BY CHAYIM TAUBER
There may not be an NHL season next year but if there is, the Rangers are more ready for it than they have been in decades.
The New York Rangers suffered a devastating end to their season at the hand of their metro-rival Devils. A sudden death overtime goal, the quickest, swiftest, and most agonizing death a team can suffer over the course of a season was the fate the Rangers were dealt; a fate that seemed unfair considering their stellar regular season.
As losses always do, the Rangers loss to the Devils has brought out the naysayers and critics. The aggressive shot-blocking, dump-and-chase style that the Rangers employ unquestionably left them the more fatigued team as the playoffs wore on. Granted, their penchant for seven-game series didn’t help matters, but the Rangers conservative approach and lack of offense eventually did them in.
There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel for the Rangers. Unlike the crushing finality that accompanied past defeats, the Rangers are a team whose stock is on the rise. This season saw the maturation of Michael Del Zotto, John Mitchell, Michael Sauer, Carl Hagelin, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh (who looks like a future Norris Trophy candidate), and Derek Stepan, as well as the arrival of rookie neophyte Chris Kreider. Captain Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky are all under the age of 28 and the kids in Hartford are maturing. The Rangers have a solid young nucleus that’s only getting better and aren’t losing any significant pieces to free agency.
The best goaltender in the NHL is manning the pipes for the Blueshirts and that alone is reason to believe that the Rangers will compete next season. Lundqvist, 30, is entering the prime of his career and in over six seasons has compiled an NHL resume that’s only blemish is the lack of a championship. Lundqvist in goal carried the Rangers through large portions of the seasons due to their lack of scoring punch. That lack of offense is sure to be addressed in the coming offseason.
Rick Nash’s name was obviously the name most often and most closely attributed to the Rangers as they nearly completed a trade at the deadline that would have been tantamount to the Knicks trade for Carmelo Anthony a year prior. Namely, Columbus wanted every talented young player the Rangers have. His situation has only deteriorated since then and the likelihood is that Rick Nash will play for someone other than Columbus for the first time in his career come the start of the season.
Ray Whitney and Zach Parise are the two other scoring free agents available this summer and though Parise has said that he wouldn’t play for the Rangers; Whitney (even though he’s turning 41) is a solid secondary scoring option behind Marian Gaborik. Ryan Smyth is available and a player that the Rangers have looked at for years; his presence around the net being a skill that the Rangers desperately need.
As far as trade partners outside of Columbus, deals for either Jarome Iginla, the gritty ageless wonder, for Calgary or for one of Anaheim’s young studs (Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, or most likely, Bobby Ryan) are intriguing possibilities. Like Nash, the Rangers have been tied to Bobby Ryan, a 25-year-old 30-goal a year scorer and have yet to pull the trigger.
There is of course, the most obvious source of optimism for the Rangers next season: these guys will get better.
Brandon Dubinsky had an absolutely atrocious season last year barely managing to crack double digits in goals scored. Though the Rangers are rumored to be “aggressively shopping” Dubinsky and his $5 million a year price tag, the odds of him having another season that pathetic are non-existent. If Dubinsky stays, you can pencil him in for 25 goals next season.
Marc Staal also had a down-year though his is more understandable. Though it won’t necessarily help the Rangers offense all that much, Marc Staal started looking like himself again towards the end of the season and the playoffs and his return to All Star status is a welcomed one (it also enables the Rangers to abstain from bidding war that Ryan Suter’s going to attract). It also takes a lot of the pressure off of the forwards which of course puts the spotlight squarely on last season’s big free-agent signing.
“Broadway Brad” Richards didn’t have a Brad Richards-like season last year. He had some big goals and did some good things sure, but he played nowhere near up to his lofty standards or his hefty contract. Now is year two. Brad admits that he had to acclimate himself with New York and get comfortable and he knows full well that the honeymoon is over now. Brad Richards after a year in New York should be able to be Brad Richards again and that is music to Coach Tortorella and the Ranger fans’ ears.
Losing to the Devils certainly hurt but for the first time in a long time, things are looking up in Madison Square Garden.