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NHL training camps open: Top sleeper team could be in the city that never sleeps

On Feb. 8, 2018, the New York Rangers surprisingly announced they were embracing a full rebuilding effort. Nineteen months later, the Rangers are back to business as usual.

The Rangers, who finished 32-36-14 last year, open training camp today almost at even odds, according to Las Vegas sportsbooks, to qualify for the playoffs. The Rangers seem as if they are accelerating in the direction of being a Stanley Cup contender.

“I think we all feel it was an important summer for the organization,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist told USA TODAY Sports at the NHL/NHL Players Association Media Tour. “Looking back at it, I feel like we took a couple of steps in the right direction.”

With the addition of veterans Artemi Panarin up front and Jacob Trouba on defence and prize prospects Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox, the Rangers could be this season’s No. 1 sleeper.

“I’m very excited to be back in New York,” Lundqvist said. “Look forward to see the team get together to start talking about where we are as a team and what kind of goal we can set for this group. I don’t know yet. I don’t know what’s realistic. But what I know is we are a better team than last year.”

Not every problem was solved. The Rangers could still use another scoring centre.

But Panarin has averaged 80 points per season over his first four NHL seasons and Trouba’s all-around ability will instantly improve New York’s defence. Kakko, the 2019 No. 2 overall pick, could score 20 or more goals. The 18-year-old rookie has the physical strength to deal with NHL competition.

Other things you need to know as NHL camps open:

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  • Blue Jackets’ goalie battle: Sergei Bobrovsky has signed with the Panthers. That leaves Joonas Korpisalo (2.95 GAA, .897 save percentage) and former Swiss League standout Elvis Merzlikins, 25, projected to be a tandem in the Blue Jackets’ net this season. In training camp, we will see which one starts as No. 1. The Blue Jackets believe Merzlikins was the best goalie outside the NHL. Don’t be shocked if he takes command of the battle.
  • Hurricanes looking to move defenceman: When Carolina signed free agent Jake Gardiner to a four-year deal, it meant Justin Faulk was likely to be dealt. Faulk is going to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Canes have tried to re-sign him. Faulk has a partial no-trade clause, and that has been problematic. It has already prevented him from being moved to Anaheim. The Canes are looking for a scorer in return. If Faulk can get a long-term deal, he might consider going to a team not on his approved list.
  • Too many RFAs still unsigned: Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Matt Tkachuk and Charlie McAvoy are just some of the restricted free agents who aren’t yet signed. RFAs have chosen this summer to push general managers for richer second contracts, and GMs, hamstrung by the salary cap, are trying to hold the line. Most of these RFAs will be signed before the season, but a few of these negotiations could leak into the regular season.
  • Big CBA decision coming: NHL players have until Sept. 15 to decide whether to reopen the CBA. Players say they are optimistic this will have a happy ending, which doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t reopen. Even if they reopen, the contract won’t expire until next fall, giving the board of governors and the NHLPA a full year to reach an agreement.

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