On a day in which his professional future was secured, Derek Stepan was thinking about his team.
"We have a group of guys who want to take that next step," Stepan said on July 27, a few hours after agreeing to a six-year, $39 million contract with the only National Hockey League team he's ever known, the Rangers.
For Stepan, the next step is to win the franchise's fifth Stanley Cup.
As training camp and the first preseason game--Sept. 21 against the Devils at the Garden--approaches, the Rangers appear to have pieces to again make a deep run.
With the exception of the departures of backup goaltender Cam Talbot and seventh defenseman Matt Hunwick, the back end returns virtually intact. It is upfront where changes have been made. Gone are future Hall-of-Famer Martin St. Louis and penalty killer stalwart Carl Hagelin. St. Louis retired, while Hagelin was traded to Anaheim for Emerson Etem due to salary cap restraints. The Rangers also added fourth line center Jarrett Stoll late in the off-season.
Perhaps the most fascinating change within the organization will be Jeff Gorton replacing Glen Sather as general manager, who will stay on as team President.
"I would say there's not a lot changing other than I will have the final decision on players," Gorton said. "We have a good staff with a lot of good people in place. We have [Sather] in our corner to bounce things off on what we are thinking and it's benefit to me and everyone else here. I think that we will work together and I don't plan on being a one-man team. We have had success because of the people here. Good scouts, good people, good coaches, good people all over. I don't see big changes. We have good people. I will use [Sather] as much as I can. We work with him every day and he will be part of it. I don't think he will go too far and he calls me five times a day as it is.
"I plan on using everyone."
Before training camp begins, here are a few things to keep an eye on:
MUSCULAR METRO: The back-to-back Metropolitan Division champions may find the landscape more challenging this season. Washington, Columbus, Pittsburgh all made significant improvements, and the Islanders are coming off a 101-point season. It would not be surprising to see the division's five teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
KIDDIE KORPS?: Coaches and executives often speak of the importance of adding youth to teams. The veteran-laden Rangers may test that theorem in 2015-16. J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast were important in the run to the Eastern Conference Final last spring. Etem, 23, adds some size (6-foot-1, 212 pounds) to the wing. Can two-way center Oscar Lindberg earn a job during camp?
NET GAIN?: Let's be unequivocal: The Rangers do not win the Presidents' Trophy without the play of Talbot while Henrik Lundqvist recovered from a strained blood vessel, suffered when he was struck in the throat by a shot off the stick of the Hurricanes' Brad Malone. The Rangers recorded 35 points in the 23 games Talbot started in Lundqvist's absence. That was a significant positive. The drawback, though, was that Talbot proved he could be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL and with Lundqvist signed through the 2020-21 season, that wasn't going to happen with the Rangers. So Talbot was dealt to Edmonton, and Gorton acquired Antti Raanta from the Blackhawks.