Despite the widespread inactivity from many of the regulars on the site I think it's safe to assume we are all still around and just waiting for something positive to happen with regards to the lockout. It gets real tiresome real quick hashing and rehashing the latest "news" about current CBA negotiations. Nonetheless, noticing how quiet it's been around the Rangers forum and knowing Jan has far more important things on is mind I thought I would come out of HB blogging retirement to talk about something that has me worried as a Rangers fan: How a shortened season could adversely impact the Blue Shirts pursuit of a Stanley Cup championship.
Following up a run to the Eastern Conference Finals, a presumed healthy full season from All Star defender Marc Staal and the long-anticipated addition of talented winger Rick Nash, the New York Rangers were on the short list of legitimate Stanley Cup contenders this year. In fact this is the Blue Shirts most talented team on paper since 1994. The only loss of merit this past summer was that of tough guy role player and fan favorite Brandon Prust. Even the most ardent Ranger-hater would have to admit this is a very good team.
The problem is that the length of this lockout, if it's even resolved quickly enough, will lead to a shortened season. We may be looking at 60 games, perhaps fewer. In that scenario a lengthy losing streak at any point during the campaign could put the Rangers behind the proverbial 8-ball in the standings. If Rick Nash takes time to adjust to his new surrounding, if several key players who have not seen live game action (other than yesterday's charity game) struggle out of the gates, or if injuries challenge the roster's depth the Rangers could find themselves in a hole too deep to dig out of.
Since this is likely the Blue Shirts best team since they won the Cup in 1994, and the 1994-1995 season was shortened due to an owner imposed work stoppage, a quick peek at how the club fared could give us some insight on what could happen when and if the NHL gets back on the ice.
Checking my memory banks I recall the club returned most of their important pieces yet managed just an 8th place finish in the Conference that year. They began the season losing four of five and endured a seven-game losing streak to close out March putting their playoff lives in jeopardy. They would rebound and make the postseason but as we've seen before with recent Ranger clubs, having to make a late season push for the postseason left little in the tank for the playoffs. After dispatching #1 seeded Quebec in round one the Rangers were swept from the playoffs by Philadelphia.
Could something like that happen again to the Rangers? Can a shortened season and a mid-season slump force the team to expend too much energy just to make the playoffs that they won't have enough to go deep in the postseason? We know Torts runs a very harsh training camp emphasizing stamina and endurance. Will an abbreviated training camp put the Rangers at a disadvantage to open the campaign?
Now on the bright side the lockout has given Marian Gaborik more time to heal from offseason shoulder surgery. There is a chance he might be ready to suit up on opening night if this lockout stretches much longer. Having Gabby and Nash in the lineup together makes the Rangers a very formidable offense.
Also, the Rangers relied heavily on their top four defensemen last year. A shorter schedule might help McDonagh, Staal, Girardi and Del Zotto stay fresh for the playoffs.
The Rangers might still be one of the teams hurt most by the lockout. Instead of getting on the ice, working Nash into the flow of the offense and ironing out the kinks in the system most of the Blue Shirts players are home waiting for the lockout to end. The work stoppage is also burning off a prime season of play from Hank, Richards, Gaborik, etc. I worry that the abbreviated season will make it much tougher for the team to achieve its goals this year and to bring home another championship to us fans.
And if an entire season is lost? The team's window to win might be open for a few seasons but I'd hate to waste on of them arguing over splitting dollars.