By Adam Vingan
New York City. Bright lights, bigger city. The New York Rangers, however, have not lived up to expectations under those bright lights in recent years, leaving the Garden faithful frustrated. This season, the Rangers brought in yet another big-name free agent in Brad Richards, but will he live up to expectations or fail like so many high-profile free agents have in Manhattan?
Save The Date (season matchups): November 25 in Washington; December 28 in Washington; February 12 in New York; April 7 in New York.
Stocking Stuffers (notable additions): F Brad Richards (free agency via Dallas); F Mike Rupp (free agency via Pittsburgh).
Gift Receipts (notable subtractions): F Chris Drury (retired); F Derek Boogaard (deceased); F Vinny Prospal (signed with Columbus); F Alex Frolov (KHL); D Matt Gilroy (signed with Tampa Bay); D Bryan McCabe.
Ghosts Of Christmas Past (last season); 44-33-5 – third in Atlantic Division – eighth in Eastern Conference.
The major storyline of the Rangers’ 2010-11 season was injuries. Several key players missed significant time, including Drury (58 games), Prospal (53 games), Ryan Callahan (22 games) and Marian Gaborik (20 games). New York managed to score 224 total goals (2.73 GF/G, 16th in the NHL), but struggled to score some nights. The Rangers scored four or more goals in a game 23 times, but scored one or less 22 times. More fitting than Jekyll and Hyde would be on and off-Broadway.
The only consistent Ranger was goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who went 36-27-5 with a 2.28 GAA and .923 SV%. He led the NHL with 11 shutouts.
In 2009-10, the Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs on the last day of the season in a shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. In 2010-11, the Rangers once again found themselves on the playoff bubble, but unlike the previous year, fate was not in their hands. A 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on the final day of the regular season gave New York hope, but if the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning at home later that day, then it would not matter. The Hurricanes lost in embarrassing fashion and the Rangers backed into the eighth seed after having their postseason fate sealed on the final day of the regular season for the second consecutive year.
For the second time in three seasons, the Rangers faced the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Caps took the first two games at Verizon Center (the Rangers won the first two in D.C. two years before), but the Rangers won Game 3 at Madison Square Garden and looked to have Game 4 sealed when they entered the third period with a 3-0 lead. Yet, the Caps scored four unanswered goals capped off (no pun intended) by Jason Chimera’s double-overtime game-winner. Washington returned to Verizon Center with a 3-1 lead and sent the Rangers home in five games.
Wish List (season outlook): Richards was the most sought-after free agent in this summer’s class and the Rangers snagged him for nine years and $60 million. New York has had its problems with high-priced free agents melting under the bright lights of Broadway (Drury, Scott Gomez, Wade Redden, among others), so Richards will have to prove his worth despite being one of the NHL’s best playmakers. A top line of Richards, Gaborik and Wojtek Wolski will prove formidable, while players like Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan will be able to play more natural roles instead of being thrust into the top six. Richards will also be reunited with head coach John Tortorella, who coached him to the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004.
Emotion will play a big factor for the Rangers as they are surely motivated by the loss of Boogaard, a heart-and-soul player who unfortunately passed away in May. The Rangers have not made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2008. A team with this much talent should not have that problem. As recent history proves, however, we might have to wait until the end of the regular season to figure that out.