You’d be hard pressed to find a harder working team than head coach John Tortorella’s New York Rangers. The blue-collar mentality and concept of earning your ice time through hard work was a message the head coach sent out to the entire team way before they stepped on the ice for training camp last Summer. Nobody was entitled to anything based on past success and it was this do-or-die attitude that brought the Broadway Blueshirts to within two wins of their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since the team celebrated their 1994 Cup victory 18 years ago.
Tortorella’s team certainly wasn’t the most talented in the NHL. On many nights, if star sniper Marian Gaborik didn’t light the lamp, the Rangers seemed starved for offense, thanks in part to the inconsistencies shown by last year’s blockbuster free-agent acquisition, Brad Richards. But thanks to Henrik Lundqvist‘s heroics in goal (he captured the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender after flirting with the hardware for years), Gaborik’s second 40 plus goal season in three years on Broadway and a work ethic unrivaled by any other team in the league, the Rangers were on the cusp of greatness yet again. That was… until the wheels fell off.
A key reason for the Rangers loss to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final last Spring was utter fatigue; fatigue caused by playing an entire 82 game regular season schedule where they never took the easy way out. They never took the foot off the gas.
Going half speed wasn’t an option for Tortorella’s group; a group who was badly burnt out by the time their season was on the line late last Spring. Compounding the issue was the lack of production from Marian Gaborik, whose 41 goals were third in the National Hockey League during the regular season, behind only super-human snipers Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin.
Gaborik’s modest success, 5 post season goals, brought his heart and desire into question inside the World’s Most Famous Arena, at times home to the world’s most frustrated fan base. It wasn’t revealed until after the post season had concluded that Marian Gaborik had re-aggravated a nagging shoulder injury that had been bothering him since before the playoffs got under way. “Gabby,” as he’s known to the boys in the locker room, underwent successful off-season shoulder surgery for a torn labrum that will keep him out of action until, at least, the start of December.
It was absolutely crucial that General Manager Glen Sather brought in someone who can not only replace Gaborik’s offense while he’s recovering, but also supplement it when he returns. Enter Rick Nash, acquired in a trade that sent underachieving work horses Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov (as well as prospect Tim Erixon) to the Western Conference’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nash, a former 40 goal scorer, still managed to net 30 goals last season amidst constant trade rumors that would’ve sent him packing up and heading out East; far, far away from the bottom-feeding Blue Jackets. With incredibly gifted hands and size, Nash is altogether a different animal for the New York Rangers.
The Rangers haven’t had an offensive power-house the likes of Nash since retired superstar Eric Lindros had a brief run with the Rangers during the Rangers seven consecutive years on the outside of the playoffs looking in. With Nash joining the likes of the aforementioned Gaborik, Richards, Lundqvist and team captain Ryan Callahan, who personifies the very essence of this New York Rangers team, the Rangers have as formidable a top-6 line-up as anyone in the entire league… when they’re healthy.
Health is always a concern. With Gaborik looking at a December return window, perhaps the lock-out may be the best thing that ever happened to this Rangers team, that is, assuming the lock-out eventually ends. Starting the season with a healthy Gaborik gives the Rangers a dynamic offense that can be rivaled only by the likes of tandems such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in D.C with the Washington Capitals.
Perhaps the wear and tear of a shorter season is exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that doesn’t know how to quit. After all, a well rested, hard working, healthy team is a perfect recipe for post season success. One thing’s for certain, for the die-hard fans who fill up each and every one of the 18,200 seats inside the newly renovated Madison Square Garden 41 times every year, trading a couple months of regular season hockey for a Stanley Cup celebration lining the streets of the city that never sleeps is a fair exchange.