New York Rangers: Stuck at the Crossroads


With only a few short weeks until the Rangers open the season against their infamous rivals, the New Jersey Devils, at the Garden, the New York Rangers sit at a crossroads.

After the last two seasons, which culminated in a Stanley Cup Finals berth, a Presidents’ Trophy and ended in a heartbreaking Game Seven loss in the Eastern Conference Finals,  the Rangers fan base is approaching this year with cautious optimism, and I do mean cautious.

As we all know by now, the big off-season splash by old man Sather – motivated by the need to clear up the ever so pesky salary cap space – was to trade productive winger, Carl Hagelin to the Anaheim Ducks for Emerson Etem as well as star up and coming understudy to Henrik Lundquist, Cam Talbot, to Edmonton for several draft picks.

New York Rangers
New York Rangers /

New York Rangers

It would appear as the Rangers’ front office wants to build the franchise through youth as opposed to big-named free agent splashes, satisfied with the nightly talent they have now. Building for the future with the prospect pipeline they have now, that’s fine and dandy with me.

Alas, as a life long Rangers fan, I sort of feel like the dog with the witless owner that dangles the Snausage over the dog’s nose, tells “Ruffles” to do the trick and when the trick is done, flings it across the room watching the dog chase it for his own callous, obnoxious amusement; certainly I can’t possibly be alone, especially by those fans who share the same generational memories of a Mark Messier led team that last hoisted the Stanley Cup for the Rangers against all odds.

1994. 21 years, 21 LONG, EXCRUCIATING, years aggravated by close, but no cigar efforts of the past two years. FETCH “RUFFLES” FETCH!! Here we sit and wait. This season is either going to be a really good year, hoisting the cup or a massive disaster of momentous proportions where the dream crumbles and falls apart. Standing at the crossroads.

According to the first version of the ESPN NHL Power Rankings, the Rangers are pegged at number 11 out of the 30 franchises of the National Hockey League.

The power that be ESPN writer Scott Burnside, who is vested with the responsibility of creating said power rankings, began his brief synopsis by writing “Something was amiss for a New York Rangers team that should have been gone in the second round and then came up dry against Tampa in Game 7 at home in the East finals.”

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What’s more gut-wrenching is the fact that the catalysts that made last year’s campaign even possible (Hagelin and Talbot) have been traded away for draft picks and, well, (Sigh) Emerson Etem.

See people, what is “amiss” on this talent-loaded team as witnessed in last years’ up and down playoff effort is a killer instinct. In team sports that killer instinct is a byproduct of a sense of identity within the team. This team is not lacking for talent, provided that Emerson Etem can somehow, someway prove to be even a halfway successful addition to the team, able to mesh with the team’s speedy ways.

Identity though, is built through time. Identity is built through a talented team that rises together, plays together over a period of time and builds something strong, great and memorable. Albeit, in a cap world, this is a difficult thing to accomplish, so what the Rangers have to do now is play with the cards they have. They aren’t bad cards, but at this time last year I was much more hopeful, I was even calling the team that sat before us, a potential dynasty.

May 29, 2015; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault (top right) behind the bench as his team huddles during a timeout against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The front office must not hesitate in re-signing free agent Derek Stepan. He’s crucial to the flow of the team which is ran through speed.

They also need to develop some sort of identity, like the Flyers of the 70’s were the “Broad Street Bullies.” Perhaps the Rangers could be the “Blue Bullets of the Broadway.”

The Metropolitan division is forecasted to be tougher this year with both the Capitals and Penguins loading up on named talent and I’m hard pressed to see the Rangers (or any team) winning the division by a 12 point differential from first to second place as it was last year. The Rangers must own what is rightfully theirs early, often and with a sense of urgency throughout the season. They cannot afford to miss a step from last year’s failed effort.

It will not be acceptable for Rick Nash to score 41 goals (though he should not be dissuaded to do so), while the rest of the team hovers their points in the teens and twenties. For the speed that they have, they need to develop a more advanced passing attack, drive to the net hard and quickly and in different patterns. The defense also needs to be more physical, all of the goal stopping responsibility cannot befall on King Henry the Great alone.

Yes, this season will be a Cup or bust effort. The bust scenario in which one would dread to see would be a massacre. Overall, I am optimistic. The system that the Rangers have put in place can coach a player like Emerson Etem, and can motivate an overall mature talent roster as the one we currently have now.

This is a playoff team – a playoff team in a city that is thirsting for a Stanley Cup, that won’t and shouldn’t accept anything less for the talent that this team has. A city that is thirsting for something to be proud of. A city that is currently being challenged by scandal and social divide needs something to bring them together again. The Rangers franchise needs to be dominating again. New York City sends them from the crossroads to the frozen jungles.

What’s your take? Is this team destined for greatness or will they forever be banished into the pits of shoulda coulda mediocrity?

Next: Why Derek Stepan Can't Be Compared to Ryan O'Reilly

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