The New York Rangers current 4-game winning streak has them sitting in the 7th spot with 82 points going into tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers. Tonight they’ll have the opportunity to either gain on the 6th place Canadiens or pull further away from the 8th place Sabres (depending on the result of the Sabres/Habs game). Whether they are able to gain ground on the Habs or increase their lead on the Sabres, the most important thing is the recent streak has created a little separation between them and the 9th place Carolina Hurricanes.
This year’s version of the Rangers is marking a change from the past. In the years leading up to the salary cap – and even a few years after the implementation of the cap – the Rangers were the poster team for over-indulgence on players who were past their prime. Players from Wade Redden to Jaromir Jagr and from Chris Drury to Scott Gomez all knew there was the team on Broadway that would be willing to freely spend for a player whose best years were probably behind them. They were assembling a fantasy roster—unfortunately it was usually the fantasy roster that looked great if it were from two years ago.
The Rangers were the team that was quick to make a splash at the deadline. They’d throw caution (as well as prospects and draft picks) to the wind in hopes of finding that one last player who would be the savior. But over the last year or so, Glen Sather has been singing a different tune. He’s repeatedly stated to anyone who would listen that he was going to stick with the young guys. His plan was to keep the young players and prospects they’d acquired instead of trading them away for a 3-month quick fix. Judging by the organization’s unwillingness to sell the farm for Brad Richards at the deadline, it looks like it might be more than just the usual lip service.
The team now has young players like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky that every team in the league would love to build around. They have young blueliners like Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, and Michael Del Zotto who look like they could be a very good corps of defensemen. They have prospects like Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan who are coming into their own at the NHL level. Earlier this week, they were able to sign two of their most promising prospects in Ryan Bourque and Dylan McIlrath; who should go well with high-end offensive prospects Christian Thomas and Chris Kreider once they sign with the organization. Simply put, they have players all over the organization who should be productive guys on the roster for years to come.
Not only are the Rangers holding onto the young players, they’re starting to see a different type of player star on Broadway. It’s not the high-priced superstar who is unwilling to do what it takes to win. Now, there are guys like Ryan Callahan who have the sandpaper and heart needed to win. Callahan sees the difference as well:
“[re: Rangers 5-2 victory vs. Pittsburgh] It would have been pretty easy to get down on ourselves and hang our heads after letting up that goal on the power play, but to our credit we showed a lot of character to come back. All year we’ve been fighting in these one-goal games and dogfights in the third period, so we’re used to it and just go out there and do what we have to do.”
In the past, these are exactly the guys who would be sent with a draft pick for the 2nd line rental at the deadline. They are the guys who wouldn’t get a chance to play big roles on the team because they were sitting behind a guy who was brought in (to great fanfare) only to slow the development process of a player struggling to reach his potential. The salary cap has forced it, but New Yorkers are starting to see the benefits of good drafting. More importantly, they’re seeing the fruits of holding onto draft picks and prospects instead of trading them a short-term fix.
If the Rangers are going to be successful this season, it’s going to be these young players who lead the way. The intensity at the end of the regular season and the playoffs always increases about 17 levels – and for the first time in a long time, it looks like the Rangers have the type of players who can handle it. Better yet, they have the type of players who will thrive on it. Their current winning streak is the first time they’ve won four straight in over two years. They couldn’t have picked a better time.