Have the New York Rangers Solved Their Identity Issues?

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Have the New York Rangers Solved Their Identity Issues?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Derick Brassard, Ryane Clowe and Dan Girardi celebrate a goal on April 3, 2013.

The New York Rangers had, shall we say, an interesting trade deadline.

Over the past few weeks there had been a lot of speculation and suggestion that maybe the team's leading scorer last season, Marian Gaborik, could be on the move before Wednesday's trade deadline passed.

And despite a slew of obstacles in the way of getting a deal done, the Rangers did, in fact, send Gaborik and minor leaguers Blake Parlett and Steve Delisle to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, John Moore and a sixth-round pick. 

The move came less than 24 hours after the Rangers acquired Ryane Clowe from the San Jose Sharks for three draft picks: a second- and third-rounder in 2013 and a conditional second-round selection in 2014 if they either reach the conference finals or re-sign the player.

A lot of action for a team that was both pressed up against the salary cap and maximum contract limit.

But the Rangers have underachieved this season, and it was clear a change was in order. Before play Wednesday night, they sat in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and were left with but a few options: Retool for a serious playoff push, become sellers and stockpile picks and prospects or continue banging their collective heads against the wall with the current roster and coach.

The team elected to go for it. With Glen Sather at the helm, you can never count the Rangers out to make deadline moves, but it was the magnitude of their retooling that surprised everyone.

Gaborik was this team’s primary goal scorer for three seasons, although his recent run raised questions about how he fit into the Rangers’ system.

So they moved him, and in return they got younger and deeper. Their summer acquisition of Rick Nash, which saw Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov head to Columbus, and Sather’s reluctance to re-sign unrestricted free agents Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko and John Mitchell, left the Rangers short on depth, and it's cost them.

Having a deep roster allows John Tortorella to play his bottom-six players more frequently. This is important because his system is a grind-it-out type that can tire players out quickly. A deep squad not only allows players to rest, but also spreads out production.

Gaborik’s struggles and the team’s lack of scoring threats in the bottom-six are major reasons the Rangers are not only the lowest scoring team in the league, but also in a dogfight to make the playoffs. Their inconsistent defense and dismal forecheck are also largely to blame for the team’s position in the standings.

So the question now is: Have these moves helped the Rangers rediscover their identity? Will the new players help this team play the Tortorella brand of hockey that was responsible for getting them to the conference finals last season?

If Wednesday night was any indication of anything, then it looks like this team is headed in the right direction.

But unfortunately for the Rangers, last night’s victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins was not Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s only been one game with the new roster, and although they forechecked the Penguins into the ice and capitalized on their scoring opportunities, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Whether or not this team can produce Tortorella-like hockey performances more times than not over the course of their final 12 games will determine if their identity issues are gone for good.

What these moves have taught us is that Sather believes in Tortorella and his system. He believes in Torts so much that he was willing to move a player who scored a combined 109 goals in the previous three seasons to accommodate his style, even though his team has scored the fewest amount of goals in the league.

It’s obvious the players acquired were brought in to further support Tortorella’s system.

Clowe is a sandpaper-type player who can score goals and mix it up. He’s 30 years old and has significant playoff experience. His big body and skill set will help offset the loss of a player like Dubinsky.

Brassard is a centerman who helps this team get deeper down the middle while also giving them additional secondary scoring. He’s got a load of talent, which he showcased last night, and a coach like Torts may be the right guy to help the 25-year-old complete his game.

Moore is still a young guy—only 22 years old—but he’s got some potential. He possesses immense skating ability, and that’s exactly what Tortorella likes on the blue line. Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman and Marc Staal are all excellent skaters, and all of them have flourished under Tortorella’s guidance, so Moore will find himself in good hands in New York.

Will the Rangers' new acquisitions help them rediscover their identity?

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Lastly, there’s Dorsett. He, unfortunately, will miss the remainder of the regular season with a fractured clavicle. It’s really a shame because this guy screams Torts hockey. He’s been likened to Prust in the sense that he’s a tough winger who can not only defend his teammates, but put the puck in the net. He had 12 goals in 77 games last season, which is great production for a bottom-six player.

Sather has given Tortorella a lot in hopes that he can get the team to buy into his brand of hockey, which has proven to be successful.

Has this helped the team take a step in the right direction in terms of finding their identity and executing Tortorella's game plan? No doubt.

But have the Rangers solved their identity issues?

Ask me again on April 27.

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