Is the Big Apple's Hockey Torch Being Passed?
Over the past five years, the New York Rangers have advanced to two Eastern Conference finals and one Stanley Cup final.
But after being beaten up by the surging Pittsburgh Penguins in five games this spring, there could be a whole new Ranger team taking the ice next fall at Madison Square Garden.
Six miles away in Brooklyn, the New York Islanders advanced to the second round for the first time in 23 years with a double-overtime win over the Florida Panthers.
Right now, it appears the Isles have become the ice kings of New York City.
Henrik Lundqvist gave up ten goals in two games and was pulled in the last two. As great as he's been in his career as a Ranger, the King faces the prospect of going an entire career without the one thing he has treasured most: the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers' defense, once one of the best in the league, has faltered since they let Anton Strålman leave as a free agent. Dan Boyle wasn't the answer, and he'll now retire. Dan Girardi had a rough year and has a contract that could haunt the Rangers for years. Keith Yandle played well at times but is now a free agent, while Kevin Klein played hurt but is 31 and getting on in age.
As for the forwards:
- Rick Nash came to New York to score goals, but dude just doesn't score enough in the playoffs.
The Rangers traded for Eric Staal at the trade deadline, but he wasn't the answer and wound up taking the biggest penalty of the series when the Rangers led Game 3, 1-0, late in the second period. Pittsburgh scored to tie the game ...
... and the rest was history as the Penguins outscored the Blueshirts, 13-3, during the rest of the series.
The Rangers still have young forwards, but they need to rise to the next level:
- JT Miller had his best regular season,
- Derick Brassard is a good player who needs to get better,
- Chris Kreider is only 24 but needs to be able to finish better to become the star that he should be.
- Mats Zuccarello was the Rangers best player most of the season but faded in the playoffs, as did
- Kevin Hayes, who will be looking for a comeback year in 2017.
After some great runs over the past five seasons, the Rangers are home today, scheduling tee times, shaving beards, or whatever else that doesn't involve a Cup chase.
What happens over the next four months could be shocking to Ranger fans. This close team that always said they liked each other so much may be split up for good if management can't maneuver around the salary cap and reload instead of rebuild.