This is the time of year, right before the opening of the NHL’s regular season, when every fan indulges in dreams of Stanley Cup glory. It doesn’t matter how improbable or unrealistic said dream is; we still fantasize how our current roster will defy all of the odds and preseason prognostications and bring Lord Stanley’s chalice home to their fans.
As a Rangers’ fan, I realize it will be challenge enough to even qualify for the playoffs much less win a few rounds. I know our roster has too many holes (legit #1 defenseman, top line Center and scoring depth) to be considered much more than a fringe playoff team. But this is my blog and it’s my dream therefore I can write anything I want. Here’s how I see things going for the Rangers in this dream season.
Derek Stepan has a legitimate chance to secure a roster spot as it is with his solid preseason play. In this dream season he follows up on a strong training camp and lines up opening night centering Gabby and Frolov. The trio finds immediate chemistry and by season’s end, Stepan is garnering Calder Trophy attention. His final stat line will read something like 20+ goals and around 65 points while playing solid in both zones.
Stepan won’t be the only Ranger rookie to enter the Calder discussion as his former University of Wisconsin teammate, Ryan McDonaugh, sifts through all of the defensive competition and secures a regular spot on the team’s blueline. Before the end of November, McD will be MDZ’s more defensive-conscious other half. He won’t put up many points but will finish the campaign with a terrific +/-. His play with MDZ will spark comparisons to the last great top defense pair to don Ranger sweaters; Brian Leetch and Jeff Beukeboom.
The Veteran Stars
In our Stanley cup winning, dream season, we won’t be able to rely solely on better-than-expected production from a pair of rookies to lead the way. We’ll need terrific campaigns from our star players (as few as they are) to guide us to the promised land. This is where Gabby, Frolov and the King come in.
Gabby proves last season was no fluke; both in regards to his health and offensive production. With the ascension of Stepan into the top center slot, Gabby has someone capable of feeding him the puck in prime scoring areas. Gabby dresses for 80 games this year and without the interruption and wear from an Olympic tournament to impact his production, he breaks the 50 goal plateau for the first time in his career. He also doles out 50+ assists cracking the 100 point barrier. His superb play earns him a 3rd place finish in the Hart Trophy race behind only Crosby and Ovechkin.
Alexander Frolov has always experienced bouts of inconsistency. I believe a leopard can’t completely change his spots and thus we will have to live with some inconsistent play this season from him as well. However, those bouts become shorter and less frequent as Frolov is more dedicated than ever to show off his skill and ability. Splitting time on the 1st line with Gabby and Stepan and playing with other guys on a productive 2nd line, Frolov pots 35+ goals and 75+ points finally giving the Rangers two legitimate offensive threats. The only problem with Frolov’s season is the pressure it puts on Glen Sather to keep the former King enigma around long term at a salary befitting his performance in this hypothetical Rangers dream season. Scary proposition but we’ll deal with that in our “Rangers’ Dream Offseason,” due out next June.
Finally we get to the King. In 5 years on Manhattan, Lundqvist has shattered team and league records with his stellar play. The only disappointment has been his relatively less than stellar postseason performances. Also in his 5 NHL campaigns, he has earned 4 Vezina Trophy nominations without winning a single one.
This is the season the King breaks out completely. The addition of Marty Biron will mean Lundqvist can take a few more games off and will be fresher when needed both down the stretch and in the postseason. Henrik will make 65 regular season starts this year and will finish with 40+ wins, a GAA in the low 2’s and a save percentage near .930. His play will ultimately win him his first Vezina and perhaps more hardware as we’ll explore later.
The Young Veterans
For the last several seasons, Ranger fans have had the pleasure of watching two hard working young home-grown players develop before our eyes. We’ve seen the bumps in their respective roads and the flashes of brilliance. For the last couple of seasons we’ve debated both amongst ourselves and with fans of other teams about just how good they can be. Who am I speaking about? Why it’s Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky I am referring to and this is the year when we see definitive proof as to where their respective career ceilings of production will be.
After a breakout 2008 – 2009 season under Tort’s tutelage, many expected Cally to challenge the 30 goal mark this past year. It didn’t happen though as Cally finished with just 19 goals. He’s 25 years-old now so time is running out on him ever becoming a legit 30 goal scorer. He’ll fall short again this year even though this is a dream season. Cally will break the 20 goal mark but that’s all. He’ll also finish with somewhere around 45 points, 50 on the top-side.
While that may seem disappointing to some I’ve got a reality check for that; it’s not disappointing at all. Who doesn’t want to have a gritty, do-everything forward willing to sacrifice his body for the team and is capable of consistently posting 20 goal seasons? Callahan can fill in on the 2nd or 3rd line, kill penalties, chip in on the power play and hits everything in an opposing sweater. He finished a close second to the Kings’ Dustin Brown last year in hits and will be near the top of this year’s leader board as well.
The most important thing to realize about Cally is that this is likely the best you can hope for from him. He may one day crack 30 goals in a season but won’t do it perennially. Now that his future is clearly defined, Glen Sather should have no problems identifying a fair value for Cally and then locking him up long-term.
Brandon Dubinsky on the other hand will continue to progress offensively. He just turned 24 and hit the 20 goal mark for the first time in his career while playing just 69 games. Unlike Callahan, Dubinsky has shown sporadic efforts on the ice in the past. There have been games when he was the best player on the ice and other games when he was practically invisible.
Last season he began to show more consistency and this year he follows that trend. He doesn’t get 30 this year but gets close finishing with 27. He’ll play on the second line at times and at others he will be with Gabby. As a result, Dubi will also get some easy secondary assists so in this dream scenario we’ll give him 33. That’s a 60 point season for the 4th year Forward and makes him at least the 4th Ranger with 60 or more points (Gabby, Frolov and Stepan being the others) in my dream world.
Another player who falls into the “young veteran” category is MDZ. His production on the ice fell into line with what the scouting reports on him told us. He was a dynamic player offensively but understandably for a 19 year-old defenseman, he struggled in his own zone. He was willing to use the body but too often his checks were shrugged off by bigger, more physical forwards. He also made some poor decisions in coverage in his own zone.
In my dream season I see him progressing in both zones. He’s still a far cry from a stud, 2-way defenseman but it’s safe to tell ESPN’s Scott Burnside that the Blue Shirts do in fact have a PP QB and his name is MDZ. It will be interesting to see if MDZ can take a few more steps in order to eventually insert his name into future Norris Trophy discussions. This year I see double-figures in goals and as many as 35 helpers. That should put his point production up into the mid-forties. That’s a safe bet given he fell just a few points shy of 40 last year.
I also can’t forget Artem Anisimov, who is being bypassed and ignored for consideration for top line duty by most. He has ability offensively and he has good size. You could question his instincts and he is prone to taking big hits because of his propensity for not keeping his head up. However, while not as talented as Stepan, Anisimov could develop chemistry with top 6 wingers and find himself on one of the top lines. In that case a 40+ point campaign isn’t out of the question.
What about Marc Staal; the newest Rangers’ millionaire? Having just signed a rich new deal, will Staal continue on the path to greatness? Or will he stagnate and settle in as a good, shutdown type? In my dream vision, I see Staal adding a little more offense and physicality to his game. I am seeing 10+ goals and 40 points from our best defender.
Meanwhile, by adding a little more grit and aggressiveness to his game, we will see Staal punishing opposing forwards and snarling over their broken bodies as they lay helpless on the ice after a crushing body-check. In fact, Marc knocks both of his NHL brothers, Eric and Jordan, out for lengthy stretches as a result of his crushing hits. This attitude will filter down throughout the defense corps making us one of the more intimidating teams to play against. Remember, this is my dream season and not yours so keep the sarcasm to yourself.
While we definitely have some of the core pieces in place for two legitimate scoring lines, we will definitely need production from at least some of a large group of complimentary forwards to ice a dangerous scoring attack. The Rangers made sure to bring back free agent forwards; Vinny Prospal, Erik Christensen and Brandodn Prust this offseason and will expect quality minutes from each. They’ve also added Tim Kennedy and Todd White as players who could potentially help out the attack. So let’s see how much my dream crystal ball envisions these guys helping the Rangers next year.
Prospal has the uncanny track-record of alternating good seasons with bad. Since last season was considered a good season many would not be surprised if he tanked badly this year. I think this belief is a bit overblown. Even in previous “down years,” he has averaged .63 Points Per Game (PPG) or roughly 50 points in a full season. Last year he had 58 points in 75 contests; a PPG average of .77. It isn’t as if he is a point per game player when he’s good and a guy who scores .5 PPG in down years; the delta isn’t that dramatic.
I feel good about penciling a minimum of 50 points next to Prospal’s name. Except this is my dream season. I see the addition of Frolov, expected health of Gaborik and the continued improvement of Dubinsky having positive effects on Prospal’s production next year too. I’m going to make Prospal the 5th member of the Rangers’ “60 point club.” In my Stanley Cup dream, Prospal nets 25 goals and assists on 42; that’s good for 67 points.
It looks as if Christensen, by virtue of my previous mentions of Stepan, Anisimov and Prospal, is nothing more than a candidate for duty on the 3rd or 4th line. That’s not necessarily the case though. We have enough versatility up front that a guy like Prospal can play wing opening a spot for Christensen at center. Anisimov had his best success with Prust on the 4th line last year and it would be a lot to expect him to accede to a top 6 role this quickly at 22.
My crystal ball actually shows Christensen succeeding in a number of roles for the Rangers. He will see some top line and PP minutes. He’ll also see some PK time. He’ll bounce all around the lineup and do an admirable job. I see 18 goals for EC with close to 40 points.
Todd White is an interesting player to look at. Just 2 seasons ago he recorded 70+ points playing for Atlanta with Ily Kovalchuk. Last season his production dropped off the map. He scored just 26 points for the Thrashers last year. He isn’t getting any younger and he’s never been more than a decent complimentary piece. But that’s exactly what we are talking about here anyway.
I see White making this squad and filling a role similar to what EC will do. Torts will play the guy playing the best at the time. If White develops chemistry with Gabby and/or Frolov then he could be centering one of the top lines. I see him posting a season similar to what Christensen will do in my ideal world; 40 points but with fewer goals and more assists.
Tim Kennedy was mysteriously bought out by Buffalo and comes to the Rangers looking to prove something. He isn’t a big guy or a great goal scorer but will do a nice job for us on one of the bottom lines. Look for 12 – 15 goals and a gritty effort from Kennedy night in and night out.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include our favorite Ranger, Sean Avery. This will be the season he puts it all together. He will cut the stupid penalties and obnoxious behavior out while pestering opposing players into taking undisciplined penalties. Ok, he won’t score 20 goals but 15 will be nice. He’ll stay out of Torts’ dog house and impress his teammates with his work ethic and discipline on the ice. In the final regular season matchup between the Devils and Rangers, Avery will piss off Kovy so badly that Ilya will take a wild swing at Avery’s head with his stick. Unfortunately for the Devils, Avery will have skated oh-so-close to Marty Brodeur and instead of decapitating his long-time nemesis, Kovy instead hammers Brodeur upside the head.
Kovy receives a 50 game suspension while Brodeur is forced to miss the rest of the regular season and the playoffs due to this injury. Those losses, coupled with Zach Parise’s unhappiness with his contract situation and recently stated desire to play for the Rangers, derails any postseason hopes for the Newark, errrr…….New Jersey Devils.
Now we get to what will turn out to be the most misunderstood offseason signing this summer; that of Derek Boogaard. You see, Staal didn’t just get out of bed one morning and decide to be a tougher SOB. It was actually practicing against Boogaard and then having to listen to Avery’s snide remarks after Boogaard hammers Staal again and again that will help turn Staal into a monster. Boogaard has that effect on people. He makes the whole team tougher by his presence alone. Next year when Dan Carcillo runs Gaborik, the Rangers’ star winger will pummel Carcillo to the point of submission. Then he’ll challenge Scott Hartnell to a one-on-one fight and sadly, at least for Flyers fans, Hartnell declines and skates as fast as possible to the bench while his visor fogs over with tears and the sweat of terror.
Now in addition to Boogaard helping to toughen up the squad with his presence alone, he will also contribute on the ice. The boogey man hasn’t potted a goal in what, 20 years? Since Pee-Wee league or something? Well, this is his year. He finally gets the monkey off his back and scores a crucial goal in the regular season finale guaranteeing the Rangers home ice in the first round of the playoffs as a 4th seed.
After his game-winner, his teammates attempt to carry him off the ice but don’t have the strength necessary to lift the behemoth winger off the ground and to the dressing room. In fact, it what becomes the most humorous moment of the season, they collapse under the effort and fall to the ice like a bunch of dominoes.
Well, the Rangers overcome their embarrassment long enough to steamroll the Penguins in round 1 and the Capitals in round 2 before decimating the Flyers in the conference finals. It gets so bad for the Flyers in goal they ask the Rangers if they can borrow Marty Biron because they have no other healthy goalie on anyone’s playoff roster. The Rangers politely decline the request and the Flyers are forced to put Chris Pronger in net. After allowing 27 goals in the 4th and final game of the series, Pronger demands to be traded again; this time back to Edmonton where he only has to worry about his wife mistreating him.
In the Stanley Cup Finals the Blue Shirts face off against the Vancouver Canucks in a rematch of the 1994 championship. What on the surface looked like an exciting matchup turns into a route as Henrik Lundqvist shuts the Canucks out in each of the 4 contests. The Sedin twins look totally disinterested in the proceedings and finish a combined -17 for the series. In fact, it comes out after the series that the twins are secretly in awe of their fellow Swede, Lundqvist, and every time they neared him with the puck on their sticks their knees and hands were quaking so badly they couldn’t muster anything more than a weak turnover.
Roberto Luongo, who was sharp in the Western Conference playoffs, gets rattled early on by Sean Avery’s mouth, Marian Gaborik’s laser shot and Derek Boogaard’s size. He allows 5 goals against in games 1 and 2 before the Canucks turn to Cory Schneider in an attempt to rescue the team’s fortunes. Schneider plays well but it isn’t enough as the Rangers win games 3 and 4 by identical scores of 2 – 0.
Lundqvist wins the Conn Smythe award for postseason MVP barely edging out teammate Marian Gaborik. Lundqvist finishes the playoff tournament undefeated with 16 wins, a GAA of under 1 and a save % of .950. Gaborik finished with 20 postseason goals in 16 games and 28 points overall.
After this depressing defeat, the Canucks finally give up on Luongo and deal him and his massive contract to the Islanders for John Tavares. Former goaltender and current Islanders GM Garth Snow defends the trade by saying, “we can’t have success in the playoffs until we finally make the playoffs. We weren’t getting there with DiPietro or Roloson so I felt I needed to make this deal to get a legitimate #1 guy. The price was high (Tavares) but it will be well worth it when we qualify for the postseason as an 8 seed only to be blown out by a much better team. Trust me; Islanders fans will be thanking me by this time next year.” They weren’t. Snow was fired. The team was sold and eventually moved to Las Vegas where they were finally able to attract free agents to come play.
I hope you can forgive the sometimes long and rambling dissertation of the elements of my dream NHL season. Trust me; it could have been much longer, much more violent and funnier. However, I would have risked doubling the current length of this piece and pissing off every fan of every other NHL team in the process. Hopefully those that aren’t cursing me (and even some of them) enjoyed it. As I foreshadowed, look for the Rangers dream offseason next June.