It may not have ended the way that they would have liked, but the 2011-2012 season for the New York Rangers was still very successful in quite a few different ways.
Perhaps known for their big spending ways, the Rangers landed the prize of last year’s free agent class, Brad Richards, with the two sides agreeing to a nine-year deal. But even in handing over big money for the veteran forward, these aren’t the Rangers of old when it comes to how their team is built.
Despite some marquee talent up front, and in net of course, this is a team that was led by a host of young talent, particularly on defense. Blue liners like Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh look like future building blocks for this team, joining Dan Girardi and Marc Staal to make up one of the best defensive units in the game.
You can’t talk about the Rangers without mentioning Henrik Lundqivst. There is a reason he was a finalist for both the Hart and Vezina Trophies. He was brilliant throughout the season for this team, finishing with a darn good 1.97 goals-against average and eight shutouts on the year.
The Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Finals after grabbing the no. 1 seed in the East. The fact that they performed that well was a pleasant surprise, yet their elimination at the hands of the New Jersey Devils was a disappointment. Still, this looks like a club primed to contend for several years.
The biggest addition of the summer, for any team, was the Rangers’ addition of Rick Nash. New York did have to part with NHL-level talent, but adding an elite player like Nash could prove to be exactly what the Blueshirts need to advance at least one game further into the playoffs in 2012-2013.
Taylor Pyatt was also a nice under-the-radar addition. He’ll add some nice size and some extra scoring depth to the bottom six. Arron Asham adds some extra sandpaper to the lineup.
Unless you count Brandon Dubinsky or Artem Anisimov, both of which were included in the Nash trade, this club didn’t lose a whole lot this off-season. The losses of those guys could be felt, particularly in the locker room, but the team should more than be able to replace their production. The loss of Steve Eminger takes away some defensive depth, and there are still questions about whether or not we’ll see Michael Sauer step on the ice again after his serious concussion.
It has to be Rick Nash, right? We haven’t seen Nash play in a market like this, nor have we seen Nash play with the talent around him that he now has in New York. He’s going to be an interesting player to watch for multiple reasons next year. But he was brought in to get this team over the hump in the postseason and that’s exactly what he’ll have to do.
Michael Del Zotto catches a lot of flak from the Ranger faithful, but he’s a kid that I really like. He showed some flashes of being a top notch defenseman last year, and he could take a big step forward this season. As inconsistent of a measurement as plus/minus may be, there’s something to be said for Del Zotto’s plus-20 last season. He was also in the top 20 for points among defensemen last season, finishing with 41.
With the other talented d-men in the mix, he doesn’t catch all of the pub, or much of the credit, but he’s physical and contributes well in the offensive end. He has the makings of an elite defenseman, and he could end up taking another step towards earning that label next season.
The New York Rangers are a very good hockey team. Not much explanation is needed. They have elite players around the ice. They know how to put the puck in the net and keep it out of theirs. Between top players on offense, a strong young blue liner, and one of the top two goaltenders in the National Hockey League, this is a team that isn’t only a favorite to capture the crown in the Eastern Conference, but make a big time run for the Stanley Cup in the very near future, if not this season.
The Rant Sports 30 in 30 will examine one NHL team per day. Tomorrow: the New York Islanders.