In the previous part of the series, the Nashville Predators and their consistent mediocrity were discussed. Today, we review a team that has a lot more financial resources than Nashville. However, they have been on the same type of treadmill where they are not moving any closer to a championship team. Unlike the Predators, the Rangers have the talent to compete for the Cup, but do not seem to be able to put the pieces together.
The New York Rangers are a team that has a lot of nice parts. From the top the franchise is run by Glen Sather who led the Edmonton Oilers to five Stanley Cups as their GM. Coaching the Rangers is John Tortorella, who won a Stanley Cup as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. On the ice, the Rangers have a franchise goaltender, a couple of solid defenseman and good group of forwards. Despite all of that going for them, the Rangers continue to struggle just to make the playoffs. One has to wonder if the players the Rangers have are a good fit, or if this is the NHL Land of Misfit Toys.
The Rangers best player is goaltender Henrik Lundquist. The 28 year old netminder was spectacular again last season winning 36 games with 2.28 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. If Lundquist was playing for the Sharks, Capitals or Kings, they would be instantly considered the Stanley Cup favorite. The downside is that the Rangers have played King Henrik an average of 71 games in the last six seasons. This has in the past left him fatigued come playoff time and he has not been able to steal a series for the Rangers in that time.
In front of Lundquist, the Rangers have two pillars of defensive strength in Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Although neither player is a major offensive threat, both of them are shutdown defenseman who averaged over 24 minutes a game. These ice time numbers went up in the playoffs and both players appeared to be tired during their series with Washington.
Up front, the Rangers had a balanced scoring attack with five different forwards who scored at least 20 goals. Brandon Dubinsky led the team at both ends of the ice with great two way play and tallying a team high 24 goals and 54 points. New captain Ryan Callahan brought leadership and added 23 goals and 48 points. Derek Stepan and Brian Boyle also emerged last year as each of them scored 21 goals.
Marian Gaborik was expected to be the centerpiece of the Rangers offense. In an off season for him, he had only 22 goals and 48 points. When healthy, Gaborik is a player who has skills to match the best in the game. Injuries have dogged him throughout his career as Gaborik has played in only 138 out of a possible 164 games as a Ranger.
Gaborik has never had the opportunity to play with an elite center. His ability to shoot and work his way open for shots would be optimized with a true playmaker. The Rangers attempted to fix that when they signed forward Brad Richards this summer to a nine year $60 million deal. Richards is a very good player and his playmaking skills are his strength. At Tampa under Tortorella, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Richards can be counted on for being a point a game player.
Adding Richards to a group that includes Lundquist, Staal, Girardi, Gaborik and a solid group of forwards could place the Rangers in the upper echelon in the Eastern Conference. However, I have my doubts that this team will pull that off. There does not seem to be any plan to limit the workload of either Staal or Girardi. Since neither one of them are offensive defenseman, they are not playing a lot of power play time. This means that those 20 plus minutes a night are being played against players like Ovechkin, Crosby and Stamkos. Marc Staal is currently sitting out the pre-season due to post concussion symptoms. If Staal is unable to play, Girardi will be stretched even farther than he currently is.
Then there is the question upfront. If Gaborik is going to be at his best, he needs to be 1) healthy and 2) paired with a player like Richards. History has shown the former to be unlikely which may make the latter moot. If Gaborik does not play a significant number of games, the playmaking skills of Richards may be wasted.
When Tortorella won with Tampa, he rode his stars with large amounts of ice time. Based on his usage of Staal, Girardi, Dubinsky and Callahan, he has repeated that process in New York. The problem is that these players are not at the level that Dan Boyle, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis were when they teamed with Richards to win the Cup.
The Rangers have enough talent to make the playoffs and if they can keep Lundquist well rested, it would not be surprising for them win a series or two. The question that remains to be seen is if Richards the right fit for the Rangers or is he just another misplaced part in this land of misfit hockey players.