Rangers first to admit they
A very promising season quickly evolved into a major disappointment in The
NEW YORK, NY -- Coming out of the second lockout in a decade, the New
York Rangers faced immensely lofty Stanley Cup or bust expectations.
Expectations that were placed upon the players by the media and
players themselves on the heels of an Eastern Conference Final exit
last year at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. With that in mind,
it’s difficult to qualify this past season as a failure.
Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella certainly didn’t view it as one.
“The surrounding feeling was that this was a disappointing season,” he
expressed on break-up day. “I don’t buy it.”
It ended quickly when, in the first game of the second round series
against the Boston Bruins, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron came
down the ice like a bad moon rising to barrel through Mats Zuccarello
and Anton Stralman to end the game in overtime. The Rangers never
The problems that faced the Rangers in that series were the same ones
that plagued them all year.
From the onset of the season, the team struggled out of the gate. The
team identity had changed over the course of the offseason, losing key
depth forwards in Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko to free agency
and homegrown depth guys Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov to trade.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist took a while to hit stride, and the
offense continued down their negative correlation from the previous
One of the biggest issues was the lack of adjustment from Tortorella.
The catechism of ‘Torts’ is simple: block shots, grind, stay in
passing or shooting lanes, defend first and ask questions later. The
team simply did not have the same make-up this season to effectively
turn that formula into a winning one.
While the team meandered along, sliding in and out of a playoff spot,
the stark lack of depth on the roster was startling. When Rick Nash or
Marian Gaborik weren’t scoring – and Gaborik certainly didn’t do a lot
of it this past season – the team usually wasn’t winning.
Guys like Brian Boyle, who are usually relied on to play solid
bottom-six minutes, while contributing something offensively, were
absent for most of the season. In fact, through the first two months
of the season, it seemed as though the bottom six would never score.
“I sucked this year,” Boyle lamented at the end of the season. “It was
bad. I let myself down and my teammates down... I wasn’t in good
Lack of conditioning, a vital aspect of a Tortorella coached hockey
team - and honestly, pretty much every other hockey team - was a
common theme with the Rangers on break-up day, despite Tortorella
lobbying all season that it wasn’t the case.
Brad Richards, an obvious candidate for an amnesty buy-out this
offseason noted a lack of conditioning as a big reason for the meager
amount of success he saw on the ice.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel normal all season,” Richards said. He
noted that it wasn’t just camp, it was the uncertainty surrounding the
start of the season that killed his routine. Richards has always been
a very routine-oriented player.
Richards went from being penciled in as the top-line center, to a
healthy scratch in back-to-back elimination games.
“It was not a fun time. No other way to put it,” he said.
Tortorella, who went on a two-minute diatribe after the Rangers game
four victory defending Richards, invited the assembled media to kiss
his ass if they didn’t believe Tortorella loved Richards. The two have
had a bond since their days in sunny Tampa Bay.
“If I know [Richards], this has not been an easy thing for him,” he
said. He was noncommittal about roster moves when asked about what may
happen to Richards in the offseason.
The dollars owed to Richards mean very little for anyone involved in
the decision, other than James Dolan, the owner of the team who would
swallow $24 million over the next 14 years. The rest of the team is
essentially playing with Monopoly money. Perhaps it’s just a drop in
the bucket of the Cablevision empire, but there’s not a soul in the
world that would be happy to swallow that kind of money, especially
with the pricy renovations to Madison Square Garden nearing
From most to least likely, there are three main reasons the Rangers
may explore a buyout this summer.
The first is for simple salary cap reasons. The Rangers save
approximately $6.66 million in space with Richards off the books. That
money may be well spent elsewhere on bringing in another big name
player or bolstering their depth.
The second is the fear that Richards may actually be done as a hockey
player and would not contribute anything positive to the roster next
season. With the top two center positions set in stone with Derek
Stepan and Derick Brassard, Richards is likely nothing more than a
very pricy third line center.
Finally, and although very unlikely, the organization may choose to
part ways with the forward for fear of injury. If Richards suffered a
serious injury, they would not be allowed to exercise their compliance
buyout, and be stuck with him. It seems overly cautious, but injuries
Richards, of course, fully plans on staying.
“I signed here to be a Ranger for a lot longer than a year and a
half,” he explicated, though acknowledging that some things are out of
Richards served as an alternate captain the past two seasons, and his
Captain Ryan Callahan believes he will bounce back. He admitted it was
hard to watch Richards struggle.
“It’s hard not only as a teammate but a friend to see him going
through that,” Callahan said.
It of course was not all negative offensively for the squad.
In his first year as a Ranger, the game-by-game score sheets were
teeming with third period goals from Nash. That well dried up suddenly
and abrasively in the playoffs however, as he managed to find the back
of the net just one. He emphasized a lack of consistently in his first
year on Broadway. He did add however that he loved his first year with
“I had one of the most fun seasons of my career here, I love being a
Ranger,” he said.
The deadline acquisition of Brassard, a cast-off from Columbus and
former teammate of Nash’s will be remembered quite fondly by Ranger
fans in the future. Brassard enjoyed zounds of success in the
postseason, showing everyone why he was a top-10 draft pick.
“I felt like in Columbus, the passion and emotion in my game was
gone,” he told the assembled reporters on breakup day. “I am just
really excited to be here.”
Brassard finished the playoffs with 12 points in 12 games to lead the
team offensively. He also credited Stepan, who despite being younger
than him, taught him a lot about how to play the game.
Stepan looked like the number one center that Rangers have spent a lot
of time and money looking for over the past five years.
Despite losing the series in five games, Stepan had a positive CORSI
in every game except the first against the Bruins, and was a plus 15
in a losing effort in game three, where the Rangers were outshot by a
final count of 34-24. While Stepan only accounted for five points in
the 12 games, he did everything else right and was a constant
facilitator on the ice.
Stepan joins three other crucial members of the New York Rangers young
core this offseason as a restricted free agent. Along with Ryan
McDonagh and Carl Hagelin, Stepan will see a significant raise from
his entry level deal.
All three were all smiles about the negotiations and emphasized a love
of New York as they emptied their lockers.
“I love it here... you get treated so well here,” Hagelin mentioned.
McDonagh was singing the same tune, praising the team and management,
as was Stepan.
“I want to stay here and end my career here,” Stepan said.
There are two different tactics to the extensions the players will
receive this summer. Hagelin likely falls into the first category, and
will take a band-aid contract of likely two years, and no more than
three at the lowest dollar amount. For Stepan and McDonagh though, the
questions is not if, but when do the Rangers dole out big extensions.
The Rangers need to avoid the mistake made in Montreal with P.K.
Subban. Subban will be swimming in cash soon after he signed a bridge
The Rangers would be smart to consider long-term deals of the 6-year
variety for McDonagh and Stepan to put their contracts out of sight
and out of mind so attention can be turned to extending goaltender
The trio was mum on demands, citing the playoff exit as being too
fresh in their minds to consider contract talks.
McDonagh is a mainstay on the defense corps that Director of Scouting
Gordie Clark, along with Glen Sather, has built and the unit should be
set heading into next season with the exception of maybe Michael Del
Del Zotto’s struggles have been well-documented so far in his career,
but he provided a noticeable spark some games. However, with the
emergence of John Moore, and the expected full recovery of Marc Staal,
Del Zotto may have played his last game as a New York Ranger.
He opted to forgo speaking with the media on breakup day.
Trading the young defenseman hinges strongly on the health of Staal.
If Staal comes back healthy, the Rangers have five solid defensemen
penciled in with Girardi, Staal, McDonagh, Stralman and Moore. This
leaves a spot for a rookie like Dylan McIlrath - or the “Undertaker”
as he is both affectionately and unaffectionately known - and a
veteran like a possibly returning Steve Eminger to compete for.
Del Zotto appears to be the odd man out.
The Rangers can go two ways with a trade of Del Zotto. The first could
be in a package for a defensive upgrade like Keith Yandle from
Phoenix. The second could be for another top offensive talent like
Thomas Vanek - although fitting that contract under the cap would
likely be contingent on Richards not being with the team next year.
There are a few other interesting options to be considered with Del
Zotto for an offensive upgrade or depth as well. A player like Sam
Gagner in Edmonton, who also has one-year left on his deal could be
traded to Del Zotto. Sather will look at all options with his young
defenseman this summer.
The biggest priority for the team should be to find a way to help the
powerplay. That may mean a change in the staff or a change in
player-personnel. Assistant Coach Mike Sullivan who serves a key
component on the tactical end of the powerplay may not be back behind
the bench whether it’s to pursue another job or to be simply let go be
The powerplay struggled this season for a few key reasons. The first,
as was with the offense, with the lack of strong breakout plays, which
haunted the Rangers all year. Their speed and puck carrying through
the neutral zone was inefficient at times throughout the season. Often
the puck was dumped without a player chasing it down, which defeats
the entire purpose of dumping the puck.
Secondly, was the lack of movement and reliance on point shots that
simply don’t exist. If the team lacks a big-time shot from the point,
the obvious thing to do would be the work the puck in close to the net
and set up the play from the half boards. The Rangers did not do that
at all. A glaring example was a 6-on-5 the Rangers ran at the end of
game three. The entire middle of the ice was wide open, with all six
players on the wings. With time running out on their season, they
didn’t think to put one player in scoring position. The stark lack of
quick movement killed the Rangers and made their powerplay defendable
by a peewee team willing to stand in a shooting or passing lane. The
lack of open looks was baffling to nobody but the team.
“I think it took on a life of its own,” Tortorella said about the
powerplay during his closing remarks for the season. He added that it
became as much about coaching player confidence as it was about
If fans had their way, Tortorella wouldn’t get another chance to coach
the powerplay next year, as he would’ve been handed a pink slip
If Isiah Thomas was allowed to be continuously involved with the
Knicks, I would imagine John Tortorella, who has lined the pockets of
the Dolans with playoff revenue will certainly be invited back to the
party next year.
Tortorella’s inability to adjust his roster was a problem this year,
but I wouldn’t expect the same mistake to be made twice. He and Sather
will likely add grit and players with “balls as big as the building,”
as Tortorella has put it.
It would be a shock to see anyone opening camp on the ice as the head
coach other than Tortorella. That being said, his leash is likely to
be significantly shorter. An abysmal start would be enough for the
coach to lose his job.
The core is here, and the Rangers have their priorities. The season
was quantified as a failure by a despondent Lundqvist, who expressed
significant amounts of frustration. Unfortunately for Lundqvist, most
of his teammates and coaches took a different attitude, and hope to
learn from a season that they viewed positively. Callahan, one of the
longest tenured players on the team along with Lundqvist took a
similar approach to the end of the year as Lundqvist.
“The goal was to win a Stanley Cup... we underachieved,” he stated.
He added that he hopes a lot of the young guys on the team will learn
from the experience of big-time, tense games.
“It’s a waste of a season if you don’t learn from it.”
The New York Rangers need to hope that this time, the right lessons