Those are your 1995-1996 New York Rangers. The last Rangers team to have home ice advantage in a playoff series. We keep talking about BUILDING a championship team, but I think a more achievable goal would be having a team that's in the top half of the bracket first. The beauty of the NHL playoffs is that any team CAN make a run. Still, it seems the goal of this "youth movement" isn't just to win a cup, it's to create a perennial contender. I'm not saying you NEED to be a top seed, or have home ice advantage to win it all, instead I'm using it as a measuring stick to see where we stand, now and in the near future against the rest of the league.
Of this years playoff teams the top three seeds (The Capitals, The Flyers, and The Bruins) I'd say the Flyers might be the closest to showing signs of slowing down, although none of those 3 teams has a "core" much older, or more experienced, then our own "core players". Behind them, you have the Pens, who landed a #4 seed, while their two best players (who happen to be two of the best players in the world) spent most of the season on the IR. The #5 seed Tampa Bay Lightning seem to be on the right track with new ownership, management, and Steve Stamkos. Rounding out the bottom we have the Canadiens, the Sabres, and finally us.
Only 3 points seperated the #8 seed from the #6 seed, while 4 points was the difference between #5 and #1. The difference between the #5 spot and #6, however, was 7 points. It seems to be where the step is in this conference, and my question is, when do you see us getting over it? This is something I've been chewing on for a while, and with our team still "alive" late in the season, and in the playoffs, it didn't seem right to start in with fan posts about next season. Now that it's a wrap, and with the Rangers set to embark on what could be a monumental off season, with UFA's to consider, on own RFA's to evaluate, the draft coming up, and the "hot stove league", it seemed like a good time to encourage everyone to take a look at this team, and where it sits in the grand pecking order of the Eastern Conference and the NHL.
Anyone's who's read my posts knows I don't always embrace other people's feel good view of this team and season, and I think my opinions and outlook for the team became a bit darker when I started thinking of our players, and their development, as NHL players, and not Rangers players. We've got young guys, and they SHOULD get better, but everyone else does too. Even if Gabby "bounces back" and "stays healthy" how does he give us what Crosby, Ovi, Geno, and Stamkos give their teams. Also Gabby is almost 30, while none of those other players are older then 25. While our "young core" of Cally, Dubi, Staal, Girardi, AA and Step might improve over time, how will their development compare to the other teams young guys? Giroux, JVR, Jordan Staal, Tyler Seguin, Backstrom, Green, "Carlzner", Letang, and Hedman are all young guys on those top 5 seeds that should continue to improve as well.
If you're going to be good enough to contend for a cup year after year, you should be able to have your ticket to dance punched before game 82. Even if all our stars align, and our "core" meets realistic expectations, is it enough to vault us into the top half of the conference?