Optimism over the state of the Rangers hasn’t been this high in over a decade, so fans are understandably spending much of their time brainstorming different scenarios that could put New York over the top in 2012-2013.
The Blueshirts were just two wins away from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance last season, so there’s reason to believe that just a couple improvements could be the difference.
However, we should all recognize that New York is way ahead of schedule and that the young club overachieved last season. There’s no doubt that this is a very talented group with an extremely bright future, but the baby Rangers aren’t the only young team that shocked the league over the course of the last half-decade.
And while many of those teams did continue to grow together and became perennial powerhouses, it’s been a recurring pattern that young teams often take a step back after their surprising playoff runs.
- After their Stanley Cup victory in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks were forced to part with much of their supporting cast and tumbled to an eighth-seed in the Western Conference in 2010-2011. Chicago was eliminated by Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs.
- In 2009-2010, the Colorado Avalanche rode a wave of fresh young talent led by third-overall pick Matt Duchene to a 95-point season and an eighth seed, but the Avs finished 14th in the Western Conference with 68 points a year later.
- In 2008-2009, a surprising St. Louis club led by a similar young core to that of the Rangers grinded out a sixth seed in a tough conference but went on to barely miss the playoffs the following season.
- That same year, Columbus earned its first and only playoff berth thanks to a Calder Trophy winning season from rookie netminder Steve Mason. The next season the Jackets fell to 14th in the Western Conference.
Columbus and Colorado were both flukes and didn’t possess enough talent to be annual playoff threats while Chicago and St. Louis quickly established themselves as legitimate contenders. New York appears to be in the mold of the latter two, but these examples serve as cautions that even young teams poised to establish themselves as fixtures among the elite of the NHL can suffer hiccups along the way.
New York boasts an excellent coach in John Tortorella, a Vezina Trophy winning goalie and a very hungry, team-first group, so the Rangers may not be as susceptible to a second-year dip as some of those other clubs. Maybe a young team like Ottawa will be the latest example of that trend.
But even if the Blueshirts disappoint a bit in the second year of this new era, it shouldn’t be terribly alarming. Ups and downs are part of the maturation process for a young team and aren’t necessarily indicative of the team’s true potential.
Ponying up for a big star is one commonly suggested way to push the team forward, but it may be better to just let the natural progression take its place.