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Which lineup is better: The 2014 Rangers, or the active ex-Rangers?

Marian Gaborik heads up a deep group of ex-Ranger forwards

We’re (finally) just one day away from training camp! There will be a whole lot of real Ranger news coming up, but since we’ve exhausted pretty much every type of camp preview imaginable this summer – allow me just one more random post before the action kicks into high gear.

What would happen if you were to pit the 2014 New York Rangers against the best lineup of former Blueshirts still currently playing in the NHL?

Here’s my take on the best hypothetical roster of ex-Rangers that takes into account positions and logical scoring and checking lines:

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Rangers facing several more key personnel decisions again this season

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game Three

Prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season, few could have imagined that the Rangers would trade their heart and soul captain, Ryan Callahan, at the March 5 trade deadline. But such is life in the salary cap world – GM Glen Sather determined a contract number he wouldn’t exceed for both Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi. Girardi proved willing to negotiate within Sather’s limits, Callahan did not, and he was stunningly traded for Martin St. Louis.

Why bring this up now? Because just as with last fall, the Rangers are about to open camp with a few mega contracts looming on the horizon. New York has a bit more financial wiggle room this time around, especially with the salary cap ceiling likely to increase, but there are still tough decisions to be made. So what lies ahead?

Who will be the captain? – Not all of the major personnel decisions are financial – who will be the next face of the Rangers is as important a decision as any. The logical candidates – Girardi, St. Louis, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh – all come with questions. Girardi’s play dipped dramatically in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs after he signed a six-year, $33 million contract, so it could be a risky move to give the 30-year-old blueliner this honor without knowing if he can maintain his previous level of play. St. Louis has just one year remaining on his contract and is 39 years old, so while he might be the perfect veteran leader right now, that could represent flawed short-term thinking. Like St. Louis, Staal has just one year left on his deal and faces an uncertain future with the organization. That all leads to McDonagh, who’s certainly the unanimous choice among fans. It would be a major shock if he didn’t receive the C, but that’s also a lot to throw onto a 25-year-old who’s still blossoming as a player.

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Potential Rangers training camp surprises

Ryan Bourque is riding a wave of momentum after his strong second-half performance last season

Immediately after July 1, it looked like the Rangers would have several forward spots open to competition at training camp. However, the eventual signings of Matt Lombardi, Lee Stempniak and Kevin Hayes have made it much more difficult for anyone else to earn a spot in the lineup. The likes of J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg still figure to duke it out with some of those depth signings for the final spot or two, but it’s going to be exceedingly difficult for anyone else to enter the fray. With that said, here’s a look at the handful of forwards and defensemen that could conceivably be in the mix with a standout performance at camp.

Ryan Malone – This one is a real long-shot not only because of the legal questions surrounding Malone, but because the Rangers would have to ship out a player to fit Malone under the 50-contract limit. Malone was once an effective power forward and is presumably being invited to training camp on the off chance the Blueshirts catch lightning in a bottle in their search to replace Benoit Pouliot, but unless Malone dominates, it’s highly unlikely he makes the team.

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Checking in on the New York Islanders

Jaroslav Halak is a major upgrade in goal for the Isles

Last year: 34-37-11, eighth in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by 14 points.

Key additions: Jaroslav Halak, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Cory Conacher, Chad Johnson, T.J. Brennan

Key subtractions: Evgeni Nabokov, Radek Martinek (likely)

Franchise direction: The Islanders’ rebuild has been very slow, but it really does look like things are starting to change. The additions of Halak, Grabovski and Kulemin were major pieces and the Islanders clearly are hoping to make a splash when they begin play at the Barclays Center in 2015-2016. New York needs several of its prospects to fulfill their promise in order to become a perennial playoff team, but they certainly have the talent to make that a reality over the next couple seasons.

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Reviewing Rob Vollman’s “Hockey Abstract 2014″

HockeyAbstract

Hockey Abstract 2014 is available now.

If you’ve been paying attention this offseason, you’ve noticed that several NHL teams have hired advanced stats experts. Though #fancystats still have opposition, you don’t need to look further than the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings for proof that they offer valuable insight.  No longer are these metrics exclusive to a small community of mathematicians, they are now mainstream in hockey.

Last summer I reviewed Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract and began to fall deeper into the rabbit hole of advanced stats. Rob was kind enough to give me a copy of Hockey Abstract 2014 – co-written by Tom Awad and Ian Fyffe – again this year, and it was even better than the first edition.

Vollman’s greatest strength is in putting what appear to be complicated formulas, graphs and figures into words that anyone can understand, whether they’re good at math or not. In fact, I’ll readily admit that I glossed over many of the charts in the book, because the real value is in Vollman’s translation. I’m much more concerned with what the numbers mean than how they’re reached, so I enjoyed Vollman’s thought process and conclusions most of all. Read more »

Checking in on the Carolina Hurricanes

Hurricanes great Ron Francis replaces Jim Rutherford as general manager

Last year: 36-35-11, seventh in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by 10 points.

Key additions: Tim Gleason, Jay McClement, Brad Malone

Key subtractions: Andrei Loktionov, Justin Peters, Manny Malhotra, Drayson Bowman (likely), Radek Dvorak (likely), Mike Komisarek (likely), Joni Pitkanen (likely)

Franchise direction: Like the Penguins and Capitals, Carolina elected to oust its coach and general manager rather than overturn its roster. Bill Peters replaces Kirk Muller behind the bench and Hall of Famer Ron Francis will step in for Jim Rutherford as general manager. Those could be just the first of many sweeping changes in Carolina. The players on the current roster will obviously be given another shot this season before the Hurricanes make any dramatic moves, but don’t be surprised to see Francis unload key cogs if Carolina starts slow and decides to blow up its roster to begin a full rebuild.

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Checking in on the Washington Capitals

The five-year, $27.5 million deal that Washington completed with Brooks Orpik is a real head-scratcher

Last year: 38-30-14, fifth in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by three points.

Key additions: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters

Key subtractions: Mikhail Grabovski, Jaroslav Halak, Michal Neuvirth, Dustin Penner (likely)

Franchise direction: Like the rival Penguins, Washington chose to make major changes in the front office over overhauling its roster. In for George McPhee is Brian MacLellan as General Manager while long-time Predators coach Barry Trotz replaces Adam Oates behind the bench. Trotz is one of the most respected men in the business, but he’s made his living as a defensive-minded coach and faces an entirely new challenge in the nation’s capital. Trotz was surely part of the inspiration for the team’s two big signings, Niskanen and Orpik. The Capitals needed a major upgrade on defense after finishing 21st in goals against, but lobbing $67.75 million at Niskanen and Orpik was a bit excessive, especially in Orpik’s case. The acquisitions certainly don’t say much for the team’s faith in its long-time top-three of John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Mike Green. Focusing on bringing in defensemen from outside the organization does make some sense given that Washington has several talented forward coming up through the organization.

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Checking in on the Pittsburgh Penguins

Former Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston will replace Dan Bylsma behind the Penguins’ bench

Last year: 51-24-7, first in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Rangers in the second round.

Key additions: Patric Hornqvist, Christian Ehrhoff, Nick Spaling, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Thomas Greiss

Key subtractions: James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Orpik, Lee Stempniak, Brian Gibbons, Deryk Engelland, Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass (just kidding) Taylor Pyatt (just kidding)

Franchise direction: The Penguins roster has been retooled, but the major news of their offseason was the firing of coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero. In their place are Mike Johnston and Jim Rutherford, respectively, but while Pittsburgh has had higher expectations than Bylsma and Shero have been able to meet in recent years, it’s hard to view the changes behind the bench and in the front office as an upgrade. Pittsburgh did improve its depth up front and cleared dead weight that should allow some youngsters to make an impact. But why was playoff goat Marc-Andre Fleury retained while sweeping changes were made in every other facet of the organization?

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Checking in on the Columbus Blue Jackets

Scott Hartnell should set the tone for the Blue Jackets

Last year: 43-32-7, fourth in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Penguins in the first round.

Key additions: Scott Hartnell, Brian Gibbons

Key subtractions: R.J. Umberger, Jack Skille, Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau, Nikita Nikitin

Franchise direction: The Jackets are happy as clams with the way things are going after they made a surprise postseason appearance and gave Pittsburgh all it could handle in the first round of the playoffs. Columbus had to let go of a few spare parts to provide flexibility and allow the team to lock up key long-term pillars like Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky, but the team has quality reinforcements. Read more »

Checking in on the New Jersey Devils

The Devils’ major offseason acquisition: 32-year-old Mike Cammalleri

Last year: 35-29-18, sixth in the Metro Division

Key additions: Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat, Scott Clemmensen

Key subtractions: Martin Brodeur, Mark Fayne, Anton Volchenkov, Ryan Carter (likely)

Franchise direction: The Devils have finally turned the page on the Brodeur era, but that doesn’t mean the team is any younger. New Jersey added the 32-year-old Cammalleri and 33-year-old Havlat to a group that already includes 34-year-old Michael Ryder, 36-year-old Dainius Zubrus, 37-year-old Marek Zidlicky, 38-year-old Bryce Salvador, 38-year-old Patrik Elias and 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr.  The Devils are certainly not rebuilding, but their plan is a little puzzling. Read more »