I allowed myself to decompress for 24-48 hours after the Rangers season officially ended to talk about what happened. Much like a legendary player being asked to retire when he’s ousted from the playoffs, you have to sift through your emotions before you give an honest assessment of things. 100% agree with Dave that the better team won this series, but ironically, I thought the Rangers were the better team for the most part in Game 7. The game itself was a microcosm of the the Blueshirts season and series: strong to start, treading water in the middle, and plagued by an inability to score and create chances in the end. This team truly gave their all in the final game though, and that makes the sting a bit more bearable. Now that the smoke has cleared, it has become obvious to me (and hopefully all of you) that John Tortorella got the most out of a team that has seemingly zero offensive firepower, and the fact that he got them to claw all the way into the playoffs says a lot about the type of coach he can be for this franchise.
So now that the sting is starting to subside, lets take a look back on the highs and lows of this season, and what’s to come from the 89 games:
-The Blueshirts got off to a fantastic start, going 10-2-1 in the month of October and staking themselves to a huge early lead in the Eastern Conference
-Three players had their numbers retired: Harry Howell (3), Andy Bathgate (9), and Adam Graves (9)
-Tom Renney and his stale style of hockey were finally replaced by John Tortorella’s aggressive attack, making for a much more efficient and relatively exciting Rangers team to watch.
-The Rangers re-acquired Sean Avery off waivers from the Dallas Stars, adding the edge that the team needed down the stretch.
-Henrik Lundqvist gave no doubt to the fact that he is easily one of the top 3 goalies in the world today
-After falling out of the playoff picture in late February/early March, the Rangers made a remarkable turn around, headlined by John Tortorella’s coaching, to finish 7th in the Eastern Conference standings. The team had several key wins down the stretch to jump into the playoffs.
-Nik Antropov and Derek Morris were acquired via trade at the deadline, and provided some size and stability to their respective positions.
-The combination of Blair Betts and Frederik Sjostrom (throw Hank in there if you’d like) emerged as the best penalty killing unit in the NHL.
-While maybe not necessarily a high, Markus Naslund provided exactly what was expected of him: a 20-25 goal season and consistency up front.
-The start of 2009 brough no joy to the Rangers, as they started to collapse under the Tom Renney regime. The low-point was highlighted by a 10-2 drubbing at the hands of the Dallas Stars, and ultimately would signify the end of the Renney era.
-The tragic death of top-tier prospect Alexei Cherapanov cast a shadow over the Rangers future.
-Nikolai Zherdev’s did not provide the 30+ goal output that many believed it would, and the youngster crumbled in his first post-season
-The offseason acquistion of Wade Redden was nothing but a complete disaster.
- Michael Roszival’s absurd contract extension (mainly its length) is beginning to rear its ugly head, and the combination of Redden and Roszival’s salaries and contract length will plague this franchise for years to come.
-The power-play never amounted to anything, under both coaches, and has been the most pressing issue since the lockout ended.
-An inability to provide consistent offense or any offensive threat whatsoever doomed this team as the season progressed
-Leading 3-1 in their opening round playoff series, the Blueshirts fell apart when it mattered most, a series headlined by the suspension of John Tortorella for Game 6
-Versus continues to cover the NHL
WHATS TO COME
-Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Lauri Korpikoski, Sean Avery, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi will be the core of this team under the John Tortorella regime. The new coach must also find the right players for his style of play, as it became obvious that the current group cannot provide the type of play Tortorella would like to play.
-Blair Betts, Frederik Sjostrom, Colton Orr, and Nik Antropov MUST be re-signed. Betts and Sjostrom combine to be the best PK tandem and 4th line in the league. Orr is the best fighter in the NHL, and you still need at least one of them on your team. Antropov provides much needed size and scoring touch going forward.
-Markus Naslund, with only one-year remaining, should be dealt somewhere. The aging forward, once considered the best two-way player in the NHL, did not thrive in Tortorella’s system.
-Time for Scott Gomez and Chris Drury to finally step up and take the reigns as the elder statesmen on this team. The honeymoon is over boys.
-Say goodbye to Paul Mara (regretably), Nik Zherdev, and Derek Morris. In addition, Sather must find a way to part ways with either Redden or Roszival, either through a buy-out or trade.
-Its time for the Rangers projects and farm system to step-up and become elite players in the league. This includes players currently on the team (who have now played in enough tight playoff series) and players in their farm system (who up until this point have done nothing but be talked about). History shows that free-agent/trade acquisitions don’t do it for this team, and the home-grown talent must finally rise to the top.
-If they are going to keep him for the next 3 seasons, the organization must get on the league’s case about the officiating bias towards Sean Avery. While he is no saint, the abuse this guy takes on a nightly basis is absolutely absurd. Game 7 was just an example. Generally speaking, the officiating around the league in general must change, as these ticky-tack calls are making even the most die-hard hockey fan’s head spin.
-While no fault falls on him, Henrik Lundqvist must find a way to be better than spectacular come playoff time. I’m talking god-like, all the time. If you want to know what I’m looking for, see Giguere for the Ducks and Khabibulin for the Lightning.
-The power-play can no longer be the Achilles heel of this team. Either through someone currently on the team stepping up or by acquiring someone via free agency or trade that can FINALLY do it themselves, the Rangers must learn to capitalize on the opportunities provided.
-Whatever the makeup of this team comes to be, they have to find a way to be consistently good all season long. The continuous ebb and flow of the Rangers the past few seasons has come back to haunt them in the playoffs, as the lack of home-ice advantage has made things very difficult.
Whew. I’m sure there are plenty of things here that plenty of you agree/disagree with. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of things that I missed and will think about later. It was a crazy season for so many reasons, and to try to cover it all would take weeks and months. I’d like to hear about what you all have to say about the Rangers season, and what you think should/shouldn’t happen as the organization moves forward. Either way, this has been a very enjoyable experience, and I’m looking forward to adding thoughts and insight to a team I love so much.