A Time To Be Thankful

I’m refraining from writing about the playoffs for this week. My main reasoning is there isn’t much to write about; they’re flat-out consistent, even in their flaws. Not capitalizing on power plays and coming out lazy have been problems all season. Stupid, careless and lazy mistakes have come out as well, and the Rangers just have to focus come game seven on Saturday.

But that isn’t what I’m talking about in this week’s column. This week is kind of like a late Thanksgiving column. Instead of writing about how Dubinsky being out has hurt the team, or how Brendan Shanahan blew another suspension with the Ovechkin-Girardi incident or how two of the three Capitals victories have been the result of soft penalties delivered late in the third period, I’m going to write about all of the things I’ve been thankful about this season.

C’mon Rangers fans, let’s face it — whether or not this season ends on Saturday or it continues, we have no reason to not be grateful for the season the team put forth in 2011-12. Think about it, all those months ago back in September, had you expected the Rangers to be Eastern Conference champions, made it past the first round of the playoffs and be up for three different NHL awards?

I didn’t.

To be fair, I always think The Hockey News is a little bit harsh on the Rangers. I hate people who think The Hockey News hates the Blueshirts, but I sometimes wonder if their season prediction for the team is what they believe will happen or what they hope will happen. Regardless, I didn’t think they’d wind up in seventh like predicted, but I would have chuckled at the idea of the team finishing in first.

Goes to show what I know.

Henrik Lundqvist has always been the stronghold since first appearing under the lights of Broadway in 2005. However, this was the year he took it up a notch, and it showed. He was the man no one could stop talking about. This is the guy who analysts early on said would be the main contender for the Vezina trophy. He made his teammates feel safe, but he wasn’t the only one doing so.

I knew Dan Girardi was going to be destined for great things since he first appeared in 2005. It was just one of those intuitive things where you look at someone and go, “there might be something special there.” For the past two season he’d been the most underrated defenseman in the league, but everyone took notice of him when Marc Staal was out with his concussion. He could hit, he could block shots, he could shut someone down and he could get the occasional goal if needed. He shined under the New York lights as did his defensive partner Ryan McDonagh, who is going to be nothing short of an all-star for years to come.

Speaking of McDonagh, the two things I’m most thankful for are the young players on the team. Not only because they’re young, but because they have always been ours.

This current Ranger’s roster features a number of players who have grown up through the system and have come together to form the identity John Tortorella has wanted. I agree with Tortorella when he calls the Rangers a “sum of our parts” team. They rely on each other and share a deep desire to win. Losing for them is never ok, even if they played a stellar game. Sure, players like Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik are climbing up there in age, but the majority of this team is very young, with their best years ahead of them.

I may take one-too-many a kick at him, but Michael Del Zotto is going to be one talented player in the coming years. He makes stupid mistakes now, but he’s only 21 years old. He would be a graduating senior right now if he were in college. Can you believe that?

Chris Kreider has already made a name for himself here in New York, and he just left college a month ago. Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin are both so young too, players who aren’t very seasoned at all, but are already playing at a level one stride ahead of most rookies and sophomores in the league.

I’ll end by saying after last season I believed it would be a long time before I would see the Rangers win anything.

After this season though, I think  a while is sooner than I think.