Up until the beginning of the Sochi games, the Rangers were playing some of the best hockey in the league. They have gone 12-5-1 since New Year’s Day and stand at second place in the Metropolitan Division.
That position, however, may now be more fragile than ever. The team’s leading scorer, Mats Zuccarello, suffered a broken hand during the Olympics and will miss 3-4 weeks. The Ryan Callahan trade rumors are hotter than ever as it is looking more and more likely the Ranger captain will be traded before the trade deadline, perhaps for the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s Martin St. Louis.
Other questions include the following: Will Henrik Lundqvist be exhausted after a gallant performance for Team Sweden? Will Dan Girardi be traded or signed? Who will step up in Zuccarello’s absence?
Normally, these questions and situations would be a major cause for concern. But here’s why you shouldn’t panic if you are a Rangers fan.
Lundqvist is older, wiser and more seasoned from his first Olympic appearance in 2006 in which he led Sweden to gold. He came back to the Rangers exhausted, and it showed in his play. Don’t expect that to happen this time around.
If Callahan truly is traded, the Rangers will either get an aging but still elite player in St. Louis or get a return of enough depth to fill his void or potentially make the Rangers better.
Zuccarello will be back before the homestretch. If he is the same he has been all season, the Rangers will be just fine.
Most importantly, now that the team is comfortable in coach Alain Vigneault‘s system, they will not be as exhausted come playoff time as in recent years. They are also more prepared for postseason play and arguably have not peaked yet.
Despite all the questions and distractions, the Rangers should not and will not panic. Starting Thursday night, though, we’ll see if it takes them a few games to rediscover the form that has made them successful in 2014.