Guest blogger: AFrey94

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2011-12 Season Preview: The Renaissance

(editor’s note: Alex is a freelance writer and director of operations for Skintology, a medical spa in Chelsea.  He also runs a tobacco filtration startup called Smoke Skreen).

The common term among die hard hockey fans for the month of August is “hockey hell,” which to me seems a bit harsh.  While it is certainly excruciating to sit, wait, prognosticate and debate (as Jackie Chiles would say) as there are almost no newsworthy events in the hockey world aside from Sean Avery throwing sick parties, I’d liken it more to purgatory with the sense of anticipation mixed with boredom.  Hell to me is more analogous to the round of the playoffs immediately following your favorite team’s exit (case in point: I skipped the first week of the semis this year and the first round of last year).  All this to say that as August reaches its midpoint, it’s time to start looking forward to the year ahead, one which appears to be filled with more promise than any year since Renney was behind the bench and Malik getting the treatment from the Garden faithful in 2007.  Instead of a traditional player-by-player season preview, I’d like to compare this year’s team to others of years past to see what we can reasonably expect from our 2011-12 New York Rangers.

Let’s rewind to summer of 2007.  The team had improved upon its breakthrough 2005-06 season by sweeping the Thrashers and coming painfully close to a conference finals berth.  I will never forget July 1, 2007, being in the middle of Rome and, realizing that free agency had kicked off a couple hours previous, abandoning my family to stop into the nearest coffee shop with internet access.  What was initially supposed to be a quick one-minute sidebar turned into a half hour of scanning every single Rangers site I could think of to get their reactions to the signing, with many of the locals confused by my initial scream and general state of delirium.  Expectations were high, reaching their crescendo with Larry Brooks’ bold prediction of “a parade down the Canyon of Heroes, this one 40 years ahead of schedule.”  For most of the season the Rangers were teetering on the edge of missing the playoffs until really hitting their stride at the end of the year.  They were led by Jagr and Gomez who scored 71 and 70 points respectively, followed by Drury with 58 and three players with 40.  Only three players hit 20 goals but they rode stellar defense and great season from Henrik Lundqvist to reach 97 points and a fifth-place finish in the east.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to get past Crosby, Malkin and the NHL officials in Round 2, and after an extremely satisfying elimination of the Devils they got bounced by the eventual East champion Pens.

‘08-09 was a strange season, with players like Zherdev and Naslund leading the charge in their only year on Broadway, half a season without Sean Avery (the only time since Feb ’07 he wasn’t around) and the transition from Renney to Tortorella.  The team was in a state of flux and, despite the fact that they only missed the playoffs on the last day of the season, ‘09-10 was something of a rebuilding year.  The thing is when you have Henrik Lundqvist in net, your rebuilding years will still yield a 9th-10th place finish at worst.  Last season was the final year of the rebuild, and one in which the Rangers boasted five 20 goals scorers.  They were actually firmly entrenched in the 4-5 spot for much of the season until they skidded into the 7-9 position where they stayed for the rest of the season.  They gave Washington a scare, almost winning Game 1 and blowing a huge lead in Game 4, but ultimately Washington was simply the better team (albeit one which couldn’t win another game).

Let’s now look at this year’s team in comparison to last years.  Right off the bat, they’re returning every important player from last season, and are ADDING an all-star center who would have easily led the team in scoring last season.  Not only is this huge from the perspective of his goals/assists, but it will also allow more production from centers down the line as they face weaker defensive assignments.  Richards should also help improve a power play that was lethargic and downright embarrassing at times last season.  Not only does this have the benefit of offering additional scoring, but it will also dissuade teams from taking liberties with our guys while the only real deterrent in doing so last season would have been if they found it ungentlemanly (and I don’t think that’s really a concern for the Flyers).  Additionally, the Rangers are still a very young team, meaning that each player should theoretically be able to expand on their output of last year.  Now obviously that doesn’t happen across the board, but it will be the case the majority of the time.  This means fewer hiccups from the D, which takes the most time to learn, and increased scoring from the guys up front.  It is also important to note that last year’s team was beset by a ridiculous amount of injuries, far more than I recall ever seeing in a single Rangers season.  Gaborik missed 20 games, Callahan missed 20, Dubi and Staal missed stretches of a couple weeks, etc.  All in all it’s amazing that they were even able to make the playoffs last year with a senior defenseman of age 27, no real No. 1 center and terrible health.

So, looking forward to next year, I think we can expect them to improve on their 93-point finish of last year and their 97-point finish of ‘07-08, the last time we went into a year as a contender for the conference crown.  In goal, Lundqvist remains a consensus top-five netminder, and I would argue that stretches in the last couple months of the season were among the strongest of his career.  As the longest tenured Ranger, he is still only 29 years old and in the prime of his career.  The defense will be much improved over last seasons and that of ‘07-08.  That was the year of Rozsival, Girardi, Tyutin, Mara, Malik and Staal (I’d like to pretend Christian Backman never happened).  This year’s defense will not have anyone who’s on par offensively with Rozi (remember, this is the year he was leading all defensemen in scoring before a midseason injury) but they appear to be much stronger defensively.  Marc Staal has evolved into a top-flight shut down defender, Girardi is a shot-blocking horse and Sauer-McDonagh looks to be a great combination for years to come.  That top-4 is easily the strongest I recall having post lockout, and being that they’re all so young they can be expected to continue on their upward trajectory.

Offensively, they stack up quite favorably to both incarnations.  Let’s look at the top five scorers from both seasons and what I project to be the top five this season:

2007-08
Jagr:  82-25-46-71
Gomez: 81-16-54-70
Drury: 82-25-33-58
Shanahan: 73-23-23-46
Straka: 65-14-27-41

2010-11
Dubi:  77-24-30-54
Gaborik: 62-22-26-48
Callahan: 60-23-25-48
Stepan: 82-21-24-45
Anisimov: 82-18-26-44

2011-12 (projected)
Richards: 76-27-56-83
Gaborik: 74-37-43-80
Dubi:  77-28-39-67
Callahan: 74-33-30-63
Stepan: 82-23-31-54

Richards and Gaborik should be a formidable top tandem, and the addition of Richards to the power play improves stats across the board, as does having a real top line.  This allows Dubi and Cally to excel facing weaker defense pairings and checking lines.  Stepan has all the tools and should improve on a solid rookie season.  Down the lineup, Anisimov should chip in somewhere around 45-50 points.  Prust-Boyle-Fedotenko will provide a top notch checking line that can chip in some goals once in a while and, along with Avery and Rupp, will provide a physical presence and stir things up.  Zuccarello and Wolski are two wild cards; they could provide a great contribution or they could slide in and out of the lineup.  I think Z will be the more productive of the two as he gets accustomed to the North American game and the longer season.

One more team to add to the mix to stir things up:

2010-11
Lucic: 79-30-32-62
Krejci: 75-13-49-62
Bergeron: 80-22-35-57
Horton: 80-26-27-53
Recchi: 81-14-34-48

Here’s a team which did not have any offensive players on par with Gaborik or Richards, which rode an excellent defense (admittedly better than that of NYR) and an elite performance in net to a division title and the cup.  This is the team, remember, against whom the Rangers came back from 3-0 down to basically save their season.

Of course, all these projections, prognostications and predictions are fun to make but the element of uncertainty is why they play the game.  Maybe Gaborik or Richards will take a bad hit to the head and miss a large portion of the season.  Maybe they won’t click like the doomed Jagr/Gomez pairing, or maybe Lundqvist will have an uneven season.  You never know.  But the point is that the Rangers have all the elements to have a successful season and give us hope that they can compete with anyone in the league.  How many people would have chosen Boston to win the cup before the playoffs?  As I recall, they were maybe sixth or seventh in terms of Vegas odds.  The key is to get a good mix of guys, get in, and then anything can happen; you just have to be playing your best hockey at the end of the year.  Are they the favorites?  No.  But they’re in play and have a legitimate shot at making some noise.  I’m going to go ahead and predict a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division, fourth in the east at 102 points, and a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals.  They’re close, but not quite there yet.

I’ll leave you guys with one final thought for all the naysayers and pessimists out there who will say that I’m a hopeless optimist, that the Rangers have no shot, that Lundqvist is a sham, etc.  I’ve heard all these arguments, often from otherwise rational individuals, and it always boggles my mind how people who are so committed to the team can be so down on it.  It’s similar to what Louis CK famously said about the modern generation being unaware of how great things are (you can check out the clip here http://bit.ly/bIBI3h and I would also highly recommend his critically acclaimed FX show “Louie”).  If you look at being a fan of sports purely from a logical and mathematical standpoint, it’s a sucker bet.  There are 30 teams and each year only one’s fans come away with a championship; maybe 2 or 3 more are really satisfied with their teams’ performance.  It’s an enterprise where your mathematical odds of seeing a title are 3.3% every year; that’s roughly the same as putting all your money on 21 in roulette (2.6%).  What this tells me is that there obviously must be some intangible lurking variable which is adding value to the experience; otherwise, the constant disappointment would dissuade the sort of super-fandom I see from people like my brother who is currently following the Garden renovation online and named his dog “Henry.”  Those intangibles in my mind are following a franchise with a rich heritage and having a team that is fun to watch and full of players that you can root for and that you watched grow.  The maturation of players like Cally, Dubi, Staal, Girardi, etc has been such a satisfying and new experience, and there’s also the influx of guys like Stepan, McDonagh and Sauer.  Even if you think that this year’s team is no better than a seventh-place finisher, or that I’ve vastly overrated players and contributions, you’ll be lucky enough to be watching a team that’s one of the better ones in the league and one that is doing things the right way.  My favorite teacher used to always say during tests not to cheat because “if you’re gonna fail, at least fail with dignity.”  These Rangers have given us a lot of great moments as they come of age and this is the year the push for the cup needs to start, but even if it doesn’t go as planned, it’s only a week of hell and a couple months of purgatory before we get to try it again.

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72 Comments

  1. Sorry for the delayed comment on the post Alex, but since I’m up at this hartnelling hour, I just had to beat ilb :)

    Your post has got me all fired up for the season to start! I’m an optimist, too (well, as far as the Rangers are concerned). And now, as our favorite bag man says, off to work, later aasens! Yeesh, I’m so tired I can barely see….

  2. bull dog line on

    you can’t mention how good Hank was for months ( he was), and not mention how inconsistent he was for a large chunk in the middle of the season. otherwise, I am right there with you, I think this team is a 100 point team.

  3. onecupin72yearsandcounting on

    I have been a ranger fan too long to believe in fairy tales.. one player does not make a team.

  4. A superb analysis of the past and with fine insight into the future possibilities. I would be interested in your
    attitude toward the method of the Ranger’s game, which largely consisted of a dump in, a tepid attack, and then an endless scrum along the boards and behind the net, with only a couple of stalwarts behind the net looking for someone in front to feed off to, (i.e. Avery and Prust.) Like the ghost of Renney past, they continue this endless and fruitless style, and are usually the victims of it. And no matter which combo they put out there, it always seems to taper off to the
    “perimeter game which does little more than waste time. They have talented forwards, they have solid defensemen, but they are let slip into that mediocrity of an attack ( replete with shots wide of the net, and clangers off the post, with disturbing regularity.

    What are we gonna see this coming year….more of the
    same? I sure hope not. As you can imagine, I am less than thrilled with the coaching staff on this team.

  5. Doodie Machetto on

    It’s a good writeup, but I have one problem with something you said in reference to it being a young team:

    “This means fewer hiccups from the D, which takes the most time to learn, and increased scoring from the guys up front.”

    Last year, one of our best defensive prospects regressed so far that he was sent to CT. What makes you think that our two sophomore blueliners won’t suffer the same fate? For the record, I think Mcdonagh is far more likelier to have a slump than Sauer because Sauer has much more pro level and NHL experience.

    Also, one more year should mean increased scoring is also a big fallacy. Gaborik’s scoring plummeted. And the “he didn’t have a center!” argument is BS because he didn’t have one two years ago either. Also, the young core forwards did all see a big increase in scoring last year so we can remain hopeful for more, but these players are no superstars. There is a ceiling and I think that some are very close to it.

  6. onecup – It ain’t one player(i.e. Richards), it’s the whole team. Look at this sort of like a sliding puzzle. You move one piece into the right position and three others fall into place. Moving Richards onto first line gives the Rangers double the top-line talent and frees up some of the second line talent to play its game. The second part(which was addressed in the write-up) is the progress of the young players. You look at Anisimov’s stats from year to year, including in the AHL, and every time he’s increased his output. I don’t see the kid as a 100-point player or even close, but I think its a safe assessment that he’ll reach 50-plus.

    Doodie – comparing Del Zotto to guys like Sauer and McDonagh is just ridiculous. Del Zotto was never good at defense and he benefited greatly from Tortorella’s initial safe-is-death system. When he rightly dialed that back to include more defensive play, Del Zotto’s warts became clearly evident. In other words, his slump in hindsight was predictable. I don’t see how two guys who are known as defensive specialists will somehow suddenly forget how to play. Unless, of course, Tortorella uses Richards as an excuse to go back to his old style of play.

    On Gaborik. The reason he wasn’t scoring last year was two-fold: because he was playing injured and because he had no one to QB the PP. His shot wasn’t nearly as quick as it was the previous year, and I suspect that had to do with his early-season shoulder injury. Something like that requires six months to heal properly, and he gave it a few weeks. Why? Because Gaborik with one lame arm is still better than no Gaborik at all. And then the demise of Del Zotto was the second part. Without a puck-mover on the point, he was left to grind it out with the rest of the Ranger forwards. A healthy Gaborik will be prolifically better than what we saw last season.

  7. great post frey!,

    phil- i think gbby dogged it sometimes too. how do u explain scoring 4 goals in 1 game, then none for 2 weeks? he wasnt that badly hurt. cmon. yes, he isnt suited for a dump n chase type game and he doesnt grind out along the boards, but he didnt step up and give that extr effort and basically will himself to score like jagr could do. and thats not a special skill either. its called having some pride and gettin it dne when you are counted on. he is the best player and needs to play harder now. last year because the best d on every team focused on him even more, he will be a huge target for opposing checkers too. it will not get easier for his shoulder or hips(groins as joe m says). i think he’ll start off very good, but as the season goes on, teams adjust to him n richards, he will have to play harder and take it up a few notches when its crunch time and fighting for playoffs.

  8. Terrific post Alex!

    I’m with Fran on the poor attacking style though. Too much dump and chase, and then fight for your life along the boards only to have it cleared out of the zone again. All the play to the outside. I loved the willingness of last year’s team, but I miss seeing organized rushes up the ice.

    Aww hell I just miss hockey!

  9. I agree that the offensive system has been frustrating in past years, as was the power play. But you play the system that will best maximize the contributions of your personnel. Renney believed, and once infamously said, that his Rangers had to win games 2-1 to be successful. When Tortorella came in he tried to bring in his up-tempo rushing style, but after early success he realized this squad simply did not have the personnel to pull it off. However, they now will have a legitimate top line, and one with two of the fastest players in the NHL which will allow that line to play a better attacking style. The domino effect I alluded to will mean a less skilled and slower defense pairing for the Dubi-Cally line to play against, which allows them to do less around the perimeter and more domination up front. So I think we’ll see a big shift this season in their style.

    Re: Gaborik, as the only elite forward on last years team he was forced to carry the puck too much which is NOT his game. He is not a Jagr type who loves having the puck and controlling the play down low. He needs to be more of a Stamkos-Heatley guy who gets it and unleashes his wrist shot. With someone to not only feed him but to carry the puck while he gets open, coupled with recovery from injury, I think we can expect a 35-40 goal year out of him.

    And while he did not have the elite center his first season here, he did have a ton of great breakout passes from MDZ and one of Prospal’s best seasons. Not great, but way more consistent than what he got last year; think of what he can do with Richards and an improved powerplay at his disposal.

  10. Wicky(grating PIBG)© (The she/it on our D is sofa king SOFT!!!) on

    Morning ILB and all!!

    Alex
    nice write up, thanks!!

    I also think perhaps the dump and chase style was used due to the talent level of the team?? I mean if you had more offencive skill, the style might be different??? right?

    So, question for everyone, what was your favorite moment form last season (non ranger)?

  11. Alternatively…

    The Flyers losing in the playoffs
    The Penguins losing in the playoffs
    The Devils not making the playoffs
    The Islanders

  12. interesting write up. definitely made me look forward to a new season even more! Thanks, AFrey94!

    2 hours w/o a single comment?? And you want to tell me this isn’t hell?!

    Is Avery a captain yet?

  13. Wicky (Leeloo Dallas mul-ti-pass) on

    Orr
    You never disappoint!

    Thanks for the response guys!

    Mine was goddard coming off the bench versus the fishies!

  14. Alex, thanks for your article. I have to agree with most of what you say. It’s nice to see the team start to come together after a long wait. I had very good feeling for the team at the end of the season. I truly think they improved to the point they gave Boston a run for their money especially the last couple of games they were some of the best of the season.
    I also think that Callahan breaking his ankle knocked the wind out of the team but they put up a good fight against Washington anyway.
    Thanks for your spelling out the odds of winning the Cup. I think the Stanley Cup is one of the hardest championships to win. Even the very best seem to be limited by the odds they face. I hope to see an improvement in the power play and less injuries resulting in much better play.

  15. Wicky(grating PIBG)© (The she/it on our D is sofa king SOFT!!!) on

    Even though it is really slow here, some great news on the crease clearer front, we have another wickster on the way!!!!!

  16. Wicky, wow, great! If not for my limited superstition in certain fields, I would Congratulate yours.

  17. Boom Boom Bathgate on

    This has the look of a TEAM, given that much of the core of this team has been together for awhile. Because of this cohesiveness and familiarity, we might look for the whole to be greater than the sum of the individual parts. Thomas and Hagelin get a bona fide shot and come through, this team can win the division, with more post-season upside potential to follow.

  18. ZzZz NYR ZzZz© " Don't stepan the logo!!!"...says Greg L. on

    Alright where’s Olga , I’ll fire this place up . Can’t stand Chumps that root for other teams on this blog . Makes me wanna puke!!!

    GO RANGERS , EURO BOUND!!!!!

  19. ZzZz NYR ZzZz© " Don't stepan the logo!!!"...says Greg L. on

    NEW WICKY ON THE WAY!!!! Congrats man , you busy little beaver you .

  20. Wicky(grating PIBG)© (The she/it on our D is sofa king SOFT!!!) on

    4ever
    thanks and I understand completely!

    ZZZZZZ
    thanks bro, long winters you know…LOL

  21. I’m just wondering, Wicky, how did you find time for it, considering frequency of posting appearance on this blog. LOL. Now, that’s a real definition of multitask. Exemplary!

  22. btw, my sister is prgnant with her first. another future bonehead! we gotta keep the tradition alive for future generations wicky!. i just gotta get my sis to get on here more often. she said she will when season starts. my daughter is a jr. bonehead already.

  23. In absence of real hockey news:
    The leader of a Brooklyn band Black Water Rising, Rob Traynor wants to stick it to the New Jersey Devils, saying the puck-heads stole one of his songs and filed a $30 million suit after the team allegedly refused to pay for using their song “Rise” in a video before every home game.
    His lawyer, Wallace Collins, said the Devils “are . . . offering an insultingly small amount of money to settle.”
    We have to ask CCCP to sort these things out. Hallloww!

  24. Yay to a new Wickster!!!! We may finally get our hard hitting, crease clearing D-man!

    Great write-up, AFrey94! Certainly the season to look forward to. Finally!

    My favorite moment- Tampa Bay came out firing on all cylinders and destroying Carolina. By 15 min of first period it was over. I remember Carp just got off the train and said :”Holy shishkabob! Is it really 3-0?”

  25. I have no clue why you are so surprised about the news regarding a new wickster. When Wicky says:” Off to work, later assens”, you don’t really think he is actually going to work, do you? :-)

  26. Wicky (Leeloo Dallas mul-ti-pass) on

    Grabby
    Thanks bro

    ILB
    Thanks and quit giving my “off to work” secrets away!!

  27. Wicky(grating PIBG)© (The she/it on our D is sofa king SOFT!!!) on

    grabby
    congrats to your sis and tell her to stop by here more!!

  28. Wicky(grating PIBG)© (The she/it on our D is sofa king SOFT!!!) on

    more like an empty netter on a slow day like this

  29. ilb

    do you recall that i didnt watch any of the tampa carolina game and had the tv off until i came on ranger report to have you guys break the good news. i was never so giddy like that. i jumped up and hit my head on the ceiling.

    caps over rangers in conf finals.

    hawks over kings in conf finals

    caps over hawks in 6

  30. Now, who is this fellow ranking NHL best players by their position? He’s made a few blunders before, but here is an interesting one. Ilya Kovalchuk is ranked by him as #3 RIGHT WINGER. Last time I looked, Kovalchuk was playing left wing. Btw, Gaborik is #6.

    http://tinyurl.com/3tv8nfg

  31. Vacation was good, back to work for a couple of weeks. Going to Israel in September. I’ll be back by the last week…

  32. Even “marathon” Wicky, God blesses all his organs, from fingers to… toes, deflated here and obviously back to his noble “work”…

  33. Wicky(grating PIBG)© (The she/it on our D is sofa king SOFT!!!) on

    cccp
    kinda figured you knew, you did pretty well actually!!

  34. What the hell is wrong with you people? Every year there are HUGE question marks as to how much certain players are going to contribute, which quick fix Sather is going to bring in for a year or 2 who just needs a “change of scenery” (Zherdev, Naslund, Gomez, Antropov). I am definitely a realist when it comes to this team and no they’re not a top 5 team in the NHL and maybe not even in the Eastern Conference. Having said that, there should only be optimism going into this season based on the growth of the youngsters (Stepan, McD, Sauer, Arte), guys who should be entering the prime of their careers (Cally, Dubi, Staal, Girardi) and elite talent who are All Stars in the prime of their careers (Richards, Gaborik, Lundqvist). Maybe they won’t win the Cup this year, but maybe they will. This is the best I’ve felt about a Rangers team heading into a season in a long time. Embrace the optimism.

  35. Gaborik scores 42 goals with Erik “waiver wire” Christensen and Vinny “one leg” Prospal but with Brad Richards, one of the elite playmakers and passers in the entire game, hes only going to score 37?

    You people are shot.

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