The New York Rangers will head into the upcoming 2022-23 season with extra confidence, experience, but also added pressure. The team’s recent playoff run for the Stanley Cup proved the right parts are there, the consistency and reliability needs to be maintained. Top player trophies awarded to Rangers like Igor Shesterkin this season for the best goaltender, and last season’s Norris Trophy given to Adam Fox reinforce the fact the team has the star power to succeed.
However, these distinguished names must keep up their trophy-caliber performances. Much like how extra eyes will be on Shesterkin this season to see how the reigning Vezina winner performs, defenseman Fox was in the same position the past 2021-22 campaign. In fact, Fox ranked fifth in the league for the award he previously won in 2020-21. The timing now has never been more critical for him to help nudge his team closer to the Cup Final.
Fox, by no means, had a bad season. His lower finish in trophy voting suggests his overall regular-season performance dipped, but other players who performed better were a factor of course. Without needing to be said, the importance is less so on competing with the rest of the league to win the award and more so his ability to contribute to team success. However, the blueliner sports a more crucial role on his team as he and partner Ryan Lindgren set the rhythm for the young defensive core.
How Fox’s Past Two Seasons Compare
Indeed he put up his highest numbers this season after two peculiar and shortened seasons due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Prior to the past season, he skated in only 125 games combined games. With 203 games under his belt now, the star is primed for a critical upcoming season as the Rangers try to outdo last season’s magic.
The 24-year-old concluded his third season, a season in which the team went all the way to the Eastern Conference Final before their elimination at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Though the team relied upon Fox in the regular season, it’s no secret the stakes are incomparably higher in the postseason, and Fox proved he could rise to the challenge.
It was his first true playoff experience and the three grueling rounds left the young player with invaluable experience that can be translated into his upcoming season. As for the regular season, he finished with 74 points in 78 games. Eleven of those were goals and the rest accounted for 63 assists, a career year.
He was also voted into his first All-Star Game this past season, but was unable to attend due to an upper-body injury. That injury later landed him on injured reserve (IR) and impacted the trajectory of his season. After his injury in January, his pace slowed down. In 44 games prior to the injury, he collected 47 points — seven goals and 40 assists. Clearly his rate was over a point per game.
His last matchup before the IR placement was Jan. 27 and his first back was Feb. 15. Due to the All-Star break, the timing helped bail the young star out as he had less pressure to return. In his time after the return, he collected 27 more points in 34 games. Four of those points were goals and 23 assists.
In his Norris-winning season, he concluded a 55-game season with 47 points, five goals and 42 assists. Fox was the first Rangers defender to receive the award since Brian Leetch after his 1996-97 season. The amazing part of his performance, was that his defensive responsibilities did not suffer as a result of his offense. Just the same as this season, his style involves having both aspects woven into his game effortlessly.
Impressively, Fox is only the second-ever defenseman to win the Norris in his second season — the first to do it, of course, Bobby Orr. Surely, Fox’s name falls among great company but his presence is very important to this Rangers team. As mentioned, he and Lindgren are the top pair for the team and set the pace for the rest of the defense pairings. Part of trophy consideration should look at the relationship with the defender’s partner as well.
Lindgren has been around just as long as Fox but their prior familiarity of each other certainly benefits them both, but clearly Lindgren can’t provide any previous experience. Regardless of any additional edge Fox’s partner could provide, the pairing is mutually beneficial.
A Look at the Competition
At a certain point, it seemed like the likelihood of Fox winning the Norris in back-to-back seasons diminished. Despite not contending as a finalist, Fox cracked the top five, and three of those (including Fox) were left standing as members of the final three teams for the Cup this season, which speaks to the importance of these roles.
Of course, Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche deservingly won the award in addition to the Stanley Cup. Makar received 84 percent of votes. Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators, received 82 percent of votes to claim second place. Josi won the trophy the season prior to Fox, in 2019-20.
Victor Hedman of the Lightning won the trophy back in the 2017-18 season and has been a finalist every season for the past six seasons. He was the third and last of the finalists this season. He received 48 percent of votes. Of course, his veteran status and Cup history strengthen his case.
Above Fox was Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins and he received 18 percent of votes. Not too far after was Fox with 13 percent of votes. The unique part of Fox’s contention for the award is that he represents the new generation of NHL defensemen — smaller, quicker, and more focused on particular skills.
Obviously, more goes into voting than point totals, again the focus is how he can continue to help his team and propel the Rangers further in the postseason. To outdo his postseason performance, which ended with five points in 17 games, he would have to score more than two goals and three assists. To see Fox score as few as five points in a sample size of 17 games is a little uncharacteristic.
The Rangers are equipped to make playoffs again but the NHL is famously unpredictable. In order to qualify for the postseason the team will once again lean on Fox’s two-way game to lead the way to playoffs. With the new experience of their Cup run, Fox is better set up for success and a more impressive postseason this upcoming year.
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Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.