Here’s my column from The Journal News and LoHud.com today:
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH — The Rangers’ big, shiny new toy stood in front of three differently colored No. 61 uniform jerseys Wednesday afternoon and couldn’t stop smiling.
Rick Nash is happy to be here, thrilled to be a Ranger (he said New York City was his first choice), excited to get going, embracing the pressure and the expectations.
And the Rangers are surely just as happy, thrilled and excited, because 28-year-old, 6-foot-4 power forwards with speed, a bit of snarl, and a sniper’s touch are pretty rare in the NHL.
Nash, who already has nine NHL seasons on his resume, who is on a relatively short list of the game’s best goal-scorers, is exactly what the Rangers needed — and have needed — another elite first-line scoring winger to go with Marian Gaborik. He is what they needed most of last year, and so desperately in the playoffs when their struggle to score forced them to go seven games in each of the first two rounds, and ultimately led to their demise in the Eastern Conference final.
Imagine what the Rangers might have done if — big if — they had been able to complete the trade for Nash at the end of February, at the trade deadline, when they tried like heck but couldn’t get it done.
“Yeah, for sure, I was disappointed,” Nash said about that deadline passing and him staying behind as the captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets while the Rangers played 20 playoff games, or five times as many as Nash has played in his entire career.
The Rangers, with this one deal, are a better team right now than they’ve been in a while — and last year they were the best team in the East and the second-best in the entire NHL during the season and a final four team in the playoffs. Whether being a better team, with a better roster, and with more of what they most needed (goals) translates into a better season or two or four or six more playoff wins can’t possibly be predicted.
The Rangers in 2011-12 won a lot of those games that could have gone either way, won a lot of them late, won a ton of them on the shoulders of the Vezina Trophy-winning goalie and league MVP-finalist Henrik Lundqvist. They won games by beating up teams physically, in small battles, and even, yes, with the gloves down — the Rangers led the NHL in fighting majors. Opposing scouts and coaches praised the Rangers’ work ethic, and the way they just made it difficult to play against, made it hard to gain every inch, and just took away so much of that ice and time with their physical play and their shot-blocking.
It was an admirable way to do business, and surely they will still look to play that way, even now that they have added skill — and with $13.39 million in salary cap space left, they could still add more.
“I think it’s a big fast team with some of the wingers, guys like (Mike) Rupp and (Brian) Boyle,” Nash said. “They can kind of do it all and play fast and I think I kind of fit in to that. It’s going to be fun playing in the East as well, I think, with all the rivalries and the close games. But like I’ve said before, any role they’ll ask me to play and want me to play, I’ll try to do my best at that.”
So here’s the question. The Rangers didn’t give up any of their most prized young players in the deal, but they did trade Brandon Dubinsky, who despite his nightmarish ‘11-12 season, was one of those guys who embodied the team’s values. On July 1, they lost another Brandon — Prust — who was a heart-and-soul guy, their leading fighter, who could nevertheless play top-nine minutes and kill penalties and, well, play the game better than most of the fist-throwers.
Both of them were involved in the “identity” of the team, in the “all-for-one” attitude, were among the guys who made the Rangers tough for opponents to play, and who stuck up for teammates.
So while the Rangers are better today, they’re different, too, and maybe their game will have to change some. Maybe they will have to learn a new way to win, and perhaps with a guy like Nash and a full season from Carl Hagelin and a first season for Chris Kreider, they will win more with speed and scoring than with growl and grit.
It’s a fair argument. Will this better team be, well, better?