Comparing the Rangers to the 1994 team that broke ‘the curse’

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For the first time in 20 years, the New York Rangers are in the Stanley Cup Final series. It’s a big deal even if Sports Illustrated probably won’t run a cover story about how “The NHL is hot and the NBA is not” this time around.

The cast of characters is wildly different, yet there are enough interesting parallels between the Stanley Cup-winning 1994 team and this 2014 squad that it could be fun to study the similarities and differences. Feel free to share your own parallels (or disagree about these) in the comments.

The Team

The 2013-14 Rangers finished second in the Metropolitan Division, enjoying strong puck possession and getting this far by playing great team defense. The 1994 version seemed more like a total package; the Rangers scored the fourth-most goals and allowed the third least goals in going 52-24-8 (112 points) to win the Atlantic Division and the Presidents’ Trophy before that Cup win.

Fittingly enough, the New Jersey Devils were the only team close in the standings, finishing with 106 points.

The Captain

Mark Messier made that famous guarantee on his way to the sixth Stanley Cup victory of his storied career and the first Rangers championship in 54 years. On the other hand, these Rangers don’t even possess a captain.

That’s not to say they lack leadership, however. Henrik Lundqvist is a steadying presence in net. Martin St. Louis came to New York in exchange for their former captain Ryan Callahan. Rick Nash is a former captain and Brad Richards knows big-game pressure.

No one’s made a flat-out guarantee, which is wise considering the modern news cycle. That’s not to say this group is meek by any means; St. Louis did state that this is “our time” after beating the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4.

The Goalie

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

There’s something oddly fitting about Lundqvist winning his 42nd career playoff game, just now passing Mike Richter for the franchise record. Lundqvist, 32, also has a few more career regular season victories (309) than Richter finished with (301). Lundqvist also has that 2006 gold medal, a Vezina Trophy and a contract that indicates that Lundqvist will leave Richter far behind statistically speaking.

Even so, for many Rangers fans, “King Henrik” won’t pass Richter until he wins it all.

The Defenseman

Ryan McDonagh is a rising star defenseman. He’s even putting up some numbers that haven’t been seen since Brian Leetch was at his best. McDonagh is one of the best blueliners the team has employed since Leetch and he’s only 24. But he’s not Leetch yet.

Leetch wasn’t that much older at the time, yet he was absolutely in his peak years back then. He won his first of two Norris Trophies in 1991-92 and went on to win the Conn Smythe in 1994.

Then again, it’s not just about Leetch and McDonagh. The Rangers employed regularly underrated defenseman Sergei Zubov, who led the Rangers in regular-season scoring with 89 points (five more than Messier and 10 more than Leetch).

The Deadline deals

As this NHL.com article lays out, then-Rangers GM Neil Smith mortgaged future assets to win that year and also chisel the team into “Iron” Mike Keenan’s image. That included a deal that sent Tony Amonte to Chicago for Stephane Matteau, which still seems to haunt Smith.

Current Rangers GM Glen Sather set out to make this roster friendlier to his coach Alain Vigneault, even though the general vibe is reversed (grit to finesse). Martin St. Louis has been a fantastic fit in the playoffs in particular, yet the Tampa Bay Lightning received two first-round picks and Ryan Callahan on at least a “rental” basis for their troubles.

Even though the 1994 Rangers made a larger volume of moves, the big-picture message was the same: win now.

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The 1994 Rangers were dominant where this version is talented yet scrappy. There are some other similarities and differences (this year’s team boasts some nice young talent while the ’94 group featured the likes of Alex Kovalev), yet these big picture considerations make for an interesting comparison.

Josh Ho-Sang left quite an impression on Islanders coaching staff

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Josh Ho-Sang received his first taste of the NHL this past season, appearing in 21 games for the New York Islanders.

A first-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, Ho-Sang scored four times with 10 points in that span, but at the age of 21 and packed with skill, he was able to leave quite an impression on New York’s coaching staff heading into the summer.

With the Islanders going through mini camp, coach Doug Weight was highly complimentary about the play of Ho-Sang following his recall from the minors and his NHL debut on March 2.

“Josh was great,” Weight told NHL.com. “We were getting feedback from [Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson] about his attitude down there, and he was playing hard, learning the system and played with some passion. I think he showed that when he came up.

“He easily could have had better numbers than he had. He created a lot of opportunities in games that he was snakebit or the puck wasn’t going in. Ten points in 21 games, but he could have done a lot better than that, and I think his game was good. He had some blips, and he responded well, and I think that’s a key for a young guy, and especially Josh.”

Read more: Josh Ho-Sang scores first career NHL goal

Islanders general manager Garth Snow has been busy, last week acquiring scoring right winger Jordan Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers. New York now has 13 forwards under contract for next season, and more than $42 million committed.

The Islanders have done a nice job in the last few years stockpiling skilled young forwards like Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle and Kieffer Bellows in their system. Ho-Sang has one year of professional hockey under his belt, putting up 36 points in 50 games as a rookie with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers this past season.

But after a strong showing late in the NHL season, Ho-Sang has set his sights on cracking the Islanders roster on a full-time basis next season.

“There’s still a lot of moves they can make, and for me, I just want to come in as strong and as fast as possible and kind of not make it a decision for them . . . just ‘Josh is ready,’” he told Newsday.

Methot confident he can compliment Stars’ offensive d-men

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Talk about a hectic few days for Marc Methot.

Methot started last week as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was left unprotected when Dion Phaneuf opted not to waive his no-movement clause. He was plucked during the expansion draft process by Vegas and then dealt to Dallas, as the Golden Knights recouped another draft pick and a prospect goalie.

For the Stars, their offseason plan was simple: Improve their goaltending and improve on defense.

Putting that plan into action is certainly easier said than done, but general manager Jim Nill has made the necessary moves to address those areas, acquiring and then signing Ben Bishop and most recently acquiring Methot. Their new head coach is Ken Hitchcock, who has gained a reputation across the league for defensive structure.

Methot will never be known for his offensive production. He didn’t score a goal in 68 regular season games during the 2016-17 campaign, though he changed that with a pair of goals and four points in the playoffs. What the Stars see in Methot is a “steady defenseman that can play well with an offensive-minded partner,” Nill said two days ago.

It remains to be seen exactly who Methot will be paired with to start next season. Of all the Stars’ defensemen, John Klingberg packs the most offensive punch. In three seasons with Dallas, he’s never gone below the 40-point plateau, hitting 58 points in 2015-16.

“I complement well an offensive-minded player,” Methot told NHL.com. “It allows whoever I’m playing with to roam around a little bit more and take more opportunities offensively. At the same time that doesn’t mean your partner can skate around all over the place at free will. I think you still as a tandem have to be fairly good in your own end.”

The Stars have struggled in that last department. But they’re also in a window to win right now, as their offseason moves have illustrated.

Report: Red Wings re-sign Lashoff to two-year, two-way deal

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The Detroit Red Wings are bringing back defenseman Brian Lashoff.

According to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, the Red Wings have re-signed Lashoff to a two-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 per season. He re-signed with Detroit last year for the same amount of money, only on a one-year contract.

Lashoff has been with the Red Wings organization since 2008, eventually joining its AHL team in Grand Rapids. He has since gone on to play 122 career NHL games, all with the Red Wings, with a total of two goals and 13 points.

This past season, Lashoff played five games in Detroit, while spending the majority of the year with the Griffins, who won the Calder Cup.

Meanwhile, the Red Wings still have interest in defenseman — and former first-round pick — Dylan McIlrath. (CapFriendly reported Wednesday evening that Detroit had re-signed him to a two-year, two-way deal.)

From the Detroit Free Press:

McIlrath towers at 6-foot-5, 236 pounds. He’s not a skill guy, but he’s great at keeping the waters calm for young defense prospects – and this coming season the Griffins’ fold will include Filip Hronek, the 53rd overall pick from 2016 and Vili Saarijarvi, the 73rd overall pick from 2015. McIlrath creates a lot of room because of his size, and that should help young defense partners adjust to pro hockey.

McIlrath was selected 10th overall by the New York Rangers in 2010. He was dealt to Detroit at this year’s trade deadline.

Report: Canucks meet with pending UFAs Gagner, Weal

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The Vancouver Canucks reportedly met with a pair of pending unrestricted free agent centers on Wednesday, as Sam Gagner and Jordan Weal were said to be in town.

That is according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli and Darren Dreger.

Vancouver’s top three centers for the 2017-18 campaign appear to be in place, with Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter. However, center is an area the Canucks especially need to improve going into next season and for the future.

Horvat’s development the past three years has provided hope he can eventually take over as the No. 1 center, and, as a pending restricted free agent, the Canucks need to get him under contract. Meanwhile, Henrik Sedin is 37 in September and in the final year of his contract, along with brother Daniel, following a difficult year for the brothers. Sutter has four more years remaining on his deal, but his time in Vancouver has been disrupted by injury.

Gagner and Weal could provide interesting options for the Canucks.

Playing this season on a one-year contract worth only $650,000, Gagner ended up having his most productive campaign with 18 goals and 50 points, despite the fact he averaged less than 14 minutes of ice time per game, and barely over 11 minutes at even strength under John Tortorella.

Read more: Gagner has been ‘a great story’ for surprising Blue Jackets

Where he made his mark was on the power play, with 18 points. That number would’ve led the Canucks, who were dismal on the power play with a 14.1 per cent efficiency rating, good enough for 29th overall. At 27 years of age, and nearing 700 career games played, almost 30 per cent of Gagner’s career points have come on the power play, so perhaps Canucks’ management may look to him as a possible remedy for that ailment when next season begins.

But after giving big money and term — and a no-movement clause — to Loui Eriksson last summer, it would be wise for the Canucks to be a little more sensible in their spending, especially during a rebuilding phase.

Weal is from the Vancouver area, and is hoping to turn a productive two-month stretch (12 points in 23 games) with the Flyers into a raise from the $650,000 he made at the NHL level last season. At last check, Weal and the Flyers appeared good on term but weren’t on the same page when it came to compensation, leading the 25-year-old forward to check out other possible opportunities across the league.

He’s had no problem putting up big numbers in the AHL, reaching 70 points in 76 games three years ago. And the Canucks could desperately use more offensively gifted players in their lineup, particularly if they have age and time on their side.

When it comes to the Canucks, there is another free agent forward with apparent interest. That would be former No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov.

NHL teams can now talk to pending unrestricted free agents to gauge potential interest, however no contracts can be signed until July 1.