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The Rangers Can't Fall In Love With The Wrong Type Of Players

The Rangers have made some pretty dramatic mistakes by falling in love with the wrong types of players. They can't afford to do that now.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Every year when the New York Rangers are bounced from the playoffs questions bubble to the surface. Why weren't the Rangers good enough? What adjustments need to be made? Is there a player out there who can be acquired who can help? Was the team good enough to win last year but other circumstances (luck or injuries, say) too much to overcome?

This year the questions will be faster and they'll attempt to cut deeper. This is the first summer in a long list of summers where the Rangers went home after expecting to win the Stanley Cup. That changes the perception dramatically -- and with that change comes the dramatic takes.

We've already seen the first one; this one from Larry Brooks. Brooks suggests the Rangers need to get tougher because apparently toughness is the only way to win the Stanley Cup.

If you ask me (and you're here already, so let's pretend you did) losing Game 5 and Game 7 without managing to score a goal (at home no less) doesn't make me think "hmmm, these Rangers need to get tougher." It tells me the Rangers simply weren't skilled enough to overcome the loss of Mats Zuccarello against a complete team, and they needed more help scoring. No amount of toughness would have given the Rangers another goal.

Furthermore, Brooks outright states "the meek never inherit the Stanley Cup" although he fails to mention who, exactly, brings that brand of toughness from either Tampa Bay or Chicago. Neither team fields anyone close to a Tanner Glass type player and neither team seems the worse for wear.

For his main argument, Brooks enters the time machine and goes back to a different decade, because of course that matters today:

These Rangers, in so many ways, are the linear descendants of the Emile Francis teams from the early '70s, which were built on skill but always were just a little bit wanting when it came to push-back in an era when that meant punch-back, or, better yet, punch first.

Those Rangers (like these Rangers) were entertaining, fun to watch, and very good, but there always was somebody in the way. If not Boston, then Chicago, and if not Chicago, then Philadelphia, and at the height of The Cat's team's powers, the Bruins won two Cups, the Canadiens won two Cups, the Flyers won a Cup (and then another), and the Rangers won none.

I find this ironic because my biggest issue with the reporting from some the beats has been their refusal to evolve with the game. And while Brooks does admit the '70s were a different era of hockey, he doesn't seem to realize the game today is rapidly evolving away from the style of play that was so prevalent in the '70s.

Which is part of the problem. At some turns (think Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Keith Yandle, Chris Kreider and hopefully Carl Hagelin) the Rangers are evolving with the game, focusing on positive-possession players who can make an impact. At other times (Girardi, Glass, if they sign Martin St. Louis and letting Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle walk for nothing) they're completely ignoring the possession evolution of the game.

Which leads to issues that come up during the summer after another lost season. From Brooks again:

And the Blueshirts most certainly need to add a physical defenseman capable of forcing the opposition to think twice before either crashing through the crease and into Henrik Lundqvist, as the Capitals did with impunity in Round 2, or zooming through the slot, as the Lightning did without a care in the world throughout Round 3.

This is the problem, though. The ideology states above is most likely shared by the Rangers brass. Last year the Rangers obviously thought Girardi was that player, rewarding him with a six-year, $5,5-million per year deal. Today it's clear Girardi is not that player, and now the Rangers can't afford that player because of Girardi.

It's these decisions that cause problems down the line. The Rangers Cup window is not closed. We'll go into more detail about this later in the week, but the Rangers are still a young team (and in the case of the core, very young) who are still growing. This is not a team of veterans who came together for one last run, this is a growing team who needs to be nurtured.

The problem is, falling in love with the wrong types of players suffocates that growth. The Rangers were a very good team last year. Dare I say if Zuccarello didn't get injured they might have easily been a Stanley Cup Finalist if not able to win the entire thing. Injuries to Yandle (shoulder), McDonagh (broken foot) and Marc Staal (broken ankle apparently) were simply too much to overcome. That's an excuse on some levels but it's a reality on others.

This will be a topic of conversation later in the week as well but for now let me just say you don't really need to blow this team up. There are really good pieces to the puzzle here.

So long as the right decisions are made this summer, this team will easily be able to continue to contend. So long as the Rangers don't fall in love with the wrong types of players.

Let me put it this way: I didn't walk out of Madison Square Garden Friday night wishing the Rangers were tougher.

I walked out wishing they were better.