The Rangers have their 23-man roster and management group set heading into their opener against the Lightning on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
There were no surprises for a team that returned 16 of the 23 players it started with last season. While the $183,531 in cap space the Rangers will carry into the season will likely be difficult to operate under at a later date — Feb. 20, 2023, the NHL trade deadline, to be exact — Rangers management apparently had a clear idea about what it wanted the starting lineup to look like when it came to personnel decisions.
When you finish among the top four teams in the NHL the previous season and retain a majority of the roster, the decisions shouldn’t be overly complicated. But it’s the expectations that come with it that can be complicated.
“It was easy last year when nobody expects anything from you and you rally around it’s almost easy to get up when teams say the other team is going to beat you and all that stuff,” defensive end Adam Fox said . Monday. “So now to have a little bit of expectation – call it a target on the back – I think of course it builds a bit of motivation as well. You want to be able to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke and that we have the team to do it and get there.
“I think we’re a hungry group, we’re young, and I think we want to get back to where we were last year.”
Even though some considerations were needed when deciding whether to give Jimmy Vesey a contract after his professional tryout, or if Zac Jones was ready to step into the sixth defenseman role, the Rangers had a decision to make on who would serve as alternate captains. The team praised the leadership group last season — Jacob Trouba, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome and Barclay Goodrow — so it was a no-brainer to have the players still here keep their letters.
Zibanejad, Kreider, Panarin and Goodrow will play ‘A’ again this season, with Trouba earning the promotion to captain in the off-season. Of course, Strome is no longer a Ranger after going free to the ducks.
“It was a good group and it was tough, you hate to leave guys out, too,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said after practice in Tarrytown. “There’s a lot of guys knocking on the door for those roles. I just think last year we had a great group and why would I change it and take it away from those guys? They’re good people, they did a great job occupation.”
The cliché, ‘why fix what ain’t broke’ certainly applies here. For a team that hasn’t had a captain since 2018, when Ryan McDonagh donned the ‘C,’ Rangers now have a group of leaders all under contract for the foreseeable future. The group did a great job of rallying the team through the 2021-22 regular season and playoffs as the Rangers completed two series comebacks to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
The new challenge for the four alternates and Trouba is not to get the team up to prove people wrong, but to boost the team’s confidence to attack the high expectations it faces this season.
“I think it’s just a great leadership group in general,” said Fox, who would probably be up for a letter himself if not for five of the six alternates left last season. “A letter is a letter. It’s obviously a privilege for those guys, but I think they did a good job of just incorporating everybody. It wasn’t six A’s and then everybody else is just another guy on the team.
“I think it’s a whole group effort and they did a great job of letting everyone have a voice. It wasn’t just the people who did everything.”