The Sochi Olympics are just a week away, which means the NHL is close to commencing its two week hiatus.
I personally love the olympics, and I especially love Olympic hockey (and figure-skating too, but this is a hockey column so I won’t go into my love for figure-skating here). However, Rangers fans should feel an ounce of disappointment about the NHL hiatus. After a nightmare beginning, the Rangers began to pick up some much-needed momentum at the end of December, which continued to swell throughout January.
It’s been an eventful month for the Rangers, so let’s go over what we’ve missed and what we can expect of the Rangers once the NHL gets back from the Olympic holiday.
The Rangers are set to close off January with an 9-4-1 with a game left this upcoming Friday against the New York Islanders. Even more impressive than the January record, however, is how strong the team has looked in a large majority of their games. It didn’t matter if they were facing the St. Louis Blues (one of my choices for the Stanley Cup this year) or the New Jersey Devils – they looked competitive in every single game they were in. Players like Brad Richards and Rick Nash are contributing in ways which they’re suppose to, and it’s making all of the difference in the world. If they keep it up, making the playoffs is realistic.
Michael Del Zotto
Last week, Michael Del Zotto was traded to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Kevin Klein. News of Del Zotto’s departure had been rumored for months, and it was iffy whether or not the Rangers would even be able to trade him.
I’ve always been a Del Zotto fan and seeing him go is sad, but even I can acknowledge that his growth as a player in New York had stunted a long time ago. He could have been a good third line center, but not even Alain Vigneault was going to move him off of the blue line. I wouldn’t be surprised if Del Zotto becomes a much better player in the next couple of years. But that growth wasn’t going to happen here.
The King has come back to reclaim his throne and he’s playing the way he normally plays. Sure, the soft goal has come up now and again, it’s been a little more frequent than what we expect, but we should have all known a lackluster season was going to come up at some point. And in the long run, it’s almost a good thing.
There are some serious problems the team needs to fix, but they haven’t come up because Lundqvist has tirelessly bailed them out of so many dire situations. But now that we know what happens when he’s not on his game, we have a more clear picture on what we need to do to become the contenders we were two seasons ago.
Who Will Get Contracts?
Both Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi will be UFAs this summer, and both will be looking for sizeable salary increases. Earlier in the season, the rumors were flying about where Girardi would end up and that it wasn’t going to be New York. However, recent talks have shown that it looks like General Manager Glen Sather’s objective is to keep him around. While it’s debatable whether or not he’s going to fit into Vigneault’s system perfectly, there should be an effort made to make sure Girardi stays in the Big Apple. It’s becoming more and more difficult to find top-line defensemen, and Girardi is one of them.
As Callahan is the team’s Captain, I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t already money put aside to re-sign him. The team is currently lacking an identity, and if they’re going to build one, the best bet is to do it around Callahan. I know the shot-blocking and his overall style of play isn’t the best fit for Vigneault’s system, but we do need it and Callahan is the best offensive shot-blocker in the league. I expect both will be around for years to come.
How the Rangers should look coming back.
It’s always a 50/50 gamble as to whether or not a player is going to come back better or worse after the Olympics. There isn’t really an exact formula to figure out who is going to do well once the NHL starts again. The Olympics are intense and brutal, and it’s the best hockey you’ll watch in your entire life. On the one hand, the stop in the season can completely ruin the team’s momentum. On the other, it could fire players up once the season starts up again. Time will tell, but the Olympics is the perfect time to regain confidence and build up excitement for the second half of the season.