I had one of my half-hockey-fan friends ask me a very interesting question about the Rangers this past weekend that went something along the lines of "How close are the Rangers from contending and/or winning the Stanley Cup?" It was one of those questions where I answered quickly, saying "they are close;" but then refuting my statement by saying "but not really." Over the past couple of days I have wrestled with the question over and over in my head and although I do not have the exact answer as to how close the Rangers are to winning their next Cup, I have concluded that this offseason may make or break the next three to five seasons of contention depending on how bad (let's hope it's a good one) the summer goes.
Since the lockout, the Rangers have been a competitive team season in and season out, finishing with 94 points or higher each season. But in order to contend for the Cup, especially in the post-lockout era, it seems the Rangers need to give a season-long performance similar to the one given in the 2005-2006 season which yielded them 100 points. The past three Cup champions have all finished no lower than 3rd in the league points-wise, and if the Red Wings manage to repeat this season, that will turn to the past four champions. The last team to win the Stanley Cup without eclipsing 100 points was the 1996-1997 Red Wings who finished with 94 points, but in my opinion we will not see that happen for a long time.
So why will this offseason have a say in not only next seasons results but seasons in the future as well? Only 10 Rangers are under contract for next season as I type. I count at least 5 that will most likely be brought back, if not more, and most will be brought back on one or two year deals because of their roles with the team. Along with this, John Tortorella will most likely implement a different system than Tom Renney employed starting from day 1, making this season a definite opportunity to change the teams identity depending on the personnel brought in by GM Glen Sather. But one thing is certain to me; if Glen Sather fails to make smart moves this summer and wastes this opportunity to take a good team and turn them into a great team, then it might be necessary to wipe the slate clean and try a rushed rebuilding process.
Think about it. The Rangers have an elite goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist entering into his prime starting next season and beyond; something that simply cannot be wasted. They also have a handful of solid young players who have come through the system and are ready to take on bigger roles in the likes of Staal, Girardi, Dubinsky, and Callahan. Along with the positives comes the fact that the club has four nearly unmovable contracts in the likes of Gomez, Drury, Redden, and Rozival. Although that is not necessarily a good thing, all four players can still play at a high level. The Rangers have a solid core, and this offseason is about finding the metaphorical icing on the cake if you will.
Look, although it may sound that I'm more worried than excited with what Sather does to this roster over the next three months, it's quite the opposite. The fact of the matter is that the Rangers have their core players for the coming seasons; for better or worse. For Glen Sather, this offseason should be about finding the best players for the least amount of money. Sure, every Ranger fan would love Mike Knuble, Marian Gaborik, and Marian Hossa (a little shot at Joe there), but in all reality they are not the answer if you ask me. This offseason is a very important one because if the Rangers end up with another 6th, 7th, or 8th place finish and an early exit from the playoffs again next season, almost all Ranger fans will be wondering something along the lines of "Now what?" a year from now.