What do many hockey fans tend to do after the Stanley Cup is handed out? That's easy... they determine who the NEXT winner will be. I will attempt to do the same, however, I'm of the belief that at this time, the Rangers are ready to take the next step to not just only go far into the playoffs... but make some serious noise and bring Stanley back home to Manhattan.
Last season, Vancouver led the league in goals scored with 262. The Rangers were near 30 behind with 233. With the personnel changes we've made, I could easily see us closing that gap.
Marian Gaborik (pictured above) can ONLY improve on his measly 22 goals from last year. I believe he'll have a new center as well this year :)
Brad Richards is a perennial 25 goal scorer, Zucc is most likely going to start the season with the club, and Stepan will continue to emerge as a bona fide top 6 player.
I have to believe that those 30 goals are in there somewhere.
Yeah, I know what you're all going to say. Rangers and free agency just doesn't mix! But let's look at some of the larger culprits:
Scott Gomez: completely aloof and didn't take his job seriously. Became a laughingstock.
Chris Drury: 10+ years of wear and tear took its toll. No disrespect to the man... but in his mid 30's the same will happen to Ryan Callahan... can't play that way into your later years.
Bobby Holik: didn't have a defined role; was a checker who was asked to become a scorer.
We could go on, but it's not necessary. There are numerous reasons why Richards should succeed. First, he has a great relationship with the coach. That doesn't just create a comfort level, but he is already familiar with the system, and what'll be asked from him. None of the above could say that.
Everyone is familar with the dud that was Sean Avery in Dallas. However, who was his biggest friend in the Stars' dressing room? Sean Avery. Who was Richards' linemate in Tampa during the Cup run and winning of the Conn Smythe? Ruslan Fedotenko. These connections MATTER. You honestly don't think Ryan McDonagh having his good buddy Derek Stepan on the team already didn't help with comfort?
Richards has been placed in a situation to truly help him succeed, more so than any other free agent signing I can think of in the past.
These past few years, the Rangers have been rebuilding. However, now is the time I believe we transition from "rebuild" into "contender." One of the main reasons, is due to an intelligent injection of veteran leadership.
If you have ever read any of my previous articles, you'd know I'm a believer in building leadership; you draft for your core, and those are the players who should lead your team into success. Now while I still subscribe to that philosophy, there are very few teams, and none that come to mind... that have won the Cup without a few grizzled vets who have gone through the journey before.
Ruslan Fedotenko is one of those guys. He's won two Cups just doing all the little things the young players and the coaching staff genuinely needs. I guarantee you Brian Leetch wouldn't have been Brian Leetch without Kevin Lowe and Mark Messier. Ruslan Fedotenko can only help to meld a player like Brandon Dubinsky.
Brad Richards adds to that as well, but I'm very curious to see what Mike Rupp can bring. Another 2 time winner, he's another player that can chip in an occasional goal, but can win that battle in the corner when it matters the most.
Again... I wonder if Anaheim wins without Todd Marchant, if Detroit wins without Kris Draper, if Carolina wins without Doug Weight, if Boston wins without Mark Recchi... you get my point.
Nothing more to be said.
I will go on record saying, without a doubt, the Rangers have the best young defense in the league today. Girardi, Staal, McDonagh and Sauer are the envy of 29 other teams, and they're all under 30. Tim Erixon (above) who was stolen from Calgary will probably join that group. As will the most likely improved MDZ. If he doesn't, most believe either Tomas Kundratek or Pavel Valentenko could play in the NHL right now. Oh... and that's without bruisers Mikhail Pashnin and Dylan McIlrath.
You cannot win in this league without defense, and without a doubt, the Rangers are set in that position for about the next decade.
I cannot remember a time when the Rangers had anywhere near the great group of young players that they have today. We've discussed the 8 young defensemen that are in the system, but what about the forwards? Wolski, who's played already for 3 teams is ONLY 24. Zuccarello will most likely be given a full time job this year. Believe me though, that's only the beginning.
Ryan Bourque (above) and Carl Hagelin are two very gritty and solid 2nd or 3rd line players. Jason Wilson is a little older (21) and could also be a solid bottom 6 guy. Don't forget about Chad Kolarik and Kris Newbury. Those two, in spot duty last year were nothing short of solid for the team.
AND most likely in two years, add Jesper Fasth, Chris Krieder and Christian Thomas to that group. The three of them appear to have very impressive goal scoring ability and blazing speed.
Again, we're not talking about 2, maybe 3 players who could crack the lineup in the next year or so, we're talking about 8 realistic new Rangers in the next 2 years. I don't know of many other teams that could boast such a youthful talent pool of forwards.
Let a player go down to injury... it sure seems at this point, we have that covered.
Very few doubt that Ryan Callahan will be the next captain of the New York Rangers. I have no doubt. Callahan is a microcosm of what the Rangers have become: hard working, blue collar, never quit heart and soul player. He's also an emerging goal scorer. If he averaged 25, no one would be surprised.
All teams that win have captains who truly lead their team, not even statistically, but emotionally. Zdeno Chara, the lumbering Bruins captain was what the Bruins wanted to become: intimidating but offensively strong.
Nicky Lidstrom is an intelligent finesse player in Detroit, same as a majority of their players.
Ryan Callahan is the Rangers, and he will be the leader of the Rangers.