It’s still amazing to think that just a couple of short seasons ago, Mats Zuccarello was toiling away in the KHL because, well, the Rangers didn’t really want him. At best, they were certainly not convinced by him. Fast forward a few years and Zuccarello is absolutely irreplaceable on a club that harbours annual Stanley Cup hopes.
We all saw how the Rangers struggled to generate consistent offense in the playoffs. Zuccarello’s enforced absence early in the playoffs was almost an instant death knell to the team’s hopes of winning the Cup. It shouldn’t have been the case however.
The Rangers had Rick Nash, they had Marty St Louis in position to step up, they had their trio of young centers all entering the playoffs in good form and they had Chris ‘Mr Playoff’ Kreider. But it didn’t work out as intended. St Louis literally played himself out of a new contract and maybe even out of the league. Nash hasn’t ridden himself of his playoffs demons. So what does it all mean?
For those of you that missed it, the Rangers announced their preseason schedule this week. If you’re into meaningless hockey games, played at a half pace, in half empty arenas you’ll be excited. If you get turned on by watching prospects duke it out for a roster spot you’ll be excited. Or, if you’re just glad that hockey is back on the ice, you’ll be delighted.
The Rangers play a pair of games against the Devils, with the Devils visiting the Garden on September 21st, and the Rangers in Jersey on the 26th. The Rangers also play two games against the always pleasant Flyers (22nd and 28th September) and take on the Bruins twice as well (Sept. 24th and 30th).
Expect the regular season schedule next week. Which means I have plenty of advanced notice to schedule my next New York trip…
It’s truly unfortunate timing that Rangers goalie prospect McKenzie Skapski is going to be sidelined for almost half a year. Skapski had perhaps unexpectedly established himself as a legitimate NHL prospect this season. He did so by first making a solid, if not excellent start to life in the AHL with the Wolf Pack then built on that with an impressive cameo in the NHL while Henrik Lundqvist was shelved. Now, Skapski is injured.
Skapski is young and he’ll return. His injury may have cost him a regular back up gig at the NHL level this coming season but then again, wouldn’t he be best served with 40-50 starts at the AHL level? Indeed, Skapski’s injury shouldn’t in any way alter the Rangers plans to actively shop or ‘listen’ to offers for Cam Talbot. The free agent goaltending market this coming season will be awash with short term options for a backup, a position that would only cost the Rangers dollars and no assets. Talbot is replaceable (Sorry Cam).
I started writing this when the Rangers were down 2 games to 1 to the Capitals but didn’t post it. Fast forward a month. I believe what I was trying to write several weeks ago – even as the Rangers were one good period away from the Stanley Cup final – still rings true so the opinion hasn’t changed. The Rangers are a great team, have a good roster and have some talent coming through the ranks but for me, there remains one major issue that needs addressing this summer.
This isn’t about skill and it isn’t about depth. It certainly isn’t about goaltending and with one of the best coaches in recent times, it’s not about the Head Coach either. No, the Rangers have a lot going for them even as they enter the offseason after a hugely disappointing end to their season (based on the expectations that had arisen). The Rangers are missing something much different. Ironically this team lacks a player – or two – in the Brandon Dubinsky mould.
Some times pain lingers. But we’re back. Now that the hockey season is over (how many of you truly care who wins out of Tampa and Chicago?) it’s time to look at what went wrong for the Rangers, to discuss where the team goes from here and of course to discuss what went right. We’ll give praise where it’s deserved and there’s a lot of praise to dole out on the back of a historically good season. A hugely disappointing ending doesn’t make all the good disappear and we think we’re a rational bunch on this site. So stay the course.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss the draft, free agency, take a look at the roster and we’ll give you grades for the season, on every aspect of the team from Sather to Talbot. If you have any specific requests on what you want us to look at or discuss, let us know in the comments. We try and listen to you guys as much as we can (the rational ones anyway) so let us have it.
It starts today. I’ll have a look at what I think is THE most glaring omission from the roster, right now. Check back later today and of course, over the next few weeks for all your Rangers analysis. Gracias folks.
It’s easy to get lost in the playoffs when games come thick and fast but there’s been a few other things going on in Ranger-land aside from the absorbing Tampa – Rangers series. Shocking I know. Let’s have a quick catch up.
Glen Sather was nominated for the GM of the year award this week. Deservedly so. The Rangers have played the most playoff games (73) in a four year stretch and this is the third year in that period they’ve gone to at least the Conference finals. Sather has his faults (a lot of them) but he’s done a great job in recent years, perhaps none more recently than this year that included the Presidents Trophy.
Chris Kreider still isn’t perfect. He still has a lot of growing to do, he takes himself out of plays looking for (but often finding) big hits and until recently, many fans and media alike have demanded more consistency from a player who literally has everything in his tool kit. Hell, Kreider takes too many penalties and isn’t exactly Selke material in his own zone either. In short, there are warts to his game.
The Rangers evened the series against the Lightning with a gusty albeit imperfect win. They were shaky at the back, had to over rely on a brilliant Henrik Lundqvist and will have been delighted that Rick Nash had a breakout offensive performance but one thing is becoming more regular for the Rangers in the playoffs and that’s the development of Kreider.
It’s a good job Rick Nash gets paid a boat load of money because he’s having to put up with a lot of criticism since the playoffs began. Once again, the Rangers play their biggest game of the season in Tampa Bay tonight, looking to right the many wrongs of the game two stinker. A considerable amount of scrutiny will face Nash as the Rangers have now arrived at the point where good performances, great two-way play and timely assists from Nash are no longer enough. His lack of goals have surely become a major distraction and are now the elephant in the room. Win or loss.
Nash has to score. He has to score because the media demand it, the Rangers need it and because everyone know Tampa have the offence to score at will. Not helping Nash is the fact that Tampa’s superstar Steven Stamkos has found his game after a difficult start to the playoffs and Tyler (undrafted) Johnson has dominated the playoffs and has been an absolute beast against the Rangers. Given Nash’s 42 goal season, coupled with his seemingly annual playoff regression, seeing the opponents’ most important goal scorers raise their games at the most critical moments will be particularly jarring for Nash and fodder for the mob who are happy to criticise Nash.
It’s easy to write positively about an individual when that player has just scored an enormous, game winning goal in the biggest game of the season to date. However, since returning to the Rangers Dominic Moore has been absolutely everything the Rangers could have hoped for and more. He has been an example to the younger players, he’s been a defensive rock, a rare shining light at face-offs for a team so inept at them and he has been unexpectedly productive, particularly when games have mattered most. All this for the comparatively bargain $1.5m per year. In many ways Dominic Moore is the ideal bottom six role player.
We can break down Moore’s production (27 points, in a primarily defensive role) and discuss the penalty kill influence and face-off efficiencies he has but perhaps the biggest advantage of having Moore in the line-up has yet to be felt. While Moore is a veteran at 34 he is not long in the tooth and the Rangers have at least one more year of Moore as it currently stands. Moore’s presence in the line-up, his unquestioned work ethic and his ability to lead by example may be keenly felt for the remainder of this playoff run but also beyond this season.
With the Rangers stunning victory over the Capitals now in the history books, attention will now turn to the Eastern Conference finals and opponents Rangers South Tampa Bay. There’ll be a more thorough look ahead to the ECF over the next couple days but let’s throw up some quick hits about the matchup with the high octane Lightning.
The Rangers can’t progress past the Lightning if they play the way they did against the Caps. The Rangers never-give-up attitude was admirable, their play at times impressive but individual errors, inconsistency and a lack of a 60 minute effort in any of the seven games against the Caps will be more ruthlessly punished against Tampa.
Somehow the Rangers managed to outlast Braden Holtby. That was after they ran into a hot goalie in Marc Andre Fleury in round one. It begs the question, are the Rangers struggling to finish or have they really faced two exceptional goalies on a hot streak? Where does Ben Bishop sit amongst opposing goaltenders?