Hot! Blueshirts Not Pucking Around in ’13

The Rangers fell just short of the Stanley Cup finals last year, but the addition of Rick Nash may put them over the top.

The Rangers fell just short of the Stanley Cup finals last year, but the addition of Rick Nash may put them over the top.


Goodbye Brandon Dubinsky, au revoir Tim Erixon, poka Artem Anisimov. These three men were not directly responsible for the Rangers’ elimination at the hands of the rival Devils last season but their departure addresses New York’s biggest weakness: Goal scoring.

Hello, Rick Nash.

Nash, an Ontario native, has been trapped in the depths of Columbus throughout his hockey career. The upstart Blue Jacket franchise has been to the playoffs one time since their inception in 2000. Now the crosshairs are squarely on Nash’s back in Madison Square Garden. This perennial thirty goal scorer has found his chance to prove that he truly is a superstar in this league on an excellent team with high expectations. Will he be able to perform in the pressure cooker they call the World’s Most Famous Arena?  Ranger fans certainly hope so, otherwise the team may be in for a surprising result this year.

There is little doubt that the Rangers have an abundance of talent on their roster and if those players perform to their career numbers or above, I believe the Rangers can be penciled into a top four spot in the conference. But it begs the question: What if they do not perform to expectations? What if Marian Gaborik is not fully recovered from his labrum injury? What if Brad Richards begins to show signs of age? What if Rick Nash truly cannot handle the New York spotlight? In prior seasons, the Rangers could turn to men like Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust, and John Mitchell along with Dubinsky and Anisimov to provide grit and glue to a team that just didn’t ooze the type of talent you’re used to seeing from a top seeded squad. The Rangers were able to blue-collar their way to the number one seed last year using an incredible mix of toughness, defense and impeccable goaltending with a handful of adequate scorers alongside the prowess of Marian Gaborik.

This season, however, the makeup of the team is quite a bit different. They have lost a bit of that grit and toughness in some of the roster turnover, but they’ve added a lethal goal scorer in Rick Nash and will have youngster Chris Kreider in the lineup for the entire season. This should help curb the loss in other areas, but not if these skill players fail to produce.

Defensively, the Rangers are young and stacked. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will likely be the top pair again this season while Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto constitute arguably the best 2nd defensive pairing in the league. Barring a roster addition, Anton Stralman and Steve Eminger will round out the group and of course, reigning Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist stars as the brick wall manning the net behind them. Last season, this group of defensemen had an average age of 25.5 years of age and yet were still able to hold opposing offenses to a stingy 2.22 goals per game, 3rd best in the NHL. Of course, having the King in the net helps, but night in and night out these men helped out by blocking shot after shot. In fact, their collective shot blocking prowess (ranked 4th in the NHL) frustrated even the elite scorers in the league and was able to frequently take them off of their games. There is no reason to expect a drop-off in this area for New York. Quite honestly, there is more of a reason to believe they will exceed their performance from last year. This is a young group that will get better for years to come.

Overall, the outlook for the lockout-shortened 2013 season is looking up for the Broadway Blueshirts. Their defense has matured one more season, the offense should see a boost from Nash and a full season of Kreider and the overall team work ethic and preparation will again be top notch so long as John Tortorella is standing on the bench. The blue collar, gritty play may take a backseat at times this season but there’s little reason to believe this will sabotage their record in any way. They have the talent on offense and defense now to make up for it.

Look for the Rangers to finish with between 65 to 70 points this season, good for first or second in the Atlantic Division. It will be a dogfight with the Pittsburgh Penguins for bragging rights and a higher playoff seed. With more firepower on offense coupled with their signature stalwart defense, the only things that can lock out the Rangers’ Stanley Cup chances are Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr.


Russell McManus

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