Just three weeks since training camp opened for the Rangers. 151 days since the Rangers last played a meaningful game. Some 813 days since the NHL and NHLPA announced that they’d reached a tentative agreement to end the lockout. 1127 days since the Rangers completed a purge that changed the face of the organization. And finally, 4894 days since the Rangers last won a Stanley Cup.
Today the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup continues for the Rangers, with perhaps one of their best opportunities since the Rangers went to the Eastern Conference finals in 1997 on the backs of Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Adam Graves, Mike Richter and Brian Leetch.
The additions of high priced free agents Chris Drury and Scott Gomez has brought the anticipation to a fever pitch. The old adage, absence makes the heart grow fonder, also apparently applies to excitement over the Rangers’ home opener.
With the excitement and “Great Expectations” comes the usual questions about injuries, chemistry and even luck. In the age of the salary cap, teams have fewer options to overcome the bumps in the road, and with the Rangers the situation is no different. With the ability to defer a couple of million in bonuses, the Rangers have some limited flexibility at the cost of cap room next season.
The situation is perhaps most apparent in net, with journeyman Stephen Valiquette (12 NHL games) being a cost effective, though certainly not insurance against a Henrik Lundqvist injury. The good news is that Lundqvist has been relatively healthy through his first two seasons, and is likely to get over 70 games of action. Al Montoya also provides an intriguing option should Lundqvist be out of action for a short term.
The Rangers depth and flexibility amongst the forward units also is perhaps deeper than at any time over the past decade. Beyond the starters, the Rangers also have potentially the option of reuniting Marcel Hossa with the Jaromir Jagr, a situation he had some limmited success with last year. Down in Hartford, Nigel Dawes appears ready to make the move, and players such as Alex Bourret, Dane Byers and Artem Anisimov are close.
The defensive unit is largely held up as a point of weakness, yet the underrated group have cobbled together a couple of solid seasons while being constantly under scrutiny. The addition of Marc Staal promises to provide some early season interest, and with Tomas Pock and Jason Strudwick in the wings, the Rangers have depth to cover for injuries without losing too much. Rookies David Liffiton and Michael Sauer (a late camp cut) provide additional depth if neded.
Having made the playoffs for the past two seasons, and registered their first post-season series win in a decade against Atlanta in last year’s playoffs, the pressure will be on to go further this year. With Jagr and Shanahan both heading to the ends of their careers, there’s also the question of this being a now or never opportunity.
With a short camp, new faces and some last minute line changes, it remains to be seen whether the Rangers will be able to whether the first couple of weeks in the schedule including two games against last year’s Eastern Conference champion Ottawa Senators.
It may be this early adversity which sets the tone for the season, and the Rangers’ ability to come together and stay together will likely be tested early.
So enough with the analysis, it’s time to drop the puck. Game on!