Are the New York Rangers the best team in hockey? On paper, they sure look like it.
To evaluate this, we have to take an overall view of the team. Thus, I will evaluate each component of the team and compare it to the other favorites of the league.
This thorough analysis will allow us to answer that vital question: Are the Rangers the NHL's best team on paper?
Read on to find out.
Rick Nash is the key to the Rangers offense.
The New York Rangers possess one of the the best first lines in hockey.
The combination of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Rick Nash is lethal:
Nothing earth-shaking from Torts: "Big line" (19 points) needs support from others, concern about balance, next game (Philly) is only focus
— Steve Zipay (@stevezipay) January 28, 2013
20 points in just six games is incredible. That's 3.3 points per game.
The problem, of course, is that there isn't enough production outside that "big line."
Derek Stepan has four assists, which is nice, but no goals. Ryan Callahan has just two goals.
Outside of the top line, there is simply not enough production. Eventually, teams will be able to clamp down on that "big line," and if the secondary players are not able to step up, then the Rangers might not be able to compete.
While the Rangers have the best first line, their other rivals have better secondary depth.
But they don't.
Callahan and Stepan need to step up. Until they do, they will be behind in offense.
Ryan McDonagh is the best defensemen on a team full of good ones.
It's not a stretch to say that the Rangers have the best young defense in hockey.
Led by Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers are a physical, tough defense with plenty of offensive upside.
Last season, they allowed the third fewest amount of goals in the league. Only St. Louis and Los Angeles allowed fewer.
The Rangers do have a problem at the sixth defensemen, as neither Stu Bickel nor Steve Eminger are very good.
Still, for the most part, the Rangers are really, really good.
They're right up there with the great defenses of the league, like Los Angeles, St. Louis, Boston and Vancouver.
It helps to have a great goaltender, but the defense in front of Henrik Lundqvist is quite good.
They have offensive skill in Michael Del Zotto, who had 41 points last season.
So far through six games, Del Zotto has five assists.
This is a defense that combines solid positioning, physical play, smart outlet passes and enough offense to be among the best in the league.
Henrik Lundqvist is the league's best goaltender.
Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie in the league.
And no, that's not hyperbole.
Last season, Lundqvist was stellar. He posted a minuscule 1.97 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.
These numbers led him to the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league's best goaltender.
The goalie who's probably closest to him in skill is Jonathan Quick. And Quick is a great goalie, who led his team to the Stanley Cup. Last season, he had a 1.95 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.
They basically had the same stats. You must be asking, "How can you rate Lundqvist ahead of Quick, when Quick has a Stanley Cup, and Lundqvist doesn't?"
That's a valid question.
But the stats don't lie.
The Rangers won 63 percent of their games when leading by one goal. The Kings won only 37 percent. That means in close games, Lundqvist came up big.
The Rangers had 16 overtime wins, while the Kings had only nine.
So, yes, Quick has the ultimate prize and Lundqvist doesn't, but it does not mean that Lundqvist is not better. For example, Antti Niemi has a Stanley Cup, but every objective measure shows that Lundqvist is a better goaltender.
If a Stanley Cup Final came down between Quick and Lundqvist, I don't think it's a stretch to say that the Rangers would have the better goalie matchup.
So, on paper, the Rangers have the best goaltending in hockey. That's the most important thing when it comes to playoff hockey.
Marian Gaborik is key for the Rangers' power play.
The Rangers' special teams are a tale of opposites. They have an awful power play and a terrific penalty kill.
So far this season, the Rangers are killing penalties at an 80-percent rate. Last season, however, the Rangers ranked fifth in the league, killing penalties 86.2 percent of the time.
The power play is really, really bad. Last season, they had the 23rd-ranked power play, converting on 15.7 percent of their chances.
So far this season, they've only converted on 12.5 percent of their chances.
One of the biggest issues that is keeping the Rangers from being the best team on paper is the power play. Despite a wealth of talent, they cannot seem to convert.
It seems that they are funneling their power play through Rick Nash, trying to get him the most opportunities to shoot. The problem with this, however, is that teams start to load to that side. The Rangers force it to Nash, but he doesn't have lanes to shoot through.
A better fix would be to have more movement. They have to get Nash in places where he can score.
The penalty kill is terrific, and despite not operating at the same rate as last year, it is still up to par. The sample size is simply too small to be representative.
The power play does limit the Rangers in the playoffs, and it could come back to haunt them.
Other contenders, like San Jose, Vancouver and Pittsburgh, have dynamic power plays, and even though the Rangers can kill penalties, eventually, the strength of these power plays will overtake them.
Ryan Callahan embodies the Rangers' work ethic.
Intangibles can be hard to measure—there's no stat that truly defines it.
The only way to evaluate intangibles is to look at the players of the team.
By an objective measure, Ryan Callahan is one of the best leaders and captains in hockey. A fearless winger, Callahan had 88 blocked shots last year and 271 hits.
He sets the tone for a team that is willing to do absolutely anything to win. They'll block shots, throw the body and put themselves in danger, all in the name of the team.
Some of the better teams in the league, like Pittsburgh and Boston, also play in this manner. It's the only way to field a winning hockey team.
Do the Rangers have the best combination of intangibles in the league?
That's a highly subjective question. But they do have a lot going for them:
- They block shots.
- They are physical.
- They are a great penalty-killing team, which has a lot to do with moxie and will.
- They buy into the system.
All of that leads to a team that is brimming with intangibles. In the past, they have shown that these qualities can lead to wins.
It will do much the same this year.
So, are the Rangers the best team on paper?
It's a loaded question.
So far, we've proven that the Rangers have the best goaltending, one of the best defenses, a fine penalty kill and some of the best intangibles.
They struggle more on offense and have a woefully inept power play.
No team is perfect.
Neither are the Rangers.
In comparison to some of the other contenders, the Rangers are deficient in offense and on the power play.
Still, other teams struggle on defense. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have only average defenses, and their goaltenders both bombed in the playoffs.
So how can we answer this question? Are the Rangers the best team on paper?
I'd say yes. A strong defense is more important than a strong offense, and great goaltending always wins out in the playoffs.
The Rangers have the best goalie and have one of the best defenses. Their offense is good enough to survive, and while the power play is truly awful, they have a good enough penalty kill to offset that.
The Rangers are the best team on paper. Does it mean they will win the Stanley Cup?
Only time will tell.