New York Rangers: Offensive Offense Must Be Top Offseason Priority
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New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella can say he is satisfied with his team's rapid progress from an eighth seed in last year's playoffs to the top seed this year, but that will ring hollow with the team's Cup-starved fanbase.
With the Stanley Cup Finals set to begin Wednesday night in the Prudential Center, most Rangers fans' TV sets will be tuned elsewhere, wondering what could've been. The familiar platitudes about progress and the future being bright will not hold water as the Devils and Kings, a sixth and eighth seed respectively, battle it out for the most prized trophy in the sport.
This was supposed to be the Rangers' year. Everything broke their way: home ice throughout the playoffs, a Vezina and Hart Trophy nominated goaltender, traditional powers like Pittsburgh, Boston, Philly, Chicago and Detroit out of the way. But the Rangers' undoing, as has been too often the case in recent years, was a lack of offensive firepower.
That will be the team's top priority heading into this offseason and names like Devils captain Zach Parise and Columbus sniper Rick Nash have already been mentioned as possible fits. Parise, an unrestricted free agent, has New York roots and plays the type of hockey that would fit Tortorella's system.
Nash, whom the Rangers checked in on at the trade deadline, has one more year left on his contract with the Blue Jackets. He will certainly be on the block again this summer and will have no shortage of suitors.
Both would provide instant upgrades to a Blueshirt offense that too often relied on goalie Henrik Lundqvist to stand on his head to protect one-goal leads.
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Of the two, Nash is the more likely option. The Blue Jackets covet young defensemen and the Rangers have no shortage in that department. Michael Del Zotto (10 goals, 31 assists) had a breakout regular season but struggled mightily in the playoffs. With youngsters Dylan McIlrath and Tim Erixon expected to compete for roster spots in the fall, Del Zotto could be expendable and attractive to Columbus.
Another player who could be on the move is Brandon Dubinsky. While a fan favorite, Dubinsky has yet to live up to the high hopes the Rangers brass had for him. His 2011-2012 campaign saw him net a disappointing 10 goals and the Blueshirts may consider dealing him while he still has some value.
A change of scenery could benefit the 26-year-old winger whose $4 million plus cap hit next year could hinder the Rangers ability to improve their offense.
What the Rangers cannot do is sit back and hope that their youngsters continue to develop. Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider have all shown flashes of offensive brilliance, but in the NHL you only get so many years of an elite goalie in his prime.
Guys like Martin Brodeur, who play at this level at his age, are a rarity. You cannot expect to get that out of Henrik Lundqvist, or anyone for that matter. It simply isn't realistic.
This team needs to make a big splash in the offseason, both to show they are serious about contending for the Cup and to sooth a fanbase stung by a loss to the hated Devils. They also owe it to Henrk Lundqvist to give him some breathing room and not make him feel like he has to pitch a shutout every night to win.
Make no mistake about it, the road to the Cup will be very difficult next year. If these Rangers want to compete and not fall back to mediocrity, the time for a big splash is now.
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