Rangers Analysis: When Is The Right Time To Panic?

RALEIGH NC - JANUARY 29: Derek Stepan #21 of the New York Rangers shoots on Henrik Lundqvist #30 of New York Rangers in the elimination shootout during the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition part of 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend at the RBC Center on January 29 2011 in Raleigh North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

We are Ranger fans. It's probably in our DNA to assume the worst. And who can blame us? 

But with the Rangers going 3-7-1 in their last 11 games, is it actually time to panic? 

It's a tough question to ask, there's no doubt about that, but it has some merit. If the Rangers recent 10-game self-destruct act has proven anything it's that this team has massive flaws. Flaws so great that they might not even be a playoff team. That's a much different picture than the one we were painting back in January.

And yet, are you surprised?

This Rangers team was never built to win the Stanley Cup this year. This Rangers team was the foundation, the first building blocks laid down for a future Stanley Cup team to vault off of. This was the team filled with young talent who were going to take a year or two to earn their stripes and then step up to the show.

This was the year we are supposed to turn to our friends and say "THAT was the turning point, that's where it all began" as we watch Derek Stepan raise the Stanley Cup over his head beaming from ear to ear. This is the season that is supposed to change the way the Rangers have been run. 

And you know what? Thus far, it has been. 

The Rangers brass has had multiple opportunities to unload draft picks and prospects (or even youth) for veterans. Plenty of them were on the market, and plenty have already been moved. But the Rangers have stuck to their "letting the youth grow" guns all year. 

Join me after the jump for more. 

Just look at Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Marc Staal. Those are the three young-guns that survived the Rangers "we're kind of going with youth but not really" segment, and that's exactly what happened to them. The ideology worked. 

It took Dubinsky two full years of "wow if this kid can ever put it together he'll be great" before he broke out with 20 goals and added 24 assists for 44 points in 69 games last season. This season it's more of the same with Dubinsky already notching 19 goals 24 assists for 43 points in 56 games. 

It's a smilar story with Callahan. Callahan spent two seasons in limbo (in and out of Hartford) before he scored 22 goals and added 18 assists for 40 points in 81 games in 2008-2009. He went on to score 19 goals (18 assists) in 2009-2010, and already has 16 goals (and 15 assists) in 42 games so far this season. 

Staal was a star from the moment he walked onto the ice, so he doesn't exactly fit in this "growing" mold. But the point is there. The Rangers allowed these three players to grow, they gave them ice time and chances even if their confidence wavered and their play suffered. 

Thankfully, we're seeing the Rangers do this with their youth right now. 

John Tortorella stuck with Stepan despite his 15-game slump at the beginning of the season. A slump which had him playing so invisible at times that you needed the official starting roster to confirm that he even played. But Tortorella stuck with the top-flight rookie, gave him his ice time and Stepan fought through the storm and is now an integral part of this Rangers team (and for many Rangers' teams to come). 

We saw Mats Zuccarello have a tough start in Connecticut, find his game at the AHL level and then get called up to the big club. Zuccarello struggled in the early going--then after about six games--settled in, and is now another huge part of this Rangers team. He's struggled the past few games or so, but his attitude is still as good as it can be, and one would expect that he'll snap out of his slump soon enough. 

Ryan McDonagh didn't make the team out of camp, worked his butt off in Connecticut, and came up to the Rangers 21 games ago. For the first two games, he looked shaky and seemed poised to be sent back down. But Tortorella stuck to the rookie defenseman, and now he might actually be considered a staple on the defensive side of things. 

We're looking at the inner mechanisms of the strategy on a daily basis with Michael Del Zotto, especially when the Rangers elected to keep him up rather then send him down to the AHL, even though his game isn't where the team wants it to be yet. And while Del Zotto, who is having the definition of a "sophomore slump" is playing a bad brand of hockey right now, he's learning under fire.

Sure, his game might improve at the AHL, but he might lose even more confidence if he's sent down, and half the battle of the NHL is mental. The Rangers are currently running one of (if not the) youngest defensive corps in the NHL. Mistakes are going to happen. His play has been bad, there's no getting around that, but if Del Zotto can fight a way to fight through this, nothing will be impossible for him to accomplish. This would be the biggest hurdle on the road to a fantastic career. 

And then who can forget Michael Sauer? His story is overlooked often, simply because he's blended into the defense so well that you would have thought he's been starting for the Rangers for years. Sauer was drafted in the second round way back in 2005. He saw just three NHL games in his five seasons before this year. He was talked about as a "throwaway" in every trade under the sun for the past two years, and not many (myself included) ever expected him to make the team this year. But the Rangers waited patiently for him while he found his game in the AHL and now he's leading the team with a +10 rating, and is playing  17 minutes a night. 

That's how teams see who earns their stripes, and who is slowing the group down. 

What does any of this have to do with panicking? Everything. 

Don't panic. That's the point. Even if this season falls into the abyss and the Rangers miss the playoffs, this team is astoundingly better then the teams of the past. This is a team that, if you made no changes, would literally get better and better for the next three years if for no other reason that the youth is learning the game and is starting to make an impact. 

You've seen the Rangers employ this strategy with their acquisitions of Brandon Prust and Wojtek Wolski. I would add Matt Gilroy to this list, but it doesn't seem like he's in the Rangers plans.  

Any way you slice it this season has gone in the right direction. Hopefully we'll get another boost of confidence in that department after the trade deadline. 

Thoughts guys? The floor is yours. 

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