Though Ryan Callahan’s new three-year deal allows us to put the Rangers’ long-term future to the back of our minds for a moment, it also gives us a chance to speculate on more immediate goals over the next few seasons. More specifically, winning the Stanley Cup.
Callahan, Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi and Marian Gaborik will all be unrestricted free-agents at the end of the 2013-14 season, as will Brandon Dubinsky and Marc Staal the following summer. Now, with so much uncertainty surrounding the future cap situation or long-term standing of certain players with their teams, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the next three to four years represents a real window of opportunity for the Rangers to make a serious post-season run. Lundqvist is getting older, and while it’s highly feasible that he’ll still be performing at an elite level well into his next contract, it’s perhaps not so wise to expect him to.
So, should the Rangers harbour realistic expectations of stopping a 17-year rot over the next few seasons? I think so, and here’s why…
The Brad Richards signing really plays into my point here. Richards may be an elite center with plenty of mileage left in the tank, but he’s also an immediate boost to the Rangers right now. His signing fast-tracks the team to a point where they should be expected to win a round or two during the post-season, not merely sneak in and out of the back door with nary a peep.
Richards makes the Rangers a better team, both at full strength and on the powerplay. If he can do for Marian Gaborik what many of us hope he can then we could be looking at the one of the best scoring partnerships in the Eastern Conference. It’s not just Gaborik either; Richards, coming in as the defacto first-line C, will immediately lessen the pressure on the likes of Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan and Wojtek Wolski, players that have perhaps been asked to succeed beyond their means recently.
Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky will continue to improve, of that I’m sure, with Dubinsky perhaps expecting a big spike in production if he locks up that LW spot on the Richards-Gaborik line next season.
Looking beyond the ‘scoring’ lines for a second, is it really that much of a stretch to suggest that the Rangers expected fourth line of Mike Rupp, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust could perhaps be the best in the conference? Even if you switch out Rupp for Ruslan Fedotenko, you’re still looking at a line that was the Rangers’ best for long sections of last season. As we’ve seen with almost every cup-winner over the past few years, never underestimate the importance of reliable, effective depth.
Defensively the Rangers are still a little green, though you perhaps wouldn’t know it to watch the likes of Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh play last season. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi aren’t kids anymore, they’re a bonafide first-pairing unit capable of doing a great job against any forward(s) in the league. If McDonagh and Sauer can continue to improve, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe that they won’t, then the Rangers can look to at least two reliable pairings on the blueline in the immediate future. Tim Erixon has lofty expectations, though it’s hard to really count on him or Michael Del Zotto at this point.
Henrik Lundqvist is, of course, the Rangers’ biggest difference-maker as far as potentially winning a Cup goes. Alongside the contract situations of so many of the teams’ core players, it’s Lundqvist’s age that forces me to believe that now is the time to make it all count. Sure, he could and probably will still be playing at an elite level by his 35th birthday — hopefully in New York — but it’s his prime years right now that need to be utilised properly. If the forwards can score enough goals then you sure as hell know that Lundqvist can win them the big games. Let’s not forget the importance of Marty Biron either; additional rest for Lundqvist during the regular season (planned last season but scuppered after Biron got hurt) could make all the difference when it comes to the post-season.
I’m probably just being overly optimistic in working with a three-to-four-year time-frame, but it’s been a good summer for the Rangers and if everything clicks is there really an argument that this team can’t make a serious run at the Cup before its core players command much, much more dollar?