay Lightning, and immediately signing him to a lucrative six-year, $21.85 million contract just days after the initial trade. There were other moves to come as well, as the Rangers acquired gritty forward Sammy Blais and a second-round pick in 2022 from the St. Louis Blues, as well as making another move for noted enforcer Ryan Reaves from the Vegas Golden Knights for a third-rounder in ‘22 (who they also extended through the end of the 2022-23 season).
The biggest downside of this flurry of trades was the fact that getting Blais and the second-rounder from the Blues cost the Rangers a top-six forward in Pavel Buchnevich, coming off a career year in which he potted 20 goals and set a new career-high with 48 points in 54 games. A lot of fans will argue that Buchnevich, an RFA (restricted free agent) at the time of the trade, was expendable with the idea of filling that top-six slot with young guns like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, or Vitali Kravtsov. While that might be true, as of now the return for Buchnevich seems rather underwhelming to say the least. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but just to put this into perspective: Buchnevich nearly had as many goals this season alone (20 goals in 54 games) as Blais has points in his career (35 points in 119 games). It’s a bit of a sizable margin, but I’m sure you can understand what I’m trying to say here.
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) July 23, 2021
The Rangers were active on the free-agent market as well. They brought in two UFA defensemen in Patrik Nemeth and Jarred Tinordi, and brought back a familiar face in bottom-six forward Greg McKegg. McKegg adds to the plethora of physicality in the bottom six, while Nemeth and Tinordi bring a physical veteran presence to a young defense corps. They’ll also be good mentors to players like Zac Jones and Nils Lundkvist, both of whom look to crack a spot on the blue line and establish themselves as full-time NHLers.
So we now know all the moves made by the Rangers this offseason, and ultimately it begs the question: how do these moves affect the Islanders? Well, starting with the hiring of Gallant, this shows the Rangers are serious about making the jump and qualifying for the playoffs. Whether or not this will be the season they take that next step remains to be seen, but Gallant will have the Rangers playing with structure and discipline as they attempt to get back into the postseason. As for the on-ice moves, this rivalry could be taken to the next level very soon. The Rangers, a team previously built on talent and finesse, now have the physicality that can push back when needed. They finally have a trio that can match the intensity of a line like the Identity Line and put up a fight. Speaking of fights, it’s nearly impossible to not get excited thinking about the sparks flying when the newly acquired Reaves squares off with a fellow heavyweight in Matt Martin, or even a guy like Ross Johnston (considering those two actually went at it back in 2020 when Reaves was still a Golden Knight). Hold on to your hats, folks… the battle of New York is going to get spicy.
Follow Carter on Twitter @cbentivenga14