To understand where the New York Rangers are going you must first understand where they have been.
Since the lockout, the Rangers have very quietly rebuilt while still being able to remain competitive and make the playoffs. Thanks to some key free agent acquisitions, brilliant draft selections and smart internal roster decisions, the Rangers have transformed from a playoff contender to a Stanley Cup contender, thanks to last year where New York came an overtime goal away from forcing a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Rangers will be expected to be Cup contenders again this year, and honestly, why wouldn't they be? The lockout actually helped the Rangers in a couple of ways; mainly giving everyone (read: Marian Gaborik) enough time to get healthy, and forcing a shortened schedule which should be an advantage for a team playing in John Tortorella's system.
But it's not just about the system anymore. The past three years I have been pleased with Glen Sather's approach to building this team. The Rangers have run into a couple of issues the past few years, all of which have been solved by a few smart front-office moves. Three years ago the Rangers desperately needed a sniper, so they went out and signed Gaborik. Two years ago the Rangers realized they needed a top line center, and instead of forcing the job on Derek Stepan they went out and got Brad Richards.
This year the Rangers realized that a lack of a consistent power play, and an offense that sputtered at inopportune times cost them a shot at the Stanley Cup. So Sather pulled the trigger on bringing in Rick Nash, a player who will help solve both of those problems while also allowing some of the younger players to develop without a significant amount of pressure.
We'll go much more into detail about Nash's role in this team's success in the coming days, but the plan seems pretty simple right now:
- By bringing in Nash the Rangers have created two legitimate scoring lines rather than having one line that other teams needed to be prepared for.
- The Rangers now have two lethal snipers who can change the game in a manner of moments.
- The brass no longer has to worry about leaning on the youth to step up offensively right away in order to keep the team successful. While I do expect big things from Stepan and Michael Del Zotto this year, Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider and even Ryan McDonagh can let the offense come naturally without having to force things.
Tortorella's system isn't likely to change, nor should it. Last year's loss in the playoffs was mainly due to Gaborik's injury hampering the Rangers' ability to score goals which caused back-to-back seven-game series which wore the team down. This year, the addition of Nash is supposed to alleviate those issues if they happen to arise.
However, to be fair, the youth on this team is expected to improve. Stepan, Del Zotto and Hagelin are all expected to improve this year. Hagelin's improvement will depend on what role he plays with the team, but Stepan and Del Zotto should be adding more offense. Kreider should be given a pass this year. He's gone through a lot the past few months (coming up in the playoffs then playing in the AHL) -- and trust me we will have more on him soon -- but to expect massive things from him is missing the point. This team is built so that no one player needs to be relied on.
Most elite teams are.