With the matchup for the 2016-17 Stanley Cup now set, the Pittsburgh Penguins will take on the Nashville Predators in a series that will certainly provide a stark contrast between these two teams.

Pittsburgh entered the 2016-17 season as defending Stanley Cup Champions and looking to become the first team since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings to repeat as Cup Champions. This will mark the fourth time in the Hard Cap Era that the Penguins will play for Lord Stanley's Fabled Chalice, (2008, 2009, 2016, and 2017) and the sixth time since 1990.

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Nashville meanwhile, is in the first Stanley Cup Final of its' 19-year history

To juxtapose the teams even further, Nashville is attempting to become the first eight-seed to hoist "The Most Sought After Trophy in All of Sports," since the 2012 Los Angeles Kings. On the other hand, the Penguins are coming off yet another 100 plus-point campaign as they finished second in the Metropolitan Division to the Washington Capitals.

All that really means for us here in New York, is that the Hot Stove of the offseason will soon be upon us.

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As of July 1st, any and all Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) can sign with whatever team they so choose. Before we even get to the annual frenzy known as Free Agency, the NHL has gifted us with another reincarnation of the Expansion Draft, as the League prepares to welcome its 31st Franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, into the fold.

From June 18-20, the Golden Knights will have the opportunity to determine what players that have been left unprotected by their respective clubs will become a part of their inaugural season roster.

The results will be announced at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 21st, during the annual NHL Awards Ceremony. As a neat way to proceed after losing a valued member from their respective rosters, the NHL clubs will have a chance to draft their newest members at the yearly Entry Draft, which will take place in Chicago at the United Center on Friday, June 23rd and Saturday, June 24th.

While all of this is going on, the New York Rangers high-command of GM Jeff Gorton and Team President Glen Sather will be holding their organizational meetings in an attempt to dissect what went wrong with the Rangers this year, and how to correct the problem(s). So, with that being said, here are my three picks for what the Gorton-Sather tandem should focus on, and how they should go about rectifying the situation(s):

Revamp the defense

As with most people who watched the Blueshirts this season, it is obvious that their aging defensive core is no longer up to the task of attempting to protect Henrik Lundqvist and helping to guide this team to the promised land.

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With King Henrik now 35 and turning 36 in March of next season, the Rangers' Stanley Cup Window is closing. Last year at this time, the Rangers brain trust made the choice to add offensive depth to a team that had just been manhandled by the Penguins in an embarrassing five-game first-round loss.

By adding such players as: Brandon Pirri, Michael Grabner, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, and Jimmy Vesey, as well as defenseman Adam Clendening, to the mix, the Blueshirts felt that they could right their ship and treat their ouster as an aberration, rather than as a cause for concern.

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After all, these Blueshirts were coming off back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final (2014).

Up until an unfortunate eye injury derailed his post-season performance against the Penguins, who could have guessed that the King would have such a roller-coaster of a season. And furthermore, who could have seen the sharp decline of Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Kevin Klein?

The three defensive stalwarts, along with captain Ryan McDonagh, were being counted on to be the team's top-4 defensemen, leaving rookie Brady Skjei and a newly acquired Nick Holden to form the third defense pairing. Right out of the gate, you knew it was going to be a long season for the blue liners.

Klein was hurt for most of the year, as back spasms routinely flared up on him and kept him on the sidelines for long stretches of time. When he was in the lineup, he was a shell of his former self, coughing up the puck at a troubling rate, while contributing next to nothing offensively.

Girardi and Staal, both of whom have seemed to age in dog years recently, experienced their first stages of decline during the 2015-16 campaign, and that decline became even more pronounced this past season as they struggled to rebound from their porous campaigns.

McDonagh was a bright spot for sure, but he's no Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns, and that's not a knock on him, as there's a reason why those two are the top two defenders in the NHL. So, while he had a typically strong season, he alone could not make up for his comrades' short-comings.

Brady Skjei was a rookie revelation, as he posted a 39-point campaign and finished among the top points getters at his position. Nick Holden experienced a tale of 'Tale of Two Halves' as he had a brilliant first-half and a disturbing second-half. Mid-season import Brendan Smith was a breath of fresh air, especially with his tough edge style of play in the post-season, teaming with Skjei to form the team's most dependable D-pairing during the Stanley Cup tournament.

The only way to fix these issues is for Gorton and Co. to buy out either Girardi or Staal, (I'm picking Staal as the guy who has to go), and to then use the cap savings to either re-sign Smith or go after Westchester native Kevin Shattenkirk, who is also a UFA.

A right-shot defenseman who can man the point on the power play, Shattenkirk will be in high-demand during Day One of Free Agency and is sure to cost a pretty penny, but he has stated in the past that he could be willing to take a discount to come play for the 7th Avenue Skaters. If so, sign him up. If not, sign Smith and then attempt to find a diamond in the rough amongst the remaining free agent Dmen.

Find a true number one center

For years now, the Rangers have had two-thirds of the standard equation to contend for a Stanley Cup.

First, an all-world No. 1 goalie. With Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes since 2005 that has been a steady 'Check.' Second, an all-star No. 1 defenseman. Ryan McDonagh. While acknowledged as an excellent defenseman, he is not always the star that he needs to be to complete this part of the equation. An authority on the matter, esteemed Broadcaster Jim Fox of the LA Kings, has repeatedly stated that McDonagh is indeed that top flight No.1 Dman, so who am I to disagree with somebody of his pedigree. Check.

Third, a No. 1 top-10 center. Here's the part of the equation where the Blueshirts always seem to fall flat. Don't get me wrong, Derek Stepan is an excellent center, and as a steady 55-60 point per year guy, it's hard to argue against him. There's a difference between a top-tier center and a second-tier center. Guys like Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf occupy the top-tier, while guys like Stepan occupy the second-tier. This isn't a knock on Stepan, he just doesn't have the physical tools that a true No. 1 center needs in today's NHL.

Derick Brassard was acquired in 2013 to be, "that guy," but outside of the post-season, "Big Game Brass," wasn't a true top-tier centerman. Brad Richards was brought to town in 2011 with the reputation for being, "that guy," but by that point in his career, he was on the downswing and couldn't live up to his role. Mika Zibanejad was acquired in a trade with Ottawa last offseason, with Ottawa receiving Brassard, in the hopes that he would develop into the No. 1 center, but after watching him play through an injury-riddled year, it's safe to say that he isn't there yet.

Perhaps the Blueshirts can entice a team like Colorado to part with Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog, both of whom have been reported to be on the market.

Expansion Draft mystery

We won't know for certain who the Golden Knights select until the 21st of June. Rumor has it that they will select Antti Raanta, which means that the Rangers will be without their high-end backup goaltender. Recently, ever since the Blueshirts were ousted from the playoffs, a new rumor has come to light. That the Rangers could leave Derek Stepan unprotected and expose his $6.5M per year salary to Las Vegas. With the rules currently in place, it is highly unlikely that a player of Stepan's caliber would be available in the Draft, and if he's left unprotected, you can bet your bottom dollar that Vegas will scoop him up in a heartbeat. Of course, the dark horse in all of this is Michael Grabner. The Austrian speedster had a 27-goal campaign, but his hip issue in February and his second-half Houdini Act might be enough for Gorton to leave him exposed and take his chances on Vegas potentially selecting Grabner.

Until the Expansion Draft is over, we won't know who the Blueshirts' brass has to work with, so let's hope that they lose somebody that's replaceable.

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