When a team loses a series like the Stanley Cup Final, the default sentence that rolls off the lips of most players is "Now that we know what this is like, we’ll come back stronger and be better for it next year."
Perhaps that’s because everyone around the Rangers knows this almost certainly won’t be the same team next year. This was a Rangers team built to win this year, or bust. Not only do the Blueshirts have, according to Capgeek.com, six pending unrestricted free agents, they have five others who can be restricted free agents July 1.
"Who knows if we’re going to have another crack at this? We might not get another crack at this opportunity," Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi told ESPN.com's Katie Strang. "That’s why it hurts, I think, that much more."
One of their top centers, Brad Richards, turned 34 last month and, well, he didn’t look a day under 40 during the Final. Richards was demoted to the fourth line late in the series, as coach Alain Vigneault explained to reporters, "I just felt that certain guys were playing a little bit better than Brad. You know, that's the way it is."
Richards has six years remaining on his contract, each year with a cap hit of $6,666,667. The Rangers have one remaining compliance buyout with which they can use, as per the most recent collective bargaining agreement. In other words: bye bye Brad.
Martin St. Louis will turn 39 on June 18, with one year remaining on his contract at $5,625,000. St. Louis battled gamely through the emotions of losing his mother in the middle of the playoffs, but let’s face it: he looked worn down by the Final against L.A., a little too lost in the shuffle of the fierce action.
Rick Nash? What in the world are the Rangers going to do with Rick Nash? There’s no other way to put it: Nash was just terrible in the postseason, scoring a pitiful three goals and 10 points in 25 games. Rookie Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche scored as many points in 18 fewer games.
Nash never seemed to possess the hunger to want the puck in the big moments. He seemed satisfied just floating around, making token attempts to get the puck, while others fought for it as if their lives depended on it.
Nash is due $7.8 million per for the next four years. Would it shock anyone if we soon see Rangers GM Glen Sather offer him around the league in trade? But what kind of return would Sather get for a guy who has now posted only 15 points (four goals) in 37 playoff games as a Ranger?
According to Capgeek, the Rangers have about $17 million in cap space from a likely cap of $71.1 million (though the final number hasn't been determined yet). Some of their unrestricted free agents include Brian Boyle, who had a strong playoff, Dominic Moore, Anton Stralman and Raphael Diaz. The restricted guys aren't insignificant either, with Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, John Moore and Derick Brassard on the list.
There are still some excellent pieces in place for the Blueshirts, most especially in goal, where 32-year-old Henrik Lundqvist is signed for the next seven seasons at $8.5 million per. Girardi and Ryan McDonagh both have long-term deals, and speedy Carl Hagelin should be a fixture in New York for years.
But it strains credulity to see how the Rangers will be back to a Cup Final anytime soon. (Well, they do play in the Eastern Conference, which isn't exactly the playoff torture chamber that the West is).
This was a team built to win it all this year. They came close. But you know the old saying about what being close gets you.
“You get this far … and you do so much … and you come up short …” defenseman Marc Staal told New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro, “And it just … Ah. It just hurts.”