John Tortorella was a deserving Jack Adams Award finalist in 2011-2012 because he squeezed every ounce out of an under-talented, overachieving group. The Rangers made it to within two games of the Stanley Cup Finals well ahead of their anticipated window for contention because Tortorella got virtually every soldier on the roster to buy into the Black & Blueshirts mentality. It was a tremendous achievement, but in the end it still fell well short of the ultimate goal.
So rather than continuing forward with a group that simply didn’t have the firepower to go all the way, the Rangers spent the offseason upgrading their skill. Rick Nash was the big prize, but it could be argued that both Taylor Pyatt and Arron Asham have been upgrades offensively as well. The influx of youngsters like Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Christian Thomas has only continued the organization down that path.
The early results this season have been disappointing. The Rangers are floundering outside the playoff picture and haven’t done a very good job convincing uneasy fans that they’re capable of turning it around. But as we’ve continued to preach here at BSB, it’s still very early, even in a shortened season. The Rangers remain just a single point out of eighth place (with a game in hand) and have 31 games left to make it up. The team can’t do much about its mounting injuries and if that trend continues, then the season just might be lost. But it’s just too early to say that, especially without knowing the actual conditions of Nash, Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh.
Is the team “softer” than it was a year ago? Probably, yes. But that’s the tradeoff. Things haven’t gelled quite yet, but remember that there are four new veteran forwards on board that didn’t have the benefit of a Tortorella training camp to learn exactly how this team plays. Darroll Powe has had even less time to adjust as a midseason addition, while the youngsters are in over their heads to begin with and are learning on the fly. It’s possible that there’s just been too much overhaul and New York won’t be able to get its act together in time to make a Cup run this year.
But it’s still way too early to jump to that conclusion, especially given the injuries that have plagued the team. The key fact remains, this is a much more skilled team. The new additions have actually been some of the team’s better players; it’s up to guys like Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan to start producing. The goals will come, there’s just too much talent on the roster for that not to happen. The same couldn’t be said for last year’s group. That team was a joy to watch every night, but it didn’t have the ceiling the 2013 Rangers have. Again, they may not get it all figured out this season, but if they do, there’s still a chance for a better ending than last year.