They have a promising future.
That is the phrase we have heard often over the past four seasons. There was hope that an upstart team that reached its first postseason in 8 years would develop into a league power. There was evidence that a squad that came within 7.7 seconds of a liklely trip to the Eastern Conference Finals would break through in the near future. There was belief that a franchise that acquired quality centers to compliment its star forward, young defense and all-world goalie would blossom into a Stanley Cup contender.
We will never know what the future would have held.
Of the 20 players that took the ice on Opening Night of the 2009-10 season, only two, Michael Rozsival and Henrik Lundqvist, were there for that Season of Hope right after the lockout. Over four seasons and four offseasons, the New York Rangers went through a 90% roster turnover, not to mention changing almost half of the personnel over the past summer. Any promise shown by the 2005-06 Rangers, any foundation created by that team, was squandered away. The current Rangers team is just as related to the team of five seasons past as it to the Phoenix Coyotes. There is no bond, no relation and no continuity.
Look around at some of the success stories of the post-lockout NHL, Detroit and Pittsburgh being prime examples of consistent success. These teams have a core of players that hasn’t changed. There is Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom. There is Crosby, Malkin and Gonchar. It took three years for either team to reach the Finals but they waited it out and didn’t clear house. It paid dividends. Granted there was some player movement over the years, as names like Hossa, Bertuzzi, Guerin and the like were added for support, but the key word is “support.” There was stability in the core, not roster upheaval.
A Stanley Cup run doesn’t being in October. It begins three years before. Only in the rarest of circumstances will a team that is completely overhauled in the summer capture a title the following winter. Players need to develop chemistry, understand the system and fuse into one entity called “team.” This takes years. Having the most talented team on paper never assures victory over a 82 game season and a grueling battle to 16 playoff wins. That is also why the mosy talented Olympic teams manage to fail so miserably. Having the most skilled individuals is only part of having the best team.
Who are the New York Rangers? What is their core? It has been Jaromir Jagr. It has been Michael Nylander. Its been Straka and Gomez and Zherdev and Antropov. Now, suddenly it is Gaborik, Prospal and Higgins. They are all great names, a bunch of talented individuals, but none of these “core players” managed to lead the organization to anything more than a 2nd round playoff exit. And the reason is simple. They were missing a core ingredient. They were missing time.
Let bygones be bygones. A wise Rangers fan once told me never to look back on the Rangers past because it will make you cry. But in building for the future, in developing what truly is a promising team, we need to learn from our past mistakes. Plan for success three to five years down the road. Make moves now that will favorably affect the Rangers of 2013. This team isn’t ready to win now, but the pieces are in place to have success in the future.
Fast forward a few years. Henrik Lundqvist is still one of the best goalies in the league. The top four defensemen are Staal, Girardi, Gilroy and Del Zotto. Two amazing stay at home defensemen and two offensive defensemen who can spot 40 points apiece. On offense there is still Gaborik, Kotalik and Prospal, and guys like Callahan, Dubinsky, Higgins, Anisimov and Lisin have developed into quality players and true top 6 forwards. This team is good enough to win a Stanley Cup. There weren’t good enough in 2010 but like all young teams, they got better with time and fused into one talented unit.
Cap room is going to open up over the next few seasons and big names will be available in the free agent market. Its time to stop spending every dollar we can to change the core. Our core is fine as it is. Instead, use the money to build on what is already here, to support the growth of a team. Have patience, sit back and watch the team develop and reach its true potential. The Rangers have a promising future. The Stanley Cup run begins now. See you in a few years.