I’d like to begin this by noting what Brian said in the last post: the lockout really killed this blog, and we’re trying now to revive it. We’ve been watching tons and tons of hockey, we’ve seen a bunch of stuff (and things) and now there’s so much to talk about. Prepare for upcoming draft profiles, mock drafts from each of us, and more. But, considering this is primarily a Rangers blog (though we venture around the league as well), let’s talk about the New York Rangers and this mess of a season so far.
The question I think most of us have is: well, what the hell happened?
Last year was our best playoff run since 1997, and our second best season record in franchise history. The team finally seemed to be on the rise, but the lack of goal scoring was an issue. So we trade away a few pieces and acquire an elite power forward to add that extra insurance, lose some guys to free agency, and suddenly, the team completely crumbles. The biggest losses, in my mind, were Prust and Mitchell. The other guys we lost were expendable, but those two have been severely missed this year.
Looking at the past, we should be used to this. Nearly every year since the 2005 lockout (I can’t believe I have to specify lockouts now), we’ve been either hanging on to a middle spot, or barely in the playoffs. We’ve been a 6th-8th place team for a while. Last year should be considered an overachievement, absolutely, but this year’s team, even from the start, was good enough to at least be a middle of the pack, 4th-5th place team, and has underachieved severely. I don’t think anyone really expected a repeat of last year’s regular season (wanted, but not expected), but I don’t think anyone expected this. All of that being said, lets look at the positives and negatives of this year, starting with the good.
- Derek Stepan- Someone is in for a serious pay day. Stepan has really come into his own this year as the Rangers most consistent player. Despite the slow start, he is second on the team in scoring, has stripped Brad Richards of his spot on the first line, and has made every player he plays with better. If this year were a full season, he would be on pace for about 70-75 points. For a guy who has recorded two 45-50 point seasons, that is a massive upgrade, and I honestly think he can go even higher and venture into the 80s. He’s a very smart, very talented two way center and he is the future top center of this team.
- Rick Nash- As someone who had seen Rick play for Columbus several times, I sat back patiently and couldn’t wait until he started proving the skeptics wrong. From day one, he has been a force, with the ability to single handedly take over and change a game with his rare combination of size, skill, puck handling ability, and even some grit. He leads the team in scoring, no shock there, and with Marian Gaborik gone, his role as the go-to guy has increased tenfold, and I believe, with the kind of player and the kind of person that he is, he thrives under that kind of pressure. Guys, we haven’t even seen the full season package from this guy. Wait until next year, to get a scope of what his numbers will look like. As of now, however, he’d be on pace for about 80 points if this were a full season, scoring at just below a PPG (missing four games of the season, mind you.)
- Henrik Lundqvist- I don’t even think I have to explain this one in depth, so I’ll keep it short. People are saying he doesn’t look like himself? A 2.12 GAA and a .926 Save % say otherwise. He is the backbone of the team, and no matter what playoff spot we have, he will give us a chance to win every single night. Sometimes I feel as if that insurance is our demise in a way, as there are nights where the defense is absent and Henrik gets peppered. The team needs to play a little better in front of him, but he isn’t at fault for anything.
- Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard, John Moore- Tortorella wanted depth? He got it. I’ll explain why that is important later. For now, take a look at the way the team has played since getting these players in the lineup. We are 3-1-1 since getting them, and they have made a significant impact to the depth of the lineup. Tortorella has had more freedom to roll 4 lines and 3 defense pairs, and that lack of trust in the fourth line and third pairing was our demise in the playoffs last year, and the season this year. John Moore and Derick Brassard also have a ton of potential going forward, which adds to the impact of this trade on our season and our future. On top of that, we haven’t even seen Dorsett yet.
- Brad Richards- Yikes, has he been terrible. Something about him seems a little off; last year’s Brad Richards wouldn’t have made drop passes to the opposition, QB’d the powerplay terribly, or just look a step and a half behind on every other play. Blame it on the lack of training camp all you want, but that’s far behind us now. He’s had all this time and all these games to get it straightened up, and he hasn’t. Will Sather use the second amnesty buyout to rid the team of Richards? Who knows. With the emergence of Derek Stepan, and the acquisition of Derick Brassard, it is a possibility
- Brian Boyle- The numbers don’t only tell what has gone wrong with him. Nathan Gerbe plays the body more than Boyle. I haven’t seen a player this soft since Marek Malik. What happened to the Boyle from years past? Sure, he’s been better as of late, but overall, his season has been awful, finding himself mired in Tortorella’s doghouse on more than one occasion.
- The kids, J.T Miller and Chris Kreider- Now now now, we have seen the future, and it does look bright with these two, but they are simply not ready and have no spot on the team as it is right now. Miller had one good game, and beyond that, a lot of overambitious plays, poor defensive play, and turnovers. He has a ton of confidence and poise with the puck, but he needs to develop a little more, and become more decisive and a little more smart. Chris Kreider, on the other hand, had his one stroke of wonder in the playoffs, but has shown that he is still not quite ready yet. He should keep an eye on Carl Hagelin and Rick Nash, as he can become almost a hybrid of the two, with his quick feet and his size.
- Dan Girardi- Shocked that I didn’t say Michael Del Zotto? Well, I really don’t think MDZ has been all that bad, nor do I think he is deserving of the amount of criticism he gets. Now, I know it’s terrible to get at Girardi, with his consummate professionalism and his gutsy style of play being a part of the Rangers heart and soul, but he has seemed a step behind all year long. We know he’s better than this, and we definitely cannot afford to lose him, but he really needs to get his play in check. He has looked especially bad in the last two games vs. Toronto.
- John Tortorella- I am still an advocate of this guy being fired. In fact, I think now, he is on the hot seat more than ever, as Glen Sather decided to keep him around, and trade Marian Gaborik to get his “glue guys.” I felt that, around the deadline, it was either he would get fired, and we get a coach whose system was more tailored to the team, or we keep Tortorella and trade for players that fit his system instead. Early in the season, his inability to alter the system of the team to suit the players he had was his failing point, so instead, we traded for guys who will fit. If things don’t change down the stretch run, we might not see him next year. The implications were that the struggles we had this year were due to a lack of depth in the lineup, particularly the bottom six. He got the depth he needs, now he has to deliver.
- Marian Gaborik- Just…thank god he’s gone. Yeah, he’s scored 40 goals before, yeah, he was playing in a system that really didn’t suit him at all, but look at the player he is, put him next to Rick Nash even. What does Gaborik bring if he isn’t scoring? He finds himself mired in slumps very often, and we simply could not afford to wait until he found his way out. He is incredibly inconsistent, and incredibly inept at any of the other facets of the game. At least now, with Rick Nash, we have a scoring forward who can also do other things even if he goes a few games without a goal. Plus, in the end, I think we got back way more value than Gaborik really entailed.
- Taylor Pyatt- We still have him, right? I can’t recall.
To cap this off, do I think this team can make the playoffs, and if so, do I think this team is good enough to go far in the playoffs? The answer is a not so resounding and somewhat skeptical yes and yes. With the changes we made at the deadline, the play of our top guys, the compete level of our captain and our goaltender, I think the playoffs are still a possibility. Once we’re in, that’s all that matters. In the last shortened season, 1995, the Devils were the lowest seeded team to win a Stanley Cup until the Kings won as the eighth seed last year. Henrik Lundqvist gives this team a chance to win every single night, no matter what. As long as he is in top shape, this team can fix a few things here and there, and the players that need to get it together come through a hard and competitive push is not unrealistic. As a fan of nearly 13 years, I am always fairly skeptical about this team every single year, but this time around, I am trying to be as optimistic as possible.
The playoffs belong to the team that wants it the most, no matter where they stand.