After a long off-season with many moving parts, the New York Rangers are finally back playing meaningful hockey where they open the season against the young and upcoming Buffalo Sabres (7:00PM on MSG).
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The Blueshirts off-season started off hot after being defeated in seven games during the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Head coach Gerard Gallant was relieved of his duties along with the rest of the coaching staff apart from goaltender coach Benoit Allaire. Peter Laviolette became the new head coach with assistant coaches Dan Muse and Michael Peca. Laviolette has coached for many of the rivals of the Rangers including the Islanders, Flyers, Hurricanes, and Capitals. Laviolette won one Stanley Cup in his career when he was the head coach of the Hurricanes in 2006. The American-born head coach has 752 career wins as a head coach in the league. Former Sabres head coach Phil Housley is the new associate coach for the Blueshirts.
The Rangers lost key trade deadline acquisitions from last season including Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Motte, and Niko Mikkola. Tarasenko signed a contract with Ottawa, while Motte when to Tampa Bay, and Mikkola to Florida. Kane remains unsigned after undergoing offseason surgery. Kane could perhaps return to the Rangers once he is healthy though that remains unlikely with many teams eyeing his services.
Another interesting departure include the loss of long-time head athletic trainer Jim Ramsey who had been with the organization since 1994. Ramsay has since found a new home in Montreal. Many players have sung the praises of Ramsey who was with the organization for 29 years.
On the flip side, Blake Wheeler was the biggest offseason acquisition the Rangers acquired in free agency. Wheeler signed a one-year contract with an average of just $800,000. The 35-year-old took a discount to come to New York to fill a void left by Kane and Tarasenko. Wheeler recorded 55 points last season with Winnipeg and he has 922 points in his career.
New York made other small moves including the additions of Nick Bonino, Tyler Pitlick, and Erik Gustafsson. Bonino will fill the void of the fourth line center role and he has a career faceoff percentage of 49.9%. Gustafsson will add depth for the Rangers blue line and he has some offensive talent in his game. Expect him to man the second power-play unit when he is in the lineup.
Former Rangers nemesis Jonathan Quick will backup Igor Shesterkin this season. Quick won the Stanley Cup as the starting netminder for the Kings in 2012 and in 2014 when the Kings defeated the Rangers in five games. The 37-year-old Connecticut native grew up a Rangers fan and will now get the chance to play for his boyhood team. New York will be hoping to get the version of Quick who helped Los Angeles win two Stanley Cups and not the Quick who struggled in his first preseason with New York.
Rangers vs Sabres
The Rangers will have a tough road game to open the season as they take on the young and upcoming Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo has been rebuilding for what feels like an eternity, but it appears they are finally ready to turn the corner. The Sabres did not make any major splashes this offseason as they look to grow their young roster. They brought in two key veteran defenders in Conor Clifton and Erik Johnson to help bring leadership to their defense and locker room.
Perhaps the biggest news for the Sabres has come in the past few days as they made two key contract extensions to former number one overall draft picks. Rasmus Dahlin signed an eight-year contract worth 88 million dollars (11.3 million cap hit per season) and Owen Power signed a seven-year contract worth 58.45 million (8.35 million cap hit per season). With this, the Sabres locked up their two young prized defenders and have formed a strong young core of players including Dylan Cozens and Tage Thompson. All four players are signed with the Sabres organization until the end of the 2030 season and none are currently over the age of 25.
Stopping Thompson will be one of the keys for the Rangers as he is coming off the best season of his career. Thompson recorded 47 goals and 94 points last season which eclipsed his previous career high of 38 goals and 68 points. The 25-year-old is slated to open on a line with the dangerous Alex Tuch and Jeff Skinner who is having a resurgence in Buffalo. Skinner recorded 82 points last season; the best season of his career point wise. The previous season the 31-year-old recorded 33 goals and 30 assists. Prior to that, Skinner had two abysmal years in Buffalo which made fans sour on him and his nine-million cap hit per season.
The Rangers will be looking to solve young netminder Devon Levi who is expected to get the start for Buffalo. Levi played in seven games last season and won five of them including both of his starts against the Rangers. Levi is 2-0-0 vs the Rangers and has stopped 57 of 61 shots he has faced.
Igor Shesterkin is slated to start in goal for the Rangers as he looks to get the season on the right track for the Blueshirts. Shesterkin finished last season with a record of 37-13-8 with a .916 save percentage.
Laviolette is expected to start with some line combinations familiar to Rangers fans over the past few seasons. Adam Fox who finished second in Norris Trophy voting last season will be paired with his normal defensive partner Ryan Lindgren, while K’Andre Miller will be paired with his usual partner Jacob Trouba. In addition, Kaapo Kakko will start with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider – a line which had some very successful games together last season.
Perhaps the most interesting tweaks comes in the Rangers middle-six where Vincent Trocheck will be paired with Will Cuylle and Blake Wheeler. Cuylle had an excellent preseason and forced his way on the team with some very noticeable and energetic play. Trocheck never quite got in synced with Artemi Panarin who will open on the second line with the young Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere. Newcomers Bonino and Pitlick will be joined by Barclay Goodrow on the fourth line. Jimmy Vesey and Zac Jones will serve as healthy scratches for opening night.
Bet of the Night
A new addition to these articles will be our bet of the night. We will keep track of how we do each game and see if we can end the season hitting over 50% of the bets. Tonight’s bet with little to go on to start the season is betting the under on 6.5 goals at -102 on Draft Kings. With the Rangers starting their world class goaltender and the Rangers struggling to score on Levi in two games last season – the under seems like it has a solid chance of hitting. One thing to keep in mind is that both teams are bringing back a similar roster and combined – they scored 6.9 goals per game last season but their goals against were just 6.25. Expect a close tight game with five or six goals scored. Prediction: 4-2 Rangers with an empty net goal.
Current record: 0-0
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