After diving into some of the New York Rangers’ worst moments of the season yesterday, it’s time to reflect on some of the better times. Despite not bringing home the ultimate prize, there were plenty of good things the Rangers can take away from the past 96 games. The team had three rookies score 20+ points, something that had never been done in franchise history prior to this season. Jeff Gorton’s two most notable offseason acquisitions proved to be major hits in their first season on Broadway, as Michael Grabner and Mika Zibanejad were both excellent throughout the year. So without further ado, let’s reminisce on the good memories of New York’s 90th season of play.
#5: Avoiding Disaster During the Trade Deadline
Over the past three trade deadlines, Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton have always made sure that the Rangers were looking for ways to improve the team. Unfortunately, unless you’re dealing with Peter Chiarelli, you have to give something good to get something good. That was especially true for New York, who had made large splashes in years past by acquiring name-brand players like Martin St. Louis, Keith Yandle, and Eric Staal.
In doing so, the organization had to empty out a majority of the cupboard to make the team better today. Two first round picks, three second picks, one seventh round pick, and two high-upside prospects in Anthony Duclair and Aleksi Saarela was the cost of bringing the three established NHLer’s to New York. After three seasons, the team had one Eastern Conference Championship banner, one defensive prospect, (Tarmo Reunanen) and one annoyed fanbase to show for it.
For that was reason, it was crucial for Jeff Gorton to resist the urge to use major assets to bring in another big name rental. Kevin Shattenkirk was the darling of this season’s trade deadline, and with rumors of him wanting to sign with the Rangers once the season concludes, there was no valid reason for Gorton to take a serious run at New Rochelle native.
Thankfully, Washington swooped in and removed any possibility of the Rangers taking Shattenkirk for a test drive by trading their first round pick to St. Louis. Although the decision to immediately turn around and ship two draft picks to Detroit to rent Brendan Smith was highly questionable, it was better than the alternative. Now, the team is primed to make a first round pick for the first time since 2012. The fact that not doing something mind-numbingly dumb is praise worthy speaks to where the bar is for the Rangers front office, but it was a refreshing change to have the trade deadline come and go and still be in possession of the team’s most valuable draft asset.
#4: Upsetting the Montreal Canadiens in Round One
Due to earning the top Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers crossed over to the Atlantic Division’s side of the playoff bracket. This meant that the Blueshirts would square off with the Montreal Canadiens for the second time in four seasons. Despite the stakes not being as high as they were when the two Original Six franchises met in 2014, the intensity of any playoff series brought out a degree of physicality and nastiness that New York hadn’t exhibited all season. From the moment the puck dropped until the clock ticked down at the conclusion of Game 6, the series was the most hard-fought series in the opening round of the playoffs.
It really had everything a hockey fan could ask for. From Tanner Glass going top shelf on Carey Price to tally the first goal of the playoffs, to overtime heroics from both teams throughout the series, to the goaltending clinic that Price and Henrik Lundqvist combined to put on, it had everything anybody could want out of a first round series. From New York’s perspective, getting to win a playoff round and clinch the series on home ice was a nice cherry on top before moving on to the next opponent. Although it may not go down in Rangers lore as a moment that sparked a championship run, watching the team upset Montreal and its fans was fun while it lasted.
#3: (Finally) Beating the Islanders on Opening Night
Ever since the Islanders rose out of the gutter and back to relevancy towards the end of 2014, wins against them have been hard to come by. Coming into opening night, the Rangers had gone 2-6-1 against the Islanders over the last two seasons, including getting swept during the 15-16 season series. They hadn’t won against the Islanders at Madison Square Garden since January of 2014. So with all of this bad history going against the Rangers, it was fitting that they would be opening the season at home for the first time since 2007. With a chance to send their fans home happy to start the season, neither New York team disappointed the home crowd.
After nearly fourteen minutes of back and forth action, Michael Grabner kicked off his comeback season with a bang by potting the Rangers’ first goal of the season. The former Islander crashed Jaroslav Halak’s crease before pouncing on a juicy rebound to give his new team a 1-0 lead in his first period on Broadway. After a second period goal by Mats Zuccarello to double the lead heading into the final frame, the Islanders came out of the locker room on a mission. With two goals in a shade over four minutes to start the period, the game was knotted up at two with plenty of time left. But as the clock wound down towards the halfway point, the Rangers’ short lived KZB line made their presence known.
Pavel Buchnevich hit Chris Kreider in stride with a beautiful pass from blue line to blue line, and Kreider buried the puck behind Halak to electrify the Garden crowd and give his team the lead. A late powerplay goal from Brandon Pirri would go on to serve as the eventual game-winning goal, and the teams would trade meaningless tallies late in the period to conclude a 5-3 victory for the elder of the two New York franchises. The win was emblematic of what the Blueshirts could be when they were on top of their game. A high scoring, fun to watch team that could move the puck at will and play just enough defense to prevent their goalie from getting shelled on a nightly basis. Even though that team didn’t show up every night, they were a spectacle on the ice when they did.
#2: 26 Goals in 5 Games
While they might not have been consistent for all 96 games, the Rangers had one particular stretch where everything was going their way. Coming into the season, everyone in the hockey world knew that the team was capable of emerging as the best offense in the league. However, nobody thought the team was capable of turning the clock back a couple of decades and put up numbers that wouldn’t look out of place in the days of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. But as the calendar turned from October to November, that’s exactly what New York did.
It started on October 30th against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The game stood as a difficult test for the Rangers, as Tampa was primed to embark on another good season before the injury bug hit and derailed their Stanley Cup hopes. New York passed the test with flying colors as they laughed the Lightning out of the building with a 6-1 win, including a hat trick from Michael Grabner. After that, the Rangers welcomed two Western Conference foes into the Garden in three night. Visits from St. Louis and Edmonton earned New York another four points, as they won by scores of 5-0 and 5-3 to push their streak to three consecutive games.
So the team had proven they were capable of lighting it up at home, but a quick road trip up to the City of Champions appeared to be a step up in difficulty. Except it wasn’t, and Pavel Buchnevich scored his first NHL goal en route to a 5-2 victory over the Bruins before heading home and flying past the Winnipeg Jets by the same 5-2 margin. As a Rangers fan, this was arguably the most fun time period of the season. So what could top it?
#1: The Emergence of Brad Chase
Through the first half of the season, Brady Skjei was downright terrible, horrible, no good, very bad in every sense of the word. While his slick skating and pretty passing was a joy to watch, the rest of his game wasn’t getting it done. But then, on February 7th, something magical happened that change the course of New York’s season. The Rangers were hosting the Anaheim Ducks, and Skjei notched the secondary assist on goal by Mats Zuccarello. From there, one of the greatest moments in Rangers history occurred:
New York Rangers' newest 1-2-3 punch: Brad Chase, Chris Kader, and Matt Zerella. I recorded it and I can't stop watching it. pic.twitter.com/APmSDl74v4— Joe Cutroni ⚯͛ (@jcutroni) February 8, 2017
From that point on, Brad Chase was one of the Rangers’ best defenseman for the final two months of the regular season, and continued his stellar play into the playoffs. His on ice-results improved dramatically, and Chase emerged as New York’s second best defenseman down the stretch. Going into the 17-18 season, look for Chase to solidify himself on the team’s second pair for the forseeable future, and hope and pray that Skjei from the first half of this season doesn’t return.
With the 2016-17 season officially in the books for all 31 teams, the time has come to move to bigger and better things. With the expansion draft less than a week away, and the entry draft following soon after, Jeff Gorton, Alain Vigneault, and the rest of New York’s decision makers won’t have time to reminisce on the good times they had this past season. Instead, they’ll be focusing on what they can do to make this list look a lot better one year from now.