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Post Mortem: The 2011-2012 New York Rangers

I have to apologize for this being a bit tardy. The loss to the Devils stung, and it took me a bit to write this objectively. 

So here we are. It’s late May, and the Rangers playoff run has come to an end. No matter how much a bitter fan wants to spin it, this was a miraculous season. The Rangers simply were not supposed to be this good so early. I had them penciled in to make this run next year, after a full year of Chris Kreider, and after kids like Michael Del Zotto and Derek Stepan got some years under their belts. But this year? Total shock, and a great ride.

But with that great ride came expectations. Ottawa was a tough draw, but if the Rangers can get past them, then the rest should be a breeze. After all, the Bruins were gone and the Penguins were gone. Those were the only two teams that had a realistic shot at beating the Rangers, right? Even the Caps were a tough draw, but the Rangers were just better.

Peter Deboer made the difference for the Devils. He didn’t necessarily out-coach John Tortorella, but he made the correct adjustments and utilized his club’s outstanding depth to exploit the Rangers’ weaknesses. That was something Ottawa and Washington could not do. The Devils were the deeper team, and the Devils came out on top.

Even still, this is like dealing with the five stages of grief. So let’s walk through my emotions over the past few days.

Denial: The Rangers didn’t just lose to the sixth seeded Devils. That’s impossible. The Rangers are the better team. They even beat them down in fights all year long. Marty is 40 years old. This one is just a bad dream, and I’ll wake up tomorrow knowing it didn’t happen.

Anger: My TV remote might still be embedded into the dry wall.

Bargaining: I’ll do anything to have the opening 10 minutes of Games Five and Six back. All I want is the Rangers to replay those 10 minutes of each game. I’ll give you anything.

Depression: I don’t want to talk about the game. Leave me alone. Go away. It hurts too much.

Acceptance: I’m ready to admit I got to this step fairly quickly, but maybe that’s because I rationalize things way too much in my own head. It’s both a strength and a weakness. But in the end, if you told me in September the Rangers would lose in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals, I would have taken it. This team has flaws, and only a year or two of development can really fill those gaps. This team was supposed to be a bottom-four team in the playoffs, and they were the top seed. That is progress folks.

But here we are in late May, and the loss is still stinging a good portion of the fan base. It happens, and it is what it is. You cannot lead before you follow, and you cannot win before you understand the pain of losing. Sick as it may sound, this loss probably fuels the Rangers for years to come. Too many players who are a part of the long term future of this club experienced this painful defeat. It’s like the 1995 New York Yankees. They exceeded expectations, and lost in heart breaking fashion.

After that, they won four World Series titles in five years, and were two Mariano Rivera blown saves away from possibly six titles in a row.

I’m not saying this will happen for the Rangers. After all, the Yankees had multiple Hall of Fame players on those rosters, one of which is the greatest relief pitcher who has ever and will ever live. The Rangers right now have one player of that magnitude in Henrik Lundqvist.

But the pieces are there. Only small roster changes need to be made to tinker with this lineup. Chris Kreider will be in New York for a full year. Dylan McIlrath and J.T. Miller will get long looks at camp. And maybe, just maybe, the Rangers recognized that they need flexibility in their lineup. There is a need for size and speed in the bottom six.

This season showed us that the Rangers are on the rise. The Rangers have finally built a winner from within. Some saw this coming a few years ago, others did not. But everyone was pleasantly surprised for this season. This is far from a lost season. The future is here.

23 Responses to “Post Mortem: The 2011-2012 New York Rangers”

  1. Scully says:

    Dave thank you for speaking rationally to the fan base. I said it the other night, never has it felt so good for me to hurt so bad. People, stop calling for everyone’s heads. Brad Rirchards is a failure, waste and bad signing?!? Are you kidding me! I watched about 80 games this year (f*** you time warner for the other 20 i couldn’t) and we must have been watching a different Brad Richards. I watched the guy who tied the Rangers record for 8 game winning goals.

    The Rangers put the league on notice this year and everyone knows (Penguins included) they’re in for a real dog fight next year. They’re going to be so god-damned hungry all summer and into camp next year (especially… and it really doesn’t matter but especially if the Devils do win the cup). We as fans hurt like hell, but hockey is our love, not our livelihood. For these guys hockey is their love AND livelihood! They were on the cusp of greatness and had it pulled away from them. That’s going to sting them big time all Summer.

    The Rangers were one of the last 3 teams standing this year in a year where many projected them to not get out of the 1st round. There are tweaks that need to be made to the roster and to the defensive zone schemes in my opinion, and if (which is always an if) the young guys (and even the older guys like Callahan, Boyle and Dubinsky… who are still only 26, 28, and 25!) continue their development with another year of playing together under their belts we could be looking at a very scary team. I pray.

    • Scully says:

      Correction… 9, 9 game winning goals.

    • Comnsnse says:

      Scully,age is irrelevant unless talent accompanies it! This organization needs size,strength and more speed.

      • Jackson says:

        I wouldn’t say age is irrelevant here. The youth of this team is precisely why it has such a promising future.

    • Doug Lowenstein says:

      1. Let’s be honest. The Rangers overachieved this season. That is a credit to their work ethic and coaching and belief.
      2) But it would be a mistake to say this team, with only a few tweaks, is Cup ready. I want to believe that. But the fact is they were outplayed good stretches against Ottawa and Washington and other than Periods 2 and 3 of Games 5 and6 they were totally outplayed by Jersey and but for Hank could easily have been bounced in 4 straight. The fact is they were a .500 team from March 1. Could they have won it all? Yes. But if anyone believes this team is toe to toe with a healthy Pitt team, guess again.
      3) Whether players were tired or not is beside the point. The fact is you have to wonder how much wear and tear these bodies can take year in and year out. I believe Torts played this system largely because he knew he had a team short on skill. It is amazing he got so much out of them. But the style played this year is NOT a recipe for long term success. There must be more balance, more ability to sustain offensive pressure, at least one blueliner who can consistently shoot on net with power not the half hearted wristers preferred by our guys. We were lucky no one got hurt blocking all those shots this year but we are living on the edge and it is scary. Torts’ Cup winner in Tampa played gritty but also had speed and a relentless forecheck…kind of like the Devils. We need to evolve into that kind of team.
      4) Stepan disappeared for the last two months but hopefully will still progress; but Anisimov is soft and has a low ceiling. An honest assessment suggests that we are weak up the middle still. That needs to be addressed.
      5) We have some tradeable pieces. Dubie, AA top the list. If we could sign Ryan Suter I would consider moving DelZ. Can we figure out a way to get Florida dman Jason Garrison and his 16 goals, 17 assists who is a UFA?
      6) Even asusming CK is a 20-30 goal guy next year (big IF), we need to get either Parise or Nash. Otherwise, we are going to count on Gabby, CK, Hagelin (also dropped off a ton from mid season), and some of the other unproven kids to provide offense. I say we have to get at least one sniper.

  2. ranger17 says:

    If a player is on the active roster he must be able to play in the NHL , so why would Torts only player 14 of the 18 players only each game . Playuing 3 and 4 min a game is not playing .
    Parise BR Gabby
    Kreider Stepan Hags
    Dubie AA Cally
    Prust Boyle *******
    Staal Sauer
    Girardi McD
    MDZ ********
    Xtra D Stralman and sign someone who can play 12 min a game if needed
    Hope maybe Miller will be ready next year
    Could use someone like Chimera or Penner
    If a trade is needed if we don’t sign Parise . Package Thomas 1st MDZ Dubie . Gabby didn’t have a good playoff but he helped to get us there in the first 82 games . Lastly Kreider needs to bulk up and Hags needs to be able to finish . Nobody said he didn’t show up for the playoffs , good on the fore check but he needs to score if kept on the 1st line

    • Rickyrants13 says:

      Can not have a top six where your only size and checking comes from Parise and Kreider, If Dubi and AA could get their games where they should be. That would be one of the best 3rd lines in the NHL. Where this team went wrong this year was having a 3rd line. Prust,Boyle,Feds. That wouldnt have played on some teams 4th lines. The 4th line should go forward with Prust, Boyle and someone who can out right fly. Adding some speed to the forechecking of Prust and Boyle would give teams fits.

      • Comnsnse says:

        rickyrants,bravo,excellent analysis. Size,strenght and speed. The players you mentioned are not all stars but are necessary ingredients for a long season and playoffs. Sather brought in Rupp for this purpose. A stff,but then again that’s Sather a bigger stiff!

  3. wwpd says:

    to match depth with the devils on the 4th line we could have used faster guy like stephen gionta who is 5’7″? but where would we find a fast 5’7″ right wing?

  4. roadrider says:

    I’ve been a Ranger fan since 1964. I have to admit after the lean years after 1997 when the organization was a mess and the players mostly old, soft and overpaid my interest waned. After the lockout and lost season – well, it was hard for me to get back into hockey much. Sure, I watched the games and was excited when the Rangers made the post-season. But the losses didn’t affect me the way they used to. That changed last year and this year I was back in full 1970s/1908s/1990s mode when the losses made me want to kick in my TV screen.

    That’s the best compliment I can give this Ranger team and organization – they made me care again the way I used to.

    That said, I am not so sure that this year’s run represents the beginning of a sustained period of excellence or portends a Cup win. The sad fact is that Tortorella squeezed all he could out of the 50% of the roster he can actually trust to play the important minutes. The team was far too dependent on an almost superhuman level of physical effort by a handful of players and, of course, goal tending. That’s hard to sustain over an entire season and even harder to sustain in the playoffs. The Rangers’ inability to convert their hard work and puck possession into goals only magnified the problem. They simply had little or no margin for error. It’s easy to jump on Gaborik and Richards but it’s far too easy for opponents to shut them down when there are few other realistic scoring threats.

    Yes, some of this is due to the youth and lack of experience of some of their key younger players. But future development into elite playoff performers is not guaranteed. Derek Stepan, for example, is a marvelously skilled player but he was nearly invisible in the playoffs and it’s not obvious that he has what it takes to get to where he needs to be. The same is true with guys like Hagelin, Anisimov and Del Zotto – they could go either way. It’s unlikely that all of them will make it.

    The bottom line is that I don’t necessarily see a team that is only a few tweaks away from winning a Cup. I see a roster that will probably turn over quite a bit and will need a lot of things to go right in terms of player development in order to just remain a top contender.

    You know the Rangers made the finals in 1972 and it took them 7 years to get back there and then another 15 to get back again and win their only Cup in 72 years. And there’s a lot more parity in the league now, making the playoffs a lot more of a crap shoot than they used to be.

    All I’m hoping for is that “1994” doesn’t replace “1940” as the derisive cheer directed against future Ranger teams. Oh, and that the Islanders and Flyers keep working on their Cup-less streaks.

    • Comnsnse says:

      Roadrider,good post. The hallmark of organizationl excellence in any sport is the ability to adapt and put the right assortment of players in place to be annual contenders. I defy anyone to provide an analysis of this roster and our prospects to suggest this is the case. The fish rots from the head…..Sather’s!

      • roadrider says:

        Thank you for the kind words Comnsnse. I am not a fan of Sather’s but from what I understand Dolan The Younger loves him so he’s probably not going anywhere unless he quits.

        Besides, I doubt that anyone that Cablevision would hire would be much of an improvement. Lou Lamoriello wouldn’t last 15 minutes in the MSG organization.

        If I had one major criticism of Sather this year it would be not obtaining more blue line depth at the deadline considering that Sauer was probably not coming back (which I think they had to know).

  5. Comnsnse says:

    Dave,your comment about a miraculous season is totally accurate. Which is why I fail to see the misguided enthusiasm of many posters suggesting the Rangers will now be perrenial contenders. I disagree with any comparison of the coaches. DeBoer had much more material to work with than Torts. Coaching styles were not an issue in this series. For that please place the blame where it belongs. Squarely on the head of the most overpaid ,unproductive GM in the NHL,Sather! Lamoriello one of the best GM’s ever in hockey went out and got the type of player needed in today’s NHL. Big and strong melding it with talent built through the draft. Once again I await the blog analysis of both the current roster and our “prospects”.

    • The Suit says:

      Comnsnse, we will be analyzing the current roster next week using a letter grade system. Prospects will come in the offseason. Hold tight.

  6. Chris F says:

    Dave, overall I completely agree with the tempered optimism at the core of your post. I, too, honestly believe that this year was an important motivating influence that will help sustain susscess for years to come. The future is indeed very bright for this team.

    On the other hand, I couldn’t help but think during the playoffs that this is the chance, that the Rangers have to reach out and grab the Cup while the opportunity is there. Can we expect another 82 game season next year in which these players can draw on every last ounce of strength and toughness and gut out the necessary wins? Will they have this sort of heart after such a heartbreaking loss? Can we expect guys like Gaborik and Callahan to do as well as they did this year in terms of putting the puck in the net? The way this team plays, can we expect to have core guys like Callahan stay healthy all year? There are a lot if things from this year that must be repeated next year for this team to remain successful.

    Krieder is a gift, and should be a huge asset all year. I expect a full season with Hagelin to pay dividends. But, will Gaborik, Callahan and Richards provide the offense they are now expected to output? Will Callahan stay healthy? Will Hank continue to improve?

    There are big questions remaining as to whether this team can replicate the level of success they managed this year. They were lucky to make it through with only Staal and Sauer sustaining major injuries this year. I hope that luck continues.

  7. Walt says:

    I said the other day that my heart was broken again, and did I mean it!

    This team brought me to the edge of my seat game in, and game out. For some strange reason this teams lose hurt me worse than did the 72 version, with the GAG line, going down to the Bruins in six. Then there was the 79 team, with JD in goal, losing in five against the Canadians. Those teams were fun to watch, but they just were playing against teams that were tougher, talented, meaner, and more willing to take it to you. This team had those ingredients, maybe not the skill level of the 72 team, but they have cast iron balls, what else can you ask for?

    We have a core to work with, and size is a factor that we should take into consideration. The Ducks were big, and tough when they won the cup. We are undersized at many positions. Center was to be our strong point, turns out to not be the case. Dubi plays better at center, but played wing for the entire season. AA played out of position, as did Step, and Boyle at times. Lets settle on who will play what position, and stay with that decision. Torts did a great job this season, considering the lack of real strong talent.

    While at Tampa, he had Vince L, Marty St L, a young BR, and he could do what he did, while here he lacked the top end talent, and had a bunch of work horses that over achieved.

    We do have some great kids that will be around for a long time, and with the addition of two, or three real skilled players, rolling four lines, playing 6 d-men, we could go a long way. This empty feeling in the gut should serve us well with the likes of the way McD, Staal, Hank, took the loss, they won’t forget it, and will play their hearts out next season.

  8. Michael says:

    Everyone seems to agree that the team outplayed expectations this year. My fear is that the team will rely on this year’s success rather than work hard on improving and bringing in some additional talent in order to reach the next level.

    My serious hope is that this team wants to stay together and a lot of guys (esp Hank and the blue line) are willing to take significantly lower than market value paychecks in order to stay together and leave room for someone like Parise to add that last bit of punch. I know it is a long shot, but Parise would be the perfect piece for the Rangers.

  9. Mikeyyy says:

    Not sure if torts makes it another season on the bench. Of all the people outplayed in the devils series…it was our coach. Adam Oates was picking apart our team from the getgo. While he coached the team to tops in the east. The real spot, the real deal was the playoffs.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy…now. But he was out coached not by doboer. But by Oates.

    And if history is doomed to repeat itself….roger Neilson (I think) was fired after having a great record too.

    • roadrider says:

      Wasn’t Neilson fired after they failed to make the playoffs in 92-93?

      • Mikeyyy says:

        Your right my bad. He won the pres trophy the year before then went 1-11 and was sacked.

  10. The Suit says:

    Phenomenal post Dave. Loved the humor and the rationale. Great stuff.