This second installment comes from our “On the Rink with Gootz” columnist Chris Hoeler, who I thank for helping me out with some additional hockey coverage this season. This article is titled, “A Step in the Right Direction”. Enjoy.
There was a scramble in front of the net as the puck bounced around, and it disappeared under Henrik Lundqvist and then reappeared on the stick of Adam Henrique. Just like that, the 2011/12 season for the New York Rangers ended as the New Jersey Devils and their fans celebrated their ticket being punched to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Los Angeles Kings. On the other side of the spectrum, the Rangers and their fans sat feeling like they had been punched in the stomach. That is the feeling you always get when your team’s season ends.
But while the pain slowly ebbs away there was so much this team did that fans can look back on. While the trip to Europe to start the season was only a few months ago, it seems like years considering how much this team developed together. One example is Ryan McDonagh, who went from a young player looking to solidify his position on the team to a top defenseman going up against the best players. Another is Dan Girardi who went from having to fill a concussed Marc Staal’s shoes to making the All-Star Team.
Other big steps occurred as some of the young players on the team showed resilience and development despite team struggles. Carl Hagelin entered the scene and made an immediate impact on the Ranger offensive attack by adding the dynamic of speed and tenacity on the puck. Brian Boyle showed his worth away from the puck emerging as one of the faceoff leaders on the team and a responsible two-way player. Then Chris Kreider entered the picture and, despite some defensive lapses that are expected from a young player, gave fans a glimpse of the possible future the team has. Other players who took steps in the right direction include Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto.
On the back-end, Henrik Lundqvist is up for the Hart Trophy and the Vezina after a stellar regular season. In terms of the post season, he went further than he ever has before which could be considered a big step. It is up to him to keep on developing as a goaltender and be a goalie that is capable of winning a championship in the NHL.
Organizationally, there was a major step and a realization by all that the philosophy has changed. Despite offers being made for a Rick Nash and Columbus asking more, GM Glen Sather stopped and did not trade the farm away for a star as was done in the past. The only change at the trade deadline was adding John Scott to the mix, which was almost a non-move. It showed the kind of faith and belief there is in the assets of the organization and where they can go.
Obviously, this year was not all unicorns and rainbows. Offensive consistency was a problem, a major cog to that being the power play. While the team seemed resilient, they lacked the killer instinct that is needed when in the playoffs and when considered one of the best teams in the league. There were multiple times where the first two rounds the Rangers went through could have been much shorter than they needed to be. Maybe that would have been the difference when going up against the Devils in the conference finals.
But the season is over and its now time to fill with anticipation, to keep an eye on the offseason moves the Rangers will make. This offseason is not shaping up to be as busy as last year, but you never know what can happen in Ranger Land. Brandon Prust, Steve Eminger, and Ruslan Fedotenko are unrestricted free agents while Michael Del Zotto, Mats Zuccarello, and Anton Stralman are the key restricted free agents. Who stays and who goes will be determined over the next few months as well as if any new faces will be joining the organization at events such as the draft or during free agency on July 1st…or even more important if there will be a season next year as the CBA is set to expire. I would lean towards yes that there will be.
The year was a step in the right direction and this is coming from a Negative Nancy. No one thought the Rangers would have ended up where they did at the beginning of the season. Certainly getting to this point is an achievement but as John Tortorella outlined after the game six loss, it is no reason to get a pat on the back and stop with trying to achieve the ultimate goal. After working for a team that almost did achieve the goal of winning the championship, it only provides motivation for next year. The players, coaches, and management are not going to lose sight of what is a possibility. But it will take more than they did this year. No one can become complacent…and I highly doubt anyone will.
To read part one, by Greg Caggiano, click here.
Chris Hoeler also serves as the Assistant Director of Player Personnel for the Danbury Whalers of the Federal Hockey League.