With a little over a week before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the
New York Rangers. The Rangers finally took the step from competitive team to Stanley Cup contenders, though the season was not without its share of suspenseful moments. However, at the end of the year, only one team can win the Stanley Cup, and last year, the Rangers fell just short. Now the New York Rangers are looking to go above and beyond their performance last season in the hopes that it leads to hockey’s ultimate prize.
Last season – New York had an embarrassing start to the season, and certainly not one many would expect from a team that has consistently made the playoffs of late. Early in the season, the Rangers lost games. They lost badly and often. Their preseason schedule saw the team lose five out of the six games on schedule, allowing 22 goals against in those six games. Though the organization hoped that the preseason play would not carry into the regular season, that was not the case.
Due to renovations at Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers started their first nine games of the season on the road, winning only three of them. Most concerning in the losses was the play of their long-time starting goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has been the definition of consistency in his long career, but in October, he was a big reason why the team racked up so many losses.
Luckily for the Lundqvist and the Rangers, they eventually found their game again. Though they started 2014 with a .500 record, the second half of the season brought the team back into the playoff picture. From January 1 onward, the Rangers had a 25-12-4 record, good enough to finish the regular season second in the Metropolitan division.
The New York Rangers had a very long road to the Stanley Cup Finals. After two seven-game series against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York defeated the Montreal Canadiens in six games to face off against the Los Angeles Kings for the Cup. However, the Kings proved to be the team of destiny that year, defeating the Rangers in five games. However, New York can take solace in the fact that three of those games were in OT, giving the impression that a bounce or two in their favor could have shifted the direction of the series.
The Offseason – Despite the high finish last year, the New York Rangers saw a surprisingly high amount of turnover in the offseason. Some were the result of players cashing in on being a part of a Stanley Cup finalist, while others were the result of the Rangers organization admitting their mistake.
One of the first moves New York made in the offseason was the compliance buyout of Brad Richards. The Rangers signed Richards to a nine-year, $58.5 million contract only a few seasons ago, but he was never able to find the same chemistry with head coach John Tortorella that he did when they both won the Stanley Cup as a part of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization in 2004. After a disappearing act in last year’s playoffs, the team had very little choice but to buyout the center.
Big bruising forward Brian Boyle also left the Rangers, opting to sign a three-year, $6 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Boyle was part of a versatile bottom 6 for New York, who could be physical when asked and could chip in the offense as well. Though he was never a core player for the Rangers, he served as a very good complimentary piece that New York may regret letting go.
The biggest acquisition of the offseason for New York was defenseman Dan Boyle. A two-year, $9 million contract may seem high for a player who is rapidly approaching the end of his career, but the offense he provides has remained consistent, and his ability to run the powerplay efficiently should be a great asset to New York. More importantly, Boyle could fill the whole in the lineup that was created with Anton Stralman signed with the Lightning this summer.
What to Watch for Next Season – The one flaw in the New York Rangers’ season last year was their slow start. If it were not for the fact that the entire Metropolitan division had similar poor starts, the Rangers may have been out of the picture before their surge in January. The players know that the team will need to have a much better start this year.
“We need to reach our full potential as soon as we can. Last year we put ourselves in a bad start by having a tough start,” Lundqvist said. “At the same time, it shows it is a process and it’s not a sprint going into the season. You need to get things working, you need to work on your consistency, but also get your top level up. Once we were in [the playoffs], we just peaked at the right time.”
New York will face a big challenge if they want to have a quick start out of the gate. Center Derek Stepan fractured his fibula while participating in the Rangers’ conditioning camp, which is expected to keep him out four to six weeks. The injury hits New York’s weakest position, depth-wise, so the team could struggle early on as they try and find a player (or a combination of players) that can replace what Stepan brought to the ice.
New York had one of the league’s best penalty kills last year, but their powerplay was unusually average for a Cup contender. Theoretically, Dan Boyle should improve their powerplay, and the development of young defenseman Ryan McDonagh should be an asset as well. On the forward corps, a full season of Marty St. Louis could also provide a boost to their average powerplay.
The Rangers finished last season just short of the Stanley Cup. Over the course of a season, many things could be pointed to as the reason why they made it as far as they did or why they fell short. However, the past is in the past, and the New York Rangers are focused on going above and beyond this season to reach hockey’s ultimate prize.
Tomorrow, 30 in 30 and the Guardian Liberty Voice will look at the inconsistent Ottawa Senators. Yesterday, the New York Islanders‘ final season in Long Island was analyzed.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
Photo Courtesy of Derrick Bostrom -Creativecommons License