Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
Hey – didn’t you used to be the New York Rangers?
Much (electronic) ink has been spilled in the last 48 hours on the topic of the Blueshirts’ descent from Stanley Cup contenders to their current position of 10th in the East, three points out of a playoff slot. Larry Brooks blames Coach Tortorella’s misuse of Marian Gaborik. NHL.com’s Dave Lozo breaks down the Rangers problems accurately, using numbers and stuff. After watching (almost) every NYR game this season, I’ve got my own opinion (see below).
Lozo is spot-on when he says the acquisition of Rick Nash came at a higher cost than expected. Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov were core players for the Rangers, each skating over fifteen minutes a night and logging important PK time, as well. Combined, the pair averaged just under 32 minutes per game last season. Though Nash has been everything New York could’ve hoped for, he can’t skate 32 minutes a night, and he can’t do what Dubinsky and Anisimov did for the team without detracting from his primary role of scoring goals…which is why the Rangers acquired him in the first place.
In truth, it’s not just the loss of the aforementioned pair that has the Rangers reeling; it’s that loss, combined with the departures of Brandon Prust, John Mitchell, Ruslan Fedotenko and yes, because I’m a fan of what he brings to the table, Sean Avery. All made valuable contributions while skating in the Blueshirts’ bottom six. My purely-platonic love for Avery aside, the loss of Brandon Prust has proven disastrous. Not only did Prust give twelve hard minutes a night, 156 PIM and two shorthanded goals last season, but he made Brian Boyle a better player. Without Prust on his wing, Boyle simply isn’t the same.
Prust, Mitchell and Fedotenko are all playing off-Broadway this season because of money. Cap management is the name of the game, and with almost $22mil/year earmarked for three players (Nash, Gaborik and Richards) plus key pieces Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Ryan McDonagh going RFA after this season, GM Glen Sather had to cut costs somewhere. He simply couldn’t match Montreal’s four-year, $10mil offer to Prust or Philly’s one-year, $1.75mil offer to Fedotenko, though the two-year, $2.2mil deal John Mitchell signed with Colorado should’ve been easy to absorb.
Sather attempted to replace Prust with Taylor Pyatt, Mitchell with Jeff Halpern and Fedotenko with Arron Asham. So far, the body seems to be rejecting the transplanted organs. Halpern is a UFA after this season and won’t be back. Pyatt and Asham have through next season to prove they belong on Broadway.
Beyond the new faces struggling to fit in, two key pieces – Richards and Gaborik – are simply struggling this season. As linked above, Larry Brooks claims Torts is misusing Gaborik. Axe-grinding aside, Gaborik’s fast start, followed rapidly by a flameout, is perplexing. Now rumors are swirling of a possible Gaborik trade. Let me get this straight: New York traded for Nash after being eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals last season primarily due to a lack of scoring…because Gaborik couldn’t shoot the puck due to a shoulder injury suffered in the first round of the playoffs…so if NYR had a second sniper, they could’ve beaten New Jersey and battled LA for the Cup…so now that they have their second sniper, they’re going to trade their first sniper? Unless they’re going to send Gaborik to Columbus for Dubinsky, Anisimov and a solid defenseman, this makes no sense.
The bottom line is this: Though Rick Nash is an exciting addition, the Rangers paid more than they could really afford. The 2013 Blueshirts are now like a big chocolate Easter bunny – not one of the high-quality solid chocolate bunnies, but a hollow one. Certainly, they look great…right up to the point at which you bite off their ears and the whole thing starts to crumble. This is not a Cup contender. If Richards and Gaborik can rediscover their mojo, this is a playoff team. In a couple of years, when Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller have some real NHL experience under their belts (and assuming the current core (minus Gaborik) remains intact), the Rangers could make another serious run at the Stanley Cup. Just not this year.