These Are Not Last Year's New York Rangers
This team might look the same as last year's team, but that doesn't mean they will have similar results.
So Brad Richards wasn't bought out, which, of course, has lead to a series of panicked tweets about the risks involved with keeping the $60-million man on the roster for at least one more season.
We'll go more into that later, but for right now I want to address the notion that this year's team is the same as last year's team.
A new coach goes a long way in shaping a team. Put two teams together with the exact same players and have them play two different systems and I bet you're going to see some differences. Alain Vigneault does not play the "collapse and block shots" system in the defensive zone, while expecting players to dump and chase in the offensive zone. Vigneault likes when his players explore their offensive opportunities on the ice, and has also brought in a successful power play specialist to help fix the man advantage. The top guns won't be rode as hard, the smaller more offensive players in the lineup will get more opportunities and things will look a whole hell of a lot different when games start being played.
But it's not just about the coaching change. Look at the team that lined up on opening night last year compared to the team that will open things up next year. The differences are massive. Marian Gaborik and Mike Rupp out, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, John Moore and Ryane Clowe (if he returns) in. The main differences? The current team is younger, faster and deeper.
Gaborik and Richards' collective failures to preform helped sink last year's Rangers. That team was built to run like a top heavy machine, and when the big cogs didn't perform the rest of the machine sputtered behind them. Glen Sather's trade deadline moves to bring in the above players helped fix the problem, and the team was decisively better as a result.
Yes, last year that post-deadline team needed seven games to win a winnable playoff series against the Washington Capitals before being blown out of the water against the Boston Bruins. Would the Rangers have won that series with a different system? Maybe, maybe not. What I do know is the Rangers' defensive issues (leading to wide open points and being hemmed into their own zone for long stretches of play) probably wouldn't have been as glaring.
And while I won't use injuries as an excuse since every team has them I will say being without Marc Staal and Clowe impacted the results. So did Carl Hagelin and Ryan McDonagh playing through shoulder injuries that required offseason surgery. So did Rick Nash playing through back and wrist issues (remember, just because he didn't get surgery doesn't mean he wasn't hurting) and Dan Girardi finally wearing down over the final couple of games. Add Richards' horrific play and it really does seem like every break that could have gone wrong did go wrong for the Rangers.
So are these Rangers the same as last year's Rangers? On paper, yes. But we all know the games are played on paper. They're played on the ice.
And this year's team will look a whole hell of a lot different when they get there.