When New York Rangers GM Glen Sather acquired high scoring LW Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets during the off-season in exchange for three younger players and the team’s 2013 first round draft pick, it signaled the blue shirts immediate desire for a rare drink from the Stanley Cup. The Rangers have been engineered to win today – not tomorrow. And the front office knows it all too well.
With top level talent on offense, defense and in goal, few will argue that this Rangers team is absolutely stacked. One would be hard pressed to find a team with more all around depth on all four scoring lines. As a result, the Rangers find themselves in the unusual position as being one of the prohibitive favorites to go all the way.
With only one Cup victory in 73 years, one can excuse the Rangers for feeling a bit unfamiliar with their name in lights on the preseason NHL marquee. However, the position of top billing also brings pressure, especially in a media driven town where both their rivals (New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders) have succeeded in winning a total of seven Cups in thirty-two years.
High octane offensive performers such as Nash, RW Marian Gaborik and C Brad Richards will have to deliver (especially in the playoffs) for the Rangers to surpass their Eastern Conference Finals showing last season. Unlike Richards, who has won the Cup in Tampa, Nash and Gaborik have limited playoff experience.
The same lack of postseason experience applies for the Rangers young disciplined shot blocking defense, which is anchored by Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonough and Marc Staal. Head coach John Tortorella is hoping last season’s visit to the league semi-finals has given the Rangers young players valuable experience and a much needed boost of confidence to their game.
In goal, the Rangers arguably have one of the best goaltending tandems in Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron. However, the Rangers will have to pop in a few more goals to take the load off Lundqvist, who has been asked to carry the burden a bit too much over the past few seasons. This is where the production of Nash, a seven time 30+ goal scorer is vital.
The knock against Nash is that he was not able to carry the load for the Blue Jackets. However, in New York, Nash will not have to carry as much of a load, as he is surrounded with an abundance of talent. This is a luxury Nash never had in Columbus. Nash’s arrival should also help energize the Rangers anemic power play, which ranked 23rd in 2011-12.
With an overload of front line talent in their prime and a smattering of other position players entering their prime, the Rangers can no longer be satisfied with playing a bit supporting roll. In this strike shortened 48 game season, the Rangers will be auditioning for lead roll; one which the Broadway Blues have not played very often in the past seven decades.
The Rangers six of the first seven games are against the formidable Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. With such a difficult early schedule, we will know very soon if this team has what it takes to star on the Great White Way. A slow start can be devastating in a short 48 game season, where there will be precious little time for teams to pace themselves.
For the Rangers, the curtain on their 2013 production rises on the road in Boston against the Bruins on Saturday night at 7 sharp. For once, fans will not only be wishing, but also expecting them to a ‘break a leg’.