Since coming up short in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, it seems that it has been all fire and brimstone for the New York Rangers, and their success this past season has been looked at as lucky and fortunate.
Critics have said the Rangers are lucky the Montreal Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins. While that may be true, most critics thought the Rangers wouldn't beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, and when they were successful, they were written off against the Canadiens.
The Rangers were defeated by the Los Angeles Kings in a tough series that featured three overtime games, and since that point, the hits have kept on coming.
Based on the current temperature of the media concerning the Rangers, it seems that it has been decided that there is no chance that the 2014-15 squad can come close to replicating the success of this past season, let alone surpassing it in any way. Barry Melrose even went as far as to say that the current team doesn't look as good as the team that went to the Cup Final.
However, there is enough evidence to suggest that the 2014-15 squad will be better than its 2013-14 counterpart.
It may be hard to believe that the 2014-15 squad will be successful as it currently stands, because the team has lost some key pieces in Brad Richards, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle and Benoit Pouliot. However, championships are not won in July or August.
The current Stanley Cup champions know this, as they were sparked by a trade-deadline acquisition in Marian Gaborik in March, so it is fair to say that it is too early to write off the Rangers.
The main focus of the Rangers during the summer has been on the losses and not the additions.
Yes, you read that right.
If you are scratching your head right now, that is fine, because it may be hard to believe that additions have been made to this squad.
The additions do not include the signing of Dan Boyle, possession black hole Tanner Glass or the number of bodies inked to deals to stock up the cupboard in Hartford, the team's AHL affiliate. The additions made to the team are already on the roster, and they come in the form of natural maturation.
Which player will have the biggest growth next season?
The cornerstones of the current roster are players like Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and to an extent Derick Brassard. These players are young, and they gained valuable experience this past season.
Most, if not all, are coming off an impressive year, and they are expected to be even better next season because of familiarity with second-year head coach Alain Vigneault. Brassard had a career year, and he is a prime player to look at when it comes to filling in for the lost production of Richards.
What most people forget about this team is that it took awhile before the squad was completely acclimated to Vigneault's system. People forget that Western Conference adversaries decimated the 2013-14 Eastern Conference champions early on, and it wasn't until late December/early January that the team was finally playing like a team.
Vigneault likes to play a system that stress generating offense in transition, and that was a stark difference to the system that former bench boss John Tortorella used during his tenure in New York.
From day one this season, though, there will be no learning curve; it will be business as usual, and the team will be able to get it going as soon as the regular season starts in October. Off the bat, that is one major advantage the 2014-15 squad will have over its 2013-14 counterpart.
This will allow the maturation of the aforementioned players to continue. It is quite possible that McDonagh eclipses 50 points, Stepan breaches 60 points and Kreider bangs on the 30-goal ceiling.
This is all possible because each player showed growth while learning a new system, and that gives enough of a reason to believe that 2014-15 will be a banner year for each player.
Here is a brief example of the growth each player made under Vigneault last season:
|Derick Brassard||18 Goals||Career-Best|
|Derek Stepan||57 Points||Career-Best|
|Ryan McDonagh||43 Points||Career-Best|
|Mats Zuccarello||59 Points||Career-Best|
|Chris Kreider||17 Goals, 37 Points||Career-Best|
The Hockey News
Another reason why the Rangers will be better in 2014-15 is their youth. Players such as J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Anthony Duclair and Danny Kristo will all have opportunities to crack the roster.
Having a number of youngsters who are hungry to play creates competition, and competition among players brings out the best in your roster. If there is little to no competition, players can become complacent and lazy.
Unfortunately, there was not a surplus of players in 2013-14 who were banging on the door to get into the lineup. The players waiting in the wings included Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt and Darroll Powe. They didn't exactly pose a threat, but this year's extras have more of a chance to steal the job of a roster regular.
Which team has better overall depth in terms of players creating competition?
One of the strengths of the Kings in the playoffs was the emergence of rookies like Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, and players like Duclair, Miller and Kristo could fill a similar role for the Rangers at some point this season.
Defense is another area in which the Rangers can be stronger in 2014-15. Losing Stralman was tough, but the team should be fine without him. Marc Staal has returned to the form he was in before being sidelined with an eye injury, and that is huge for New York.
Further, the addition of Dan Boyle will give the Rangers an offensive boost over Stralman. Despite his veteran age, the 38-year-old has the potential to fill in for the minutes occupied by the Tampa Bay Lightning's newest defender.
Stralman's departure should also make way for Kevin Klein to play a bigger role. He wasn't given a ton of minutes during the playoffs, but he was a successful top-four defenseman for noted defensive coach Barry Trotz with the Nashville Predators. Klein was one of the league's top penalty killers last season, and his proficiency in this area should make up for the loss of Stralman.
In addition, John Moore showed some promise last season, and his continued growth would help the back end in a big way.
The remaining two defenders, Dan Girardi and McDonagh, round out a solid defense corps that should continue to be one of the league's best.
While it is true that it will take time to adjust to losing Stralman, the Blueshirts have enough defenders to get the job done by committee in the meantime.
The last and most important reason the 2014-15 Rangers will be better than their 2013-14 counterparts is the fact that they will have a full year with their top stars. Martin St. Louis will be a member of the Rangers for the full 82-game tilt, as will noted playoff slump artist Rick Nash.
St. Louis is pushing 40, but he's still a gifted offensive player who can be counted on for 20 goals and 60 points, if not more.
Nash and St. Louis will be the Rangers' one-two punch on offense this season, and both should come into the season in top shape. St. Louis is known for his level of fitness, and it would make sense for Nash to work out with the Blueshirts' veteran winger.
Nash has been one of the league's top goal scorers in the regular season and has scored at a 30-goal pace in all but one year of his NHL career. He is a player fans will look at with a well-focused scope, because patience will run thin with the $7.8 million man if doesn't have a successful season.
Right now, it is easy to be down on the Rangers, but fans should be happy for the season to start.
It will be Year 2 under Vigneault, the players are already ready to execute his system, the youth movement is continuing, top players are on pace to get better and the team will be motivated after coming within three goals of the Stanley Cup.
It may be hard to believe, but New York has the tools to be successful, and it should be better than the 2013-14 squad. Henrik Lundqvist proved that he was an elite playoff goalie during the Rangers' run, and you have to imagine that the agony of defeat will fuel him this season.
Any team with a goalie as great as Lundqvist is will always have a shot, and this team could surprise a lot of people next season. There are still some additions to be made, and some T's to cross and I's to dot, but this team is going to come back with a vengeance that no one will see coming.