With 2019 coming to an end, tis the season for year-end retrospectives. Except now, it’s decade-end retrospectives and the past decade for the Rangers have been a helluva ride. It started with the ushering in of the John Tortorella era and the arrival of the shot-blocking happy teams of the early 2010s. As Tortorella’s style and personality wore thin, in came Alain Vigneault and the highest of highs along with the crushing lows of the mid-2010s, and then as AV rode the train off the cliff, the Rangers decided to pull the plug and go full rebuild. This is where things stand as the Rangers enter 2020, building a new team around young players like Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox with others like Vitali Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, and Nils Lundkvist waiting in the wings.
Before we move on though, let’s take a look back at ten of the best* players to don the Blueshirt over the last ten years.
We’re gonna start with the big offseason splash to kick off the decade. The Rangers needed scoring and they turned to an Eastern European sniper to fill that void.
Wait...that sounds familiar...
10: Marian Gaborik
Seasons as a Ranger: 2009-2012
Career numbers as a Blueshirt: In 255 games played; 114 goals, 115 assists for 229 points (2.5 P/60). 55.99 CF% (-1.69 C/60), 61.18 xGF% (0.37 xG/60). 35.8 GAR, 6.4 WAR.
Best Season in New York: 09-10: 42-44-86 in 76 games played
The Rangers started the decade off with a bang when, during the 2009 offseason, the Rangers signed the Slovakian sniper to a five-year, $37.5 million contract picking up the biggest free agent of the offseason. They did so on the heels of trading Scott Gomez, which freed up significant cap space, in a deal which landed them future captain Ryan McDonagh.
Gaborik was a bit of a risk at the time, as he entered free agency after playing only 17 games for the Minnesota Wild, and he hadn’t played a full season up to that point in his career. However, while there was risk to Gaborik there was also a tremendous reward as Gaborik was a legitimate bonafide goalscorer that the Rangers were missing since the departure of Jaromir Jagr and swing-and-miss with Nikolai Zherdev.
When Gaborik signed with the Rangers, he was joining a team that was in transition. Gone were Michael Nylander, Martin Straka, and Jaromir Jagr, the trio that helped carry the Rangers back into relevance after the 2004-05 lockout. Tom Renney and Scott Gomez were out, John Tortorella and Marian Gaborik were in, and it was an odd, exciting time for the Rangers. Gaborik was looked to as the big scoring threat on a team that really didn’t have that one big weapon that teams had to focus on, and early on he really delivered. The 27 year-old sniper lived up to the billing as he put up a monster first year in Manhattan to the tune of 86 points in 76 games while skating alongside the Tan Man Vinny Prospal.
Needless to say that Gaborik’s 86 points led the Rangers that season, Prospal was 2nd with 58 points in 75 games played that season. With Gaborik’s scoring, John Tortorella’s hard-nosed style, and the continued emergence of this random Swedish goalie named Henrik Lundqvist the Rangers finished 4th in what was then known as the Atlantic division with 87 points. While it might not have been the most inspiring start for the next era of Rangers hockey, it was the start of something new for the team and it was only going up from there.
In Gaborik’s 2nd season in New York, things went sideways. After an 86 point campaign, Gaborik went 22-26-48 in just 62 games in his second season on Broadway. The Slovakian forward’s style wasn’t meshing well with John Tortorella’s more conservative coaching philosophy and the injury bug kept nagging at Gaby all season long. The Rangers were improving, but there were strong concerns about Gaborik and his time in New York.
Then, in 2011-12, things clicked for both the Rangers and Gaborik. Bolstered by the acquisition of new top center Brad Richards, New York was heading into their first Winter Classic against the Flyers, HBO was following them around for 24/7 in the lead up to the big New Year’s Day game.
Gaborik proved that the previous year was a fluke as not only did he crack 40 goals again but the Slovak sniper appeared in 82 games for the first time in his career. It was also in that 2011-12 season that the Rangers played what I liked to call the “Series that Almost Killed Hockey,” as the John Tortorella led Rangers and Dale Hunter led Washington Capitals decided to see which team could block shots more. It also featured Marian Gaborik scoring the game-winning goal in triple overtime of Game Three.
That crazy season ended with the Rangers getting eliminated from the Eastern Conference Finals by the New Jersey Devils, but overall things were looking up for the Blueshirts and Gaborik. Then the league decided to kill half the season with a lockout, as you do. Things at this point had withered between Gaborik and Tortorella and, while still effective, the Rangers decided to send Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a package of players that included a young center looking for a change of scenery by the name of Derick Brassard.
Favorite Moment: January, 19th 2011. Gaborik was in the middle of that injury riddled and inconsistent 2nd season but with the scuffling Toronto Maple Leafs coming to town; Marian decided to have A GAME. A four goal night at MSG remains my favorite Gaborik moment and one of my favorite Rangers moments of the last decade.