The New York Rangers are coming off one of their best seasons since capturing the 1994 Stanley Cup. The Rangers led the Eastern Conference with 109 points, tied the Pittsburgh Penguins for a conference-best 51 wins, and made the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the New Jersey Devils. With a deep and talented defensive corps in front of Vezina-winner Henrik Lundqvist, the New York Rangers allowed the fewest goals in the conference. The roster is balanced with veteran leadership and exciting prospects, particularly after the acquisition of perennial 30-goal scorer Rick Nash. The Rangers are ready to win now, but are also building towards the future as they roll into 2012 with momentum and high expectations. Unfortunately, the 2012 NHL lockout threatens to prevent a hockey season all together.
With the 2012 NHL lockout officially underway, it seems increasingly more likely that the NHL season will not start on time. If the season is delayed, or even cancelled, could an extended NHL lockout jeopardize the momentum gained from an incredible 2011-12 season?
The New York Rangers built their roster to win from the net out. A defense-first mentality and elite defensive system led to a particularly consistent season with incredible results. Unfortunately, before trading for Rick Nash, the Rangers struggled with scoring. Of all the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference that didn’t come from an extremely mediocre Southeast Division, the New York Rangers offense scored the fewest goals. Rick Nash appears to be the final piece of an elite offense in New York, but it will take time for him to gel in a difficult New York Rangers system. The 2012 NHL lockout threatens to severely limit the amount of time Rick Nash has to acquaint himself with the New York Rangers system.
The New York Rangers enter the 2012-13 season with extremely high expectations. The roster is one of the best in the NHL and due to the nature of their style of play, barring injury, the Rangers are not prone to underachievement. The loss of the 2012-13 season due to an NHL lockout would bring the Stanley Cup window of the New York Rangers one step closer to closing. This is not a season the New York Rangers want to lose.
On the other hand, an NHL lockout may actually benefit the New York Rangers if it does not cost them the entire season.
It is undeniable that the New York Rangers faded down the stretch last season. Playing in a system that demands commitment to two-way hockey and shot blocking can fatigue a team over a full season. Additionally, injuries forced players into playing excessive minutes – particularly in the playoffs. As the season came to a close, the New York Rangers went from contending for the President’s Trophy to barely staving off the Penguins for 1st in the conference.
In the playoffs, the New York Rangers struggled through grueling series with the seventh and eighth-seeded teams in the Eastern Conference before falling to the sixth-seeded Devils in the Conference Final. Seven-game series took their toll on the Rangers and they faded away in the postseason.
With a shortened season, the New York Rangers system could be even more effective. Players are less likely to wear down, and their commitment to defense will help with adjustments to begin the season. Henrik Lundqvist will be energized for the entirety of a deep playoff run in the event of a shortened season.
Ultimately, the New York Rangers will be an elite team if there is a 2012-13 season, but if there is a shortened 2012-13 season they could be fresh for their playoff run as well. Losing out on a season with a roster this talented could be the worst-case scenario for the Rangers, and they certainly want to build off the momentum from a fantastic 2011-12 season. While Rick Nash may need some time to adjust to life in New York and Rangers hockey, it shouldn’t take long for a player of his skill level to gel. In the end, an NHL lockout that shortens the season could actually help the Rangers to sustain their style of play throughout a deep playoff run.
When the ultimate goal is another Stanley Cup win, maybe the 2012 NHL lockout isn’t the worst thing in the world for the New York Rangers – provided it comes to a conclusion relatively soon.