The New York Rangers season ended in disappointment, but was successful nonetheless. It wasn’t what most fans wanted, but if the team slipped to the four spot and lost in the conference finals to Pittsburgh, would that have been okay? The Rangers raised expectations throughout the season and the feeling of catching no Philly or Pittsburgh made fans think this was the year. Unfortunately, the Devils didn’t cooperate. They had their own aspirations, but that shouldn’t kill the Rangers season. Next year has already begun for Blueshirt fans.
2012-2013 Outlook: The Rangers aren’t going to be open the overseas and shouldn’t have any jet lag or major injuries to deal complicate matters as the Marc Staal concussion did. The teams they will be facing in their division will be healthy and ready to go. The Sidney Crosby injury days will be gone and the Flyers will have less dings than they did a month ago. The Islanders will improve and they’ll face the Eastern Conference champ who will likely have Martin Brodeur back. The Rangers played exceptional all year, but will now have to be better to return as the East’s number one seed.
Forwards: Five of the top six forwards are all set: Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. That leaves one spot for (on the current roster) Brandon Dubinsky, Carl Hagelin, Ruslan Fedotenko and Artem Anisimov. Add on players via trade, free agency or from Hartford: Zach Parise, Rick Nash, Christian Thomas, Ryan Bourque and JT Miller. Dubinsky or Anisimov aren’t the answer, they’re likely to be moved. Both players have switched positions and failed to find their roles on this season. Their production also dropped. Anisimov was down 8 points from last season and Dubinsky scored ten goals after back-to-back 20+ goal seasons. With their other prospects not likely to make the jump and lack of room under the salary cap, it’s likely the Rangers will have to trade one of these players for a forward- perhaps in the Scott Hartnell mold.
Defenseman: The Rangers are stacked at the blueline. Already signed through next season are Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh, but the forgotten man is Michael Sauer. Sauer was concussed by Dion Phenouf in December, but never returned. His plus +17 and hard hitting style could easily find it’s way back into the Rangers lineup if the concussion symptoms subside. There are three restricted free agents, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel. Despite a strong season, Stralman had a rough playoff run and Bickel’s play was inconsistent down the stretch run. Del Zotto is interesting. Do they move him? He is due a raise and deserves it, but is he going to develop into a great player or should they move him in an effort to acquire a Shea-Weber-type. More likely, he’ll be kept. The problem with the Rangers blueliners is the lacking big shot that would sorely be needed for the power play. If they can find a heavy shot from the point, their power play should improve.
Goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist is going nowhere. Martin Biron would be a no-brainer resign. The Rangers could go elsewhere, but no reason to. Biron gave Lundqvist a perfect amount of rest during the season and was fresh during the stretch run, plus he was a great off-ice contributor. His playoff was another matter since he had to play every game, including the longest Rangers game since 1933.
Head Coach: Already with a Stanley Cup to his record, John Tortorella wants the Rangers to a develop killer instinct and a championship mindset. Tortorella was brilliant last season never letting the Blueshirts lose more than three games in a row. With that type of consistency, the Rangers surged to the top of the Eastern Conference. How can he really improve on the second best season since 1994? That’s simple…they’ll just need one trophy now. It’ll begin in training camp.
General Manager: You could argue that Glen Sather should have been fired ten times by now, but instead he has delivered in reshaping the Rangers into “Edmonton-with-money”. That said, Sather’s track record on free agents hasn’t been good. Chris Drury was never healthy or could duplicate his years in Buffalo, but helped mentor Ryan Callahan to become captain. Scott Gomez was never as productive, but his trade led to the Rangers getting cap space for Marian Gaborik with Ryan McDonagh as a throw-in. Chris Higgans and Ales Kotalik were signed, failed and traded within five months. He signed Wade Redden and Michel Rozsival to big contracts. Rozsival ended up in Phoenix and played like he did in his first two years in New York and Redden was shipped to Hartford so he wouldn’t go on the Salary Cap. Clearly, Sather has made mistakes and used trades, demotions and buyouts to erase them. On the other hand, Sather finally has made the Rangers full of youth in Madison Square Garden and Hartford. Outside of the Rangers top three paid players, none of their ages are over 28. Now they have to add to another piece (or pieces) with minimal cap space and a CBA with a lot of moving parts that’s coming AFTER the Free Agent signing period. Sather’s toughest test comes in July.
There you have the end of the year wrap up. Fortunately for the fans, there’s other people in place to make decisions. If the public had their way, everyone would go. The New York Daily News did a survey on what players to keep. Somehow Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi & Chris Kreider have a 95% approval rating. Henrik Lundqvist was only a 92% and he’s likely to be bringing home hardware in a month, but everyone from James Dolan to Dancing Larry wants just one Cup for their trophy case.