This won’t be the year 1994 gets more company in the Madison Square Garden rafters. But, despite dire predictions by many observers for the 2010-11 season, things aren’t as bad as they may seem on Broadway.
Things are starting to look up for the New York Rangers. The volume and quality of the players in the minor league system makes the Rangers’ prospect list among the best in the league. Unfortunately for the denizens of 33rd and 7th, the kids aren’t just ready to lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup. Not yet, anyway.
Remember before the lockout, when the cupboard in the minors was empty, the team trading all its aging starts away? Those times are long gone. Now, New York has a strong nucleus in the minors. Every season a new influx of talent enters the locker room doors on the fifth floor of the famous arena, ready to make an immediate impact.
Last year, it was Matt Gilroy, Michael Del Zotto, and expanded responsibilities for Artem Anisimov. This season, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, and Mats Zuccarello-Aasen are expected to contend for significant playing time during next month’s Training Camp.
“I feel good about what we did so far this summer,” coach John Tortorella told MSG.com’s Stan Fischler last week. “We didn’t deal any of our kids and the foundation for the team is in place. We have to build a club without relying totally on free agency. We want to keep our youthful core and keep adding to it.”
While the addition of youngsters is significant, and usually cause célèbre among fans, these kids are not expected to bring home a Stanley Cup for this Rangers team. In fact, even the anticipated free agent signings General Manager Glen Sather made won’t help this Rangers team advance deep into June.
This remains a team playing monkey in the middle with the rest of the NHL. They’re not good enough to seriously contend, and not bad enough to procure a top five draft pick. They’re just in the middle. They’ll have a chance at the playoffs, and because of the unpredictability of sports, will have a chance at a first round upset. But any expectation for this Rangers team to go any further than that is clouded in fantasy.
This is a team devoid of any major scoring threats, aside from Marian Gaborik. Alexander Frolov is expected to play on Gaborik’s wing, and the emerging Erik Christensen is likely to start as their pivot. That line has some scoring potential, but most of it will come off Gaborik’s stick.
During the last two seasons — since the departure of Jaromir Jagr — secondary scoring has been an issue for the Blueshirts. Now, in the third year of the post-Jagr era, Sather hasn’t yet been able to find enough secondary scoring to appease coach John Tortorella, who will be driving a bus with its’ gas tank dangerously close to empty.
It’s possible the gas tank will survive all the way into May, but the more likely scenario sees the Rangers running just a little bit short.