Year-in and year-out, the same, bland taste was left in the mouth of the New York Rangers organization.
In their 17 years since they last won the Stanley Cup, there hasn’t been much to talk about in New York. The Rangers have had their fair share of runs to the playoffs, but limited success has made fans wonder when New York would be back on top.
High profile players have gone through the mill during that time period, but nothing has come of it. Jaromir Jagr, who recorded a franchise-record 123 points in the 2005 season couldn’t bring that glory back to the Big Apple. Neither could defensemen Brian Leetch, who is regarded as arguably the best blue-liner the team ever dressed.
In 2011, the Rangers, led by head coach John Tortorella put a team on the ice that, for the first time in a long time, didn’t have too much superstar talent. Instead, they based their team on chemistry, leadership, and role players.
And, also for the first time in a long time, it worked.
Forward Marian Gaborik, who in past years of his career was used to carrying the offensive load, took more of a leadership role, and it paid off. Playing at the end of the season on a line with Brad Richards and rookie Carl Hagelin, Gaborik had a monster year without being in the spotlight every night. He finished with a team-high 76 points on 41 goals and 35 assists.
A fairly typical year for Gaborik, except this time, he wasn’t the only one producing. Richards finished second on the team with 66 points and captain and winger Ryan Callahan finished in third with 54 points.
That equity pushed the Rangers to a new level. The diversity of having different players at different positions and on different lines, all putting the puck in the net, made them a very dangerous team.
In 2010, the Rangers’ Brandon Dubinsky was the only player that finished with over 50 points. Gaborik was blamed that year with trying to do too much each night, and he finished with 48 points and played just 62 games.
With a lesser role and playing with a much stronger team last season, Gaborik played 82 games and was much more productive.
Not only did New York have the ability to score in different ways, but they were deeper at every position than they had been in a long time. Dubinsky and center Brian Boyle were both excellent at winning faceoffs, an asset that played a huge part in the Rangers first two playoff series’.
And, as the perfect combination with experience goes, the Rangers also got solid play out of several young guys. Hagelin made a name for himself quickly in the league. He scored 38 points in 64 games, and was one of New York’s biggest offensive threats in the playoffs.
Derek Stepan also made a strong case as one of the teams best centermen last year. In 82 games, he compiled 51 points on 17 goals and 34 assists. His point total was good enough for fourth on the team.
And of course, it wouldn’t be right to mention the Rangers young talent pool without throwing in Chris Kreider. Kreider joined the team after he finished school at Boston College, agreeing to a three-year entry deal in early April.
It didn’t take long for him to get anointed with the toughest hockey he’s ever played.
Kreider played in the opening series against the Ottawa Senators when Hagelin went out with a suspension. He scored his first career goal against the Senators in game six, a game winning goal. He later added his second career goal — which happened to be another game-winner — in the second round against the Washington Capitals.
Oh, yes, and this all happened while goalie Henrik Lundqvist put up the best numbers of his career, making a case as the leagues best netminder.
That case was confirmed in June, when he was named as the winner of the Vezina Trophy.
As it is well-known, the Rangers did fall short of a championship, last year. Still, it could be the beginning of good things to come in the city that demands winning.
With the team in place now, and young players who will likely improve, it might not be too long before the Rangers are the ones hoisting the Stanley Cup.
And if — or when — that day comes, the 2011 Rangers may very well be noted as the cornerstone of a championship-caliber franchise.