Just six days ago, hockey fans got the news that they had waited for for 113 days. During the early morning of January 6th, the NHL lockout was ended in principle by the league and it’s players’ union, the NHLPA in last-ditch bargaining talks in New York City. With the disappointment of the lockout behind us, a season is about to be played, starting on January 19th. Teams will have a very short training camp to ramp up for the 48 game, condensed season they are about to begin.
For the Rangers, expectations have never been higher in recent memory. After finding a balance between experience and youth last season, the team still had a problem with goal scoring, putting much of the pressure on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. However, GM Glen Sather made a couple of moves that many believe will put the Rangers over the top, as one of the favorites to hoist the cup.
In perhaps the biggest trade of the offseason, the Rangers dealt centers Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov as well as defenseman Tim Erixon to Columbus for the coveted winger, Rick Nash. John Tortorella’s newest offensive weapon, drafted first overall by Columbus in 2002, has averaged 32 goals a year in his nine-year career. To get a player still in his prime without breaking the bank in terms of young talent was an absolutely golden opportunity for the Rangers, which should pay dividends right away. Nash is another big-time scorer to pair with Marian Gaborik, who scored 41 goals last season, on the top line as well as on the power play, which should prove deadly for opposing defenses. Perhaps one of the blessings in disguise for the Rangers is the fact that Gaborik will be able to start the season after the nearly four month long lockout. With Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan all coming off stellar campaigns (Kreider’s was in the playoffs), they should continue to provide a youthful infusion into this up-tempo offensive unit.
Despite Michael Del Zotto’s horrific performance against the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Rangers must work to resign him to maintain their depth on the blue line. With Michael Sauer’s injury, Del Zotto could even work himself into the team’s “core four” defensemen (Tortorella likes to lean on his top four defensemen for most of the playing time), which already includes Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. The Rangers one of the best defensive units in hockey last season and shouldn’t squander that on a lack of depth. If the signing is completed as many anticipate, nothing should stop the Rangers from repeating their stellar defensive numbers.
Henrik Lundqvist is a superstar in net; there is really no other way to put it. Coming off a season in which he procured the Vezina trophy (for best goaltender), Lundqvist has established himself as a perennial all-star as well as a stalwart between the pipes. He is an absolute pleasure to watch, but he has to be kept fresh due to the multiple back-to-back games the team will have to play. That will make the play of Martin Biron crucial as he could play in as much as 25% of the team’s games, barring injury.
The sky seams to be the limit for this team. I don’t usually make predictions regarding my own teams, but I think it’d be a shock if the Rangers aren’t at least in the conference finals for the second year in a row. With a largely weakened division, a top-three seed should not be all that difficult to attain.