2013 NHL Season: 4 Bold Predictions for the NY Rangers
It may seem strange, but the New York Rangers are actually preseason favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Take a minute to digest that one, Rangers fans.
The even better news is that the shortened season will more than likely benefit the team. If last year was an indication of anything it's that playing John Tortorella's style for over 100 games really takes a toll on the players' bodies.
Furthermore, the defense is still intact, Lundqvist is still between the pipes and the acquisition of Rick Nash adds a whole lot of punch to the offense. Things are good in Ranger land.
As much as all of this is very exciting, how often does a preseason outlook actually come to fruition in the NHL? Literally never. There are just too many factors at play.
And this year there will be even more added variables. Almost none of the current NHLers know what it's like to play in a shortened season.
Plus, are guys who haven't been playing during the lockout going to struggle to get back into things? And for the ones who did, how long will it take for them to readjust to the North American game?
All of these questions are very important, because struggles and losing streaks are going to be greatly magnified this year.
In addition, players have to deal with the usual challenges of an NHL season such as devastating injuries and the completely unpredictable playoffs.
What I'm trying to say here is, the Rangers may look like the big dogs out of the gate, but year after year the NHL proves it is the least predictable league in North America. Every preseason prediction can be considered bold because we're all in the dark.
But that still doesn't stop us from making them. Here are four bold predictions for the New York Rangers in the upcoming abbreviated 2013 season.
Rick Nash Will Win the Rocket Richard Trophy
It seems to be the popular belief in the hockey world that Rick Nash is on the decline and the Rangers' acquisition of him is typical of the organization. When I say typical I'm talking about the whole "acquiring players past their prime" thing the Rangers were pretty good at in the late '90s and early 2000s.
But Nash really isn't that old (28), and taking into consideration the miserable situation he found himself in year in and year out in Columbus, it's clear that he's more a player who needs a change of scenery than one who's past his prime.
What better place than New York to get back into things? The Rangers are a team that's on course to challenge for the Cup for a number of seasons. That'll motivate Nash for sure.
He'll also have the opportunity to play with either Brad Richards or Derek Stepan, two centers who are better than any center he'd played with during his time in Columbus—Jeff Carter doesn't count.
What's most impressive is that Nash was still a perennial 30-goal scorer for the Jackets—he even won a Rocket Richard trophy in 2003-04 as co-leading goal scorer.
If he can win it with Columbus as a second-year player, he most definitely can win it with Richards or Stepan feeding him the puck. In a shortened season, a serious hot streak could see Nash in contention to pick up his second Rocket Richard trophy.
Michael Del Zotto Will Hold out
Fans were pleased at Michael Del Zotto's rebound performance last season after his miserable 2010-11 campaign, which saw him reassigned to Connecticut on two different occasions.
His offense production picked up again while his in-zone play improved vastly, thanks in part to his increased physicality.
So why is it that he hasn't been signed yet?
Well that's because he's looking for a contract that pays him around $3 million per season, and Glen Sather isn't really diggin' that.
The Rangers' general manager has a tendency to low-ball restricted free agents after their entry-level contracts. He can get away with that because these young players are not eligible for arbitration. What this means is the player can play Sather's way, or they don't play at all.
Are these good tactics on Sather's part? So far, yeah, things have usually ended with players signing. But in some cases, for example Brandon Dubinsky a couple of seasons ago, players will hold out and wait for Sather to blink.
He didn't then and he probably won't with Del Zotto.
The point here is that Del Zotto had all summer to sign a deal with the club, and judging by his most recent comments (via ESPN), it doesn't look like he's any closer to budging on a deal.
With all things considered, it's evident Del Zotto is on course to hold out. And in a 48-game season, he and the team really can't afford for him to be sitting in the rafters as he and Sather nickel-and-dime.
Chris Kreider Will Win the Calder Trophy
There are a lot of quality young players who will have a shot at taking the league's prize as top rookie performer. Guys like Justin Schultz, Nail Yakupov and Vladimir Tarasenko.
And if it wasn't for Chris Kreider's poor performance for the Connecticut Whale of the AHL during the lockout, he'd be considered a favorite as well.
In April and May of last season, Kreider was flying high. He just won an NCAA championship with Boston College and shortly thereafter found himself suiting up for the Eastern Conference's top team in the NHL playoffs.
Against all odds he seized the opportunity by scoring five goals in 18 games, some of which were vital in the Rangers' playoff run.
But Kreider has had trouble carrying that progress over into 2012-13. In 33 AHL games he has only five goals and 12 points.
Although those numbers are disappointing, there's more to look into.
For Kreider, it must have been somewhat difficult to go from the most intense hockey imaginable, the NHL playoffs, to the lowly AHL. Maybe he didn't have the right attitude heading into the 2012-13 season, and once he started struggling, it got into his head. Anybody who's played hockey competitively knows hockey is half mental.
He's also pulled stunts like this before. Last year at Boston College, it looked like Kreider was disinterested or even bored with NCAA competition. Even so, when it was time to kick it in gear, he was lights out.
He seems to have found himself in a similar situation with the Whale. With the NHL experience he already has combined with his immense talent, size and speed, he's essentially too good to fail.
And when you compare those attributes to those of his Calder competitors, it's more than feasible to assume that Kreider can take the top rookie honor.
The Rangers Will Win the Stanley Cup
Despite being the preseason favorites, predicting that the Rangers will win the Stanley Cup is still quite bold.
Anything can happen in a season, but this is the Rangers' year. The talent is there, the focus is there and more importantly, the hunger is there.
Don't for a second think that each player who was a part of the club when they lost to the Devils in the conference finals last year didn't think about how close they were to the ultimate prize each and every day of the offseason.
If the Rangers can carry that hunger onto the ice this season there's nobody who can stop them.
They still have the best goalie in the world. Their defense corps is perhaps the most balanced in the league, and the addition of Rick Nash opens up their offense. The Cup is really theirs to lose.
But beyond talent and desire, there's a sense of urgency with this group. Lundqvist is at the top of his game, as is Marian Gaborik. But the two of them are not spring chickens, and their contracts are set to expire in the near future.
Management knows it, the fans know it and the players have to know it too: There is a winning window for this team.
In two years, not only will some players be getting up there in age, but a lot of young talented players are going to be coming off their entry-level contracts and will be looking to receive substantial raises. Things may get interesting, and some players will inevitably move on, so the time to win is now.
Last but not least there's Torts. His do-or-die attitude and Stanley Cup experience make him just as valuable as the players on the ice. He knows this is a team built to win, and he wont let them fumble the opportunity again.