The fierce rivalry between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders finally became relevant again in the city's crowded sports scene last year, and it's only going to improve over the next few seasons.
For the first time since the early 1990s, NHL hockey is must-see entertainment in the Big Apple. Not only are both of these franchises playoff contenders, they are led by ultra-talented superstars fans want to buy tickets to watch, including John Tavares, Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist.
As we approach the start of the 2013-14 NHL season, let's build the ultimate New York hockey team using the best Rangers and Islanders players and coaches.
Author's Note: The state of New York has three NHL teams, but only the two in the New York City metro area were considered for this article.
|1||Rick Nash (NYR)||John Tavares (NYI)||Ryan Callahan (NYR)|
|2||Matt Moulson (NYI)||Derek Stepan (NYR)||Kyle Okposo (NYI)|
|3||Carl Hagelin (NYR)||Derick Brassard (NYR)||Michael Grabner (NYI)|
|4||Josh Bailey (NYI)||Brad Richards (NYR)||Mats Zuccarello (NYR)|
When determining who will lead this offense as the No. 1 center, the easy choice is John Tavares. He's arguably the best NHL player in New York and was a Hart Trophy candidate last season with 47 points (28 goals, 19 assists) in 48 games.
A hard-working, highly skilled line of Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan alongside Tavares would be the perfect combination of scoring ability, truculence and defense. Callahan is known for his physical play, shot-blocking and leadership, but he's also an underrated scorer with impressive offensive skills.
Derek Stepan leading the second line with one of the NHL's most underrated goal scorers in Matt Moulson and a gritty winger in Kyle Okposo would also be a difficult trio to play against. Stepan led the Rangers in scoring last season with 44 points and is one of the league's most underappreciated stars.
Brassard and Richards centering the bottom two lines shows just how much depth down the middle a Rangers/Islanders hybrid team would bring to the ice. There would be no shortage of speed on the third and fourth lines because Mats Zuccarello, Michael Grabner and Carl Hagelin are three of the fastest wingers in the game.
Overall, this forward group represents some of the most talented young players in the world, many of whom embrace the challenge of excelling in the sport's largest market.
|1||Ryan McDonagh (NYR)||Dan Girardi (NYR)|
|2||Marc Staal (NYR)||Travis Hamonic (NYI)|
|3||Michael Del Zotto (NYR)||Lubomir Visnovsky (NYI)|
The Rangers have one of the league's best blue lines, one that is loaded with depth, two-way skill and experience.
Emerging superstar Ryan McDonagh has formed an excellent shutdown pairing with stay-at-home defenseman Dan Girardi, which makes them an easy choice for the top duo on an All-New York roster. McDonagh and Girardi play a physical game, block shots, shut down the opposing teams' best forwards, and kill penalties consistently.
The second pairing features the reliable, intelligent two-way skill set of Marc Staal alongside one of the game's best young defensemen in Travis Hamonic. Both players are often used against the opponents' top scorers and bring excellent skating and puck-moving skills to the ice.
To complete the blue line, Michael Del Zotto was an easy choice based on his mobility, playmaking skills and ability to quarterback the power play. He's a bit turnover-prone and isn't the best defensive player, but the Stouffville native will provide scoring on a consistent basis.
I almost chose Anton Stralman for his partner, but the veteran experience of Lubomir Visnovsky made the 37-year-old a better fit. Visnovsky is a quality two-way defenseman who makes a good first pass out of the defensive zone and plays with a high hockey IQ.
Goaltending Depth Chart
|Starter||Henrik Lundqvist||Rangers||24-16-3, .926 SV%, 2.05 GAA|
|Backup||Evgeni Nabokov||Islanders||23-11-7, .910 SV%, 2.50 GAA|
|Third String||Martin Biron||Rangers||2-2-1, .917 SV%, 2.32 GAA|
There's absolutely no question that Henrik Lundqvist would be the starting goaltender on an All-New York hockey team. In fact, he would start on about 28 of the NHL's 30 teams.
King Henrik has five Vezina Trophy nominations (one win in 2011-12) and seven straight non-lockout seasons of 30 or more victories. There are almost no weaknesses in his game.
Even though the Rangers have advanced past the second round of the playoffs only once in his career, this lack of postseason success isn't Lundqvist's fault. In the last two playoffs, he has a combined .932 save percentage and a 1.98 GAA.
Nabokov was arguably the biggest reason why the Islanders ended their playoff drought last year. He finished tied for second in the league in wins with 23 and ended the 2013 campaign with a stellar 10-1-4 record in his last 15 games.
The reason he received no consideration for the starting job was his playoff performance in the first round against Pittsburgh. Nabokov was horrible in the Penguins series, allowing an astounding 24 goals in just six games.
Biron is the third-string goalie because he has been a serviceable backup for the last few years with a 22-14-3 record since the start of the 2010-11 season.
|Role||Name||2013 Record||Playoff Result|
|Head Coach||Alain Vigneault||26-15-7||Lost 4-0 to SJS in Round 1|
|Assistant Head Coach||Jack Capuano||24-17-7||Lost 4-2 to PIT in Round 1|
Alain Vigneault is about to enter the New York sports scene as a head coach for the first time following six successful seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. The Quebec native led the Canucks to within one win of the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup title in 2011, but his team fell in Game 7 to the Boston Bruins.
When the Canucks felt a coaching change was needed after last season, Vigneault became a great coaching candidate for New York because of his ability to maximize the scoring talents of his players. His teams play an exciting, high-scoring brand of hockey that produces wins and excites fans.
As a quality coach with more playoff success and experience than Jack Capuano, Vigneault would be the bench boss on an All-New York hockey team. With that said, it's important to give credit to Capuano for the Islanders' turnaround over the last two years.
His ability to develop and motivate his younger players, including Travis Hamonic, Michael Grabner, Casey Cizikas and John Tavares, has been a key component to this club's improvement.
Capuano should have been a Jack Adams Award finalist last season, but if the Islanders return to the playoffs in 2013-14, he will likely receive strong consideration for the award.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft.