This will be the final installment of the three-part series here on FNYTSF detailing the rise and fall of our beloved New York Rangers this past season. Each person may have had a different take, but the recurring themes are of hope and pride, given what was accomplished this season. The first part today is written by Brian Harris, my former newspaper editor over at The Stall, when I attended Brookdale Community College. The second is by David Zohn, who has contributed to us before for some articles about the Federal Hockey League, as he works for the New Jersey Outlaws.
“Youth Gone Wild”
by Brian Harris
The 2011/12 New York Rangers season was one that saw the youth movement that the Blueshirts have undergone over the past few seasons begin to truly take form. Ultimately, the loss to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals is a bitter pill to swallow, but if this is beginning of what we as Ranger fans will see from our prized young guns, the sky’s the limit for the next few years.
The thing that should excite every Blueshirt fan is the thought of the team’s nucleus for the next few years with captain Ryan Callahan, defensive cornerstones Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal, Derek Stepan and playoff spark-plug Chris Kreider, who, while doesn’t have a full NHL season under his belt yet, showed the skills and the moxie it takes to be an impact player for the Rangers. Players like Carl Hagelin, Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Anton Stralman, Ryan McDonagh and Stu Bickel further added to the team’s success with the youthful aggression and timely play to supplement Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, who was brought in over the off-season to be that veteran steadfastness that a team like this needs.
Head coach John Tortorella also saw the need to have some sandpaper to go along with his team of young guns, so he brought in Mike Rupp, who along with Brandon Prust, played the tough guy roles of the team well. All of these items, along with having the old reliable in Henrik Lundqvist in net to fall back on if all else fails, led to the Rangers claiming that number one spot in the East after a long season which saw its start not in the Garden or even in North America, but over in Europe.
Starting a season thousands of miles away from home, along with the added pressure of the Winter Classic, would be daunting for most teams but the young Rangers thrived under the pressure with a steely reserve that is usually seen coming from battle-tested veterans. At times, the offense stuttered and puttered along, but the team didn’t slip up one bit, due to the MVP goalie in net or the taskmaster of a coach damned to not let it happen.
Say what you want about Tortorella but his stern but fair hand in guiding this team along was what the doctor ordered. His tenacity will only help the young nucleus of the Rangers grow. The concern I have is that Tortorella won’t be smart enough to realize to ease up a bit and continue to crack whip on this team all day, every day and not realize that a lot of the players on the team have played together for a while and have bought into his way of thinking, along with the intense, kamikaze-like reckless abandon for defense. This is a team that is on its way to making a whole lot of noise in the NHL in the coming years and hopefully the ill-tempered coach and the fan base are smart enough to realize this.
There are some problems to fix along the way, most notably the offense, which even with Richards and Gaborik, looked rather pathetic at times. There is no simple cure for that. They could bring in someone like Zach Parise or Alex Semin which would be an instant help but would also put a cannonball through the team’s chemistry, which is one of the many things that killed the Rick Nash deal. Ultimately, I see the at times, apathetic offense of the Rangers as growing pains, which is something that every young person, or in this case, hockey team goes through, and as players like Hagelin and Kreider get more time under their belts and Callahan grows into his role more, I see the offensive malaise subsiding.
As a whole, the 2011/12 New York Rangers season was one that offered a glimpse into the future, a glimpse that while ended a bit prematurely than fans wanted, was one that gave Blueshirts fans hope that the team of young, hungry talented players we saw out on the ice this year will grow and hopefully make that one last step towards the ultimate prize in all of hockey: the Stanley Cup.
Brian Harris is currently the layout editor for the Rutgers-Newark Observer and was the editor-in-chief of The Stall at Brookdale Community College, where he won a 2010-2011 Brookdale Gold Star Award as well as a 2011-2012 2nd Place Award from the American Scholastic Press Association. You can check out his blog Minoranza Vocale by clicking here.
“Five Positives and Five Negatives to this Rangers Season”
by David Zohn
I like lists. Top 10’s are my favorite. It’s also the easiest way to break down the 2011/12 New York Rangers. With so much going on in one year (European trip, Winter Classic, Playoffs, etc.), it’s hard to talk about everything without some organization. So, I’m going to break down this past season into five positives and five negatives
1. Youth has been served: The Rangers of yesteryear are gone. Although this process has taken quite a few years, the Rangers have moved on from signing mercenaries to fill their teams ranks, and a good farm system has been established. No season has shown this more than the past one, with rookies Carl Hagelin, Stu Bickel and Chris Kreider making names for themselves this year. This Rangers roster featured 15 players that were either drafted by the franchise or started their careers with New York (Girardi, McDonagh, Erixon, Zuccarello, Bickel). Plus, no Ranger has been better all year than Henrik Lundqvist, drafted by the team back in 2000. The Rangers draftees have proven themselves and will continue to get better as their careers progress.
2. Defense: If your team has problems scoring they better have an answer defensively, and no team answered better than the 2011-2012 Rangers. A shot blocking machine with a youthful defense that is emerging as a powerhouse, this past year, two Rangers (McDonagh and Girardi) made the Top Ten in blocked shots during the regular season, and three made it during the post season (Girardi, McDonagh and Callahan). From top to bottom, the Rangers were a team built on shot blocking, sacrificing the body for a defensive advantage. The Rangers were first in the Eastern Conference (4th overall) in letting in the fewest goals against. They may not have had scoring prowess, but they sure as hell didn’t let in many goals, either
3. Team Bonding: I remember every year hearing about how important “chemistry” was to a team. It was hard to believe, watching how the Rangers played, how often lines were changed that team chemistry meant anything. I didn’t believe a Rangers team could do it, but this team has bonded. Older vets like Richards and Rupp and young go-getters like Callahan and Staal lead this Rangers team and it has shown how good these leaders are. When Drury led the team and even Jagr, the Rangers had great vet presence but it didn’t seem like they were a full “team”. It was hard pressed to find players being clutch, coming up when the team needed it, but this year’s team scored OT winners, game tying goals, could come back from deficits and win a game (or at least steal a point). HBO’s 24/7 showed how close this team is and there’s nothing that can stop a team that plays hard for each other (except for fatigue).
4. Experience: Although the Rangers lost to a bitter rival in the Eastern Conference Finals, the long playoffs has given many Rangers what they needed: experience. Most of the Rangers players had not been past the 2nd round (which the Rangers have only gotten to three times since the lockout). The Rangers were able to win two series in seven games and lost the 3rd in 6 games. The Rangers got a taste of victory and defeat which will just make the team want to reach the top even more. Experience is the best way to learn, and the Rangers finally got theirs, reaching the Conference Finals for the first time since Gretzky wore a 99-numbered blue jersey.
5. Good to be the King: Henrik Lundqvist just keeps getting better with age. Each year since he started, Lundqvist has won 30+ games (an NHL record). He is fast approaching Mike Richter’s franchise record of 301 wins. This is a player who, if he wins the cup in New York, will be joining Mr. Richter in MSG’s rafters with a number retirement. Hopefully that retirement doesn’t happen for another 11 years.
1. Powerless play: The Rangers powerplay was their Achilles Heel, a weakness that brought the team down and gave more momentum to opposing teams than it did the Rangers. Brad Richards was brought in not only to help the top line but bring power back to the Rangers powerplay. A player who made a living on the point during the man-advantage, Richards couldn’t bring the same magic he had with previous teams. One major problem is the unwillingness to shoot from all players. They seem to be passing the burden to another player, and God forbid, they try a one-timer. Del Zotto, who is supposed to be a puck moving, offensive defenseman did no damage on the PP. Shots that could be read by any defender and an inability to keep the puck in from the point is how the Rangers powerplay failed miserably all year.
2. Scoring: As a whole, scoring was inept for the Rangers. The Rangers scored five or more goals six times all season (five goals five times and six goals once) and many Rangers victories in the playoffs came from one goal victories. The Rangers did try to add to the offense by inquiring about Rick Nash during the trade deadline (the asking price ended up being too high) and were not able to add anything else through a trade. This left the Rangers with a low scoring team. The playoffs may have gone very differently had the Rangers been able to, or had the ability, to score one more goal in each of their games.
3. Tortorella: Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy, but the he was outcoached in the playoffs. I can’t really blame him personally for the 3rd round against the Devils, the Rangers were simply exhausted, but the 1st two series could have gone a lot better. Tortorella has his favorites, and damn him if they don’t get the most chances. When John Mitchell and Mike Rupp are out during the dying minutes of a one goal game in the 3rd period, something is wrong. Tortorella often let his emotions and personal biases get in the way. Gaborik benched in a game where the Rangers need to score is not a good idea. The playoffs are not the time to be teaching lessons.
4. Brandon Dubinsky: I can do a whole article on Dubinsky but I’ll focus only on this past season. A player who had just received a four year, $16 million deal failed to live up to the raise, scoring 10 goals and 24 assists for 34 points in 77 games. He showed no intelligence on the offensive side on the puck, throwing blind passes and losing the puck constantly in the offensive zone. Many I have talked to bring up his defensive play, which was good, but he does not do much more than what any of the Rangers forwards are already able to do. Dubinsky is not a well-rounded player and had the benefit of empty net goals in years past to pad his stats. He’s a 3rd line grinder at best, and the Rangers would do much better in trading him
5. Tired: I can’t really blame the Rangers for this one, it would be unfair, but it definitely had an effect on this team in a negative way. With a start in Europe, starting the season on the road, the Winter Classic, 24/7, and a long playoffs exhausted this team. It was one of the factors that led them to lose against the Devils in the Conference Finals. With more MSG renovations coming, the team will start the 2012-2013 season on a long road trip. This can’t be good for the team mentally, and I’m sure it’s an exhausting for the players personal lives as well.
That’s my take on the 201102012 New York Rangers. It was a fun ride and a treat to see a 1st place Rangers team that was able to go pretty far in the playoffs. I’m greatly looking forward to the draft and free agency, and I’m sure my fellow Ranger fans are as well. Here’s hoping 2013 ends in mid-June with a Cup being hoisted by Ryan Callahan.