Editor’s Note: Before we get to Authorben’s excellent essay on the Rangers’ summer, voting for Sally’s Third Sometimes-annual Paul Mara Playoff Beard Competition begins today at http://zetterburger.com.
So stop by and vote. Or else.
It was quite a season for the 2011 – 2012 New York Rangers.
It opened with an extended European vacation and a long road trip across North America and back. It brought us a wonderful Winter Classic win against the dreaded Orange Crud. It included 51 regular-season wins. It totaled up to 109 points.
It tantalized us with two game sevens and 20 play-on games in all.
It ended in devilish disappointment.
Not only for the players, coaches and management. But for us, the fans.
We wanted more. We wanted nirvana. We wanted the Cup. But alas, the memories of ’94 will have to do — for now.
The Broadway Boys had a remarkable run. However, there’s much to be done in order for them to hoist the Holy Grail once again.
So without further adieu, here are seven key questions to think about during the off-season. Perhaps the answers could help lead the Rangers to the top of the mountain.
Highway 61 revisited? — Not only is the title of a legendary Bob Dylan album — it also happens to be Rick Nash’s uniform number. Will the Rangers turn to Columbus again, to try and pry the prototypical power forward to Broadway? And if so, who will go the other way? The differences between Nash and Blue Jackets management seem to be irreconcilable at this point. And now with Marian Gaborik on the shelf with a bum shoulder until at least November, the glaring need for more goals glares even brighter.
How many zeroes for Zach? At the stroke of midnight on July 1, Devils forward Zach Parise becomes the most sought-after player on the market. The Captain of his team. A player in his prime who may lift Lord Stanley’s Cup in the next two weeks. And he wouldn’t cost the Rangers a single, solitary asset from their roster. I know he’s a tremendous talent and would seem to fit ideally into the Torts style of play. But is he really worth all the dough and all the years that Mr. Sather would have to throw his way?
Plus, think about this — what would it tell you about the Captain of a team playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, if he were to leave that team — the only team he’s ever played for in the NHL, to sign with that team’s arch rival? Would it be just for the money, or because he really wants to be a Ranger?
Not only that, does it matter that Captain Zach wouldn’t even get a letter on his jersey? The Rangers room is already being run by Captain Callahan, as well as Brad Richards, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. How would Parise ultimately react to that? And we don’t have to look any further than Bruce Driver, Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez to see how New Jersey claim jumpers have done at MSG. Any of youse skeptical about J.P.’s son skating on Broadway?
Who are the Ultimately Fantastic Additions (UFAs)?
The Rangers core is young and strong. But reinforcements are needed to reach the promised land. And they may need to come from outside the organization. Aside from Captain Zach, here’s a list of UFAs (their ages included) for you to ponder:
Paul Gaustad, 30 — The big center would be an ideal fit on the fourth line, a monster on faceoffs and would certainly help add to the growl and grit. Players like this don’t come on the market too often.
Jiri Hudler, 28 — A 25 goal, 50-point left wing raised in the Detroit Red Wings system couldn’t be bad.
Jason Garrison, 27 — Scored 16 goals on the Panther D-line last year – and has a blistering shot from the point.
Dennis Wideman, 29 — Close to 50 points on the Caps blue line this season – a wicked shot from the point. Joins the rush. Would be a lot cheaper than the next guy on the list.
Ryan Suter, 27 — This do-it-all D man who would be a tremendous addition to the team. But the cost would be great.
Other UFAs for your consideration:
Chris Kelly, 31 — Solid 3rd line center — a Cup champion with the Bruins — a jack of all trades. Perhaps the Rangers look this way, if Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov or Brian Boyle are part of a deal for Rick Nash.
Zenon Konopka, 31 — Yes, that Zenon Konopka. Holy Cooke, how good is he on faceoffs? Has the hate you want in the play-ons, too.
Johan Hedberg, 39 — Perhaps the Rangers give the veteran they call Moose a shot if Marty Biron, a UFA himself, bolts Broadway for bigger bucks. Hedberg would be a solid backup to The King.
Is signing Prust a must? — Whattaya think? Brandon Prust is unquestionably one of the “glue” guys, a great teammate and superb penalty killer. Plus, the coach loves him.
What’ll be on tap at the draft? — The Rangers are slated to make the 28th selection in the first round of this season’s NHL Entry Draft. Can Gordie Clarke and company pull a rabbit out of their hats with a pick that low? Or will the team trade the pick as part of a package deal for Nash or another goal-getter?
How will they solve the D-lemma? — The Rangers top 4 D-man are pretty much set and one of the best groups in the entire league. But what about the third pair? Who gets the 5 and 6 spots? Tim Erixon will be given a chance to make the team. Perhaps Dylan McIlrath makes it — if he’s not part of a package deal. Did Anton Stralman show enough to get another look? Was Stu Bickel’s willingness enough to get an encore?
Steve Eminger? The unfortunate uncertainty of the Michael Sauer concussion situation throws a bit of a wrench into this one.
Can the Rangers perform a balancing act? — The Devils rolled four lines. The Rangers did not. The Devils advanced to the Finals. The Rangers did not. They need scoring depth throughout the lineup to help take over close games. Think about it — Games 5 and 6 in the ECF were there for the taking. The Devils were on the ropes at 3-3 in Game 5 and 2-2 in Game 6 — “bent over,” as the coach said. But the Rangers didn’t have enough to put the hammer down. That must change. Derek Stepan must step it up. Brandon Dubinsky — if he’s still around — must rebound. Same goes for Brian Boyle. Chris Kreider will certainly help in this area. By the way, the Amazing Kreider Man has already played 14 more career play-on games and has 4 more career play-on goals than Rick Nash. Just sayin’.
Been a long time since the Rangers went this far through the gauntlet.
Now, its not just a matter of making the postseason for this franchise. Its a matter of getting to the next level, with players who will add both the requisite talent and heightened sense of desperation that are necessary to win the Stanley Cup. Going from where they were a season ago to where they are now was surely a quantum leap. But to go from where they are now, to where they want to go, is certainly going to be much tougher.
Hope you all enjoy the journey.