Maybe I’m jumping the gun a little bit, but it’s almost time to really start talking New York Rangers hockey. I mean, the Mets finish up next Wednesday and something needs to fix the cracks in my heart caused by another sad season. And with the new season of Blueshirts hockey approaching, I think the boys in blue have a real chance of cleaning up the shards that baseball season has left behind.
A lot has gone on for the Rangers this off-season. Players left, players came in, roles changed and it has produced an air of hope and excitement amongst the Rangers faithful, including myself. Here are the top 10 things that Rangers fans have to look forward to the most for the 2011-12 season;
10. Tri-state domination– Fine, I’ll admit it, the New Jersey Devils have definitely been the best of the three teams this past decade. But that time is over. The Islanders are still young and up-and-coming and have nothing on the Rangers. The Devils had an atrocious first half of the season last year and they’re transitioning from a defensive team to an offensive team, with the likes of Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac (who will be out for the first month or two).
While this transition is most definitely taking place, there is still one last problem with the Devils in Martin Brodeur. Is he still old? Yes. Is he still fat? Yes. Is he still a huge threat at 39 years old? Absolutely.
9. A healthy Martin Biron– After breaking his collarbone at the end of February, Ranger fans everywhere put their head in their hands and let out a collective groan. Biron was brought in so that Henrik Lundqvist had a capable back-up and wouldn’t have to play the ridiculous amount of games that he starts every year. Now that Biron is back, Hank will get the perfect amount of resting time. When the postseason comes around, Lundqvist will be well-rested and ready to go.
8. Henrik Lundqvist- Lundqvist is going to have a good year and I’m putting my money on it. Last year he had a decent run in the playoffs, but I think he could have been a lot better off if he had a better back-up than Chad Johnson down the stretch. The key with Lundqvist and how much success he brings to the team is how many games he plays. I think if he plays between 60 and 65 games he’ll be more than fine and fit to help carry the Rangers on a nice long playoff run.
7. HBO 24/7– How can any fan NOT be excited for this? The second the news broke out about the Flyers and Rangers getting their own HBO coverage after the success of the four-part series that featured the Penguins and Capitals, I was stoked. Let’s be honest, the Rangers are a perfect team to cover. But most exciting about this? Who else is excited to see John Tortotella rip some heads off? C’mon you know it’s coming.
6. John Tortorella– I love Torts. A lot. And I think now he has the team that he wants and the team that he can work with. Tortorella’s new team is young, fast and knows (or have at least been convinced) that with him in charge, their chances of winning are pretty good. Especially now with a team that he can mold and morph to play a specific way at the level he needs them to be at.
5. The Backline– Last year, I said that the Rangers had one of the best defenses in the league. I still believe this and I think that this year they are just going to continue to improve. The thing that is so great about them is they’re still so young and already they’re pretty accomplished. The first two pairs are more or less spoken for, but the question is who plays with Steve Eminger. It’s either going to be Michael Del Zotto or new acquisition Tim Erixon. In all honesty, I have a bit of a soft spot for Del Zotto and hope he gets it. Sure, he may have been on the Conneticut Whale, the Rangers’ minor league affiliate most of last year, but he proved in his first year that he can play really well and that he can create offensive chances. I’m for MDZ, but we’ll have to see.
4. Saying farewell to “The Unholy Trinity”– At least, that’s what Ken Campbell said of Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Wade Redden. While it may have been a three-season process, the horrible moves that general manager Glen Sather made when getting these players is undone, as Drury was bought-out this summer. I think it’s unfair that we all trash Drury so much, since he was a guy who was played completely wrong, but he was doing nothing for this team anymore. The Rangers needed to adopt the “out with the old, in with the new” mentality, and they’ve done it by saying goodbye to the 25th captain of the New York Rangers. Speaking of captains …
3. Captain Callahan– Finally. This has been foreseeable for the past two seasons and it honestly could not be any more well-deserved. Ryan Callahan has been named the 26th captain in team history and will serve as a reliable, go-to guy for the team in all areas. He plays hard, works even harder and is going to be an ideal role model for teammates. Callahan should be a guy who can light a fire under the ass of teammates and will more than likely be more outspoken than Drury ever was.
2. The Winter Classic– We’ve been waiting for this for a while, and could going against rival Philadelphia Flyers be any more perfect? Even from the comforts at home, watching the Blueshirts play outside in such a gritty environment will be incredible. It’s going to suck if they lose of course, but I have faith in their abilities-and in how much worse the Flyers will be with no Mike Richards or Jeff Carter.
1. Brad Richards- Yup, This is what makes the season most exciting. And it isn’t just having Richards-it’s what is going to happen to this team with Richards on it. The Rangers have needed a good center for a long time and they finally got one. Richard upgrades the offense and his presence should spark the skills of Marian Gaborik, who had a sub-par season last year. The defense is strong, the goaltending is strong and now that Richards is here, the offense gets a little bit stronger.