2010-2011 record: 44-33-5, 93 points; 3rd in Atlantic, 8th in East
Playoffs: Lost to Washington 4-1 in Eastern quarterfinals
Much like in previous seasons, the Rangers landed the big prize in free agency. Only difference is that this time it’s a guy (Brad Richards) that makes them immediately better and they didn’t give up on their farm team to fill out ranks. Has Glen Sather finally figured it all out? We’ll see, but the Rangers figure to be a strong team in the East.
It all starts with Richards and Marian Gaborik. With these two stars paired up on the first line, it gives the Rangers a definitive offensive threat for all situations. Worries will surround their collective ability to stay healthy, but when these two are on the ice, opponents will have to be ready. They’ll also have an outstanding second line with equally maturing and improving studs like Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan.
If the Rangers can get more out of Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov they won’t need to make Henrik Lundqvist crazy by forcing him to hold opponents to one goal a game. Guys like Mike Rupp, Brian Boyle, and Brandon Prust will make sure they have lockdown forwards again. If Boyle can score 20-plus goals again, they’ll have offensive threats on all four lines.
Marc Staal’s health will be an issue to watch all season as he’s the guy that makes it all go there. Dan Girardi has morphed into the Rangers’ best defensive blue liner, absorbing pucks like he’s a mobile goalie. Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer provide solid depth and Steve Eminger is an OK veteran. How they round things out could be an issue, however. Young guys like Michael Del Zotto, Tim Erixon, and Brendan Bell will all get shots to stick around. If the Rangers have a weakness it’s that they don’t have a true power-play quarterback.
Lundqvist is one of the best in the league and he’s the guy that makes it all happen for the team. He’s calm, cool, and confident and has been ever since becoming a star in the NHL. Having a healthy Martin Biron to back him up again will help keep Lundqvist from getting worn out. Lundqvist is a Vezina threat any year and with the Rangers’ improvements in offense, he can help make any defensive deficiencies go away.
If you didn’t know John Tortorella already, you haven’t been paying attention. Don’t worry, with the Rangers being in the Winter Classic and also set to be on HBO’s 24/7, you’ll get to know a lot about him. Tortorella’s the best guy to have in New York and he’s done a solid job of keeping order in Manhattan. With his old pal Richards (they won a Cup together in 2004 with Tampa Bay) expect Tortorella to have things rolling just how he wants. If he doesn’t, bring on the profanity and press conferences.
The Rangers had a host of these players last year in Stepan, McDonagh, and Zuccarello. This time around, if there’s a guy that’s going to breakout it’ll be Erixon. With the Rangers essentially holding an open audition for the sixth defenseman spot, someone’s going to show they’ve earned it and the former Flames draft pick has all the upside to do it. Del Zotto still struggles defensively and Bell needs to do more to show he can cut it in the NHL. Let Erixon get a shot and see what he can do and he could surprise everyone.
Richards’ arrival helps get Gaborik back above the 40-goal mark and ignites a power play that was mostly feeble last season. Dubinsky and Callahan continue to lead the way and give the Rangers the second-line push to create more offense. Wojtek Wolski avoids slumps and plays the kind of hockey the Rangers need — to score and set up goals. Lundqvist wins the Vezina as the Rangers bully their way deep into the playoffs and help make Sather look like a psychic.
The Rangers have things in place to be a very good team. They should absolutely be a playoff team and stressing out at the end of the season shouldn’t happen again. As long as Richards and Gaborik stay healthy and keep the offense rolling, they’ll be a tougher team to handle. The forward roster is deep, and while there’s still questions on defense, Lundqvist makes it all stand up. The question for New York is just how they can manage as a playoff team.