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Monzo Minor: Now What For The Rangers?

By Brian Monzo
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We are a few days removed from the Capitals eliminating the Rangers 4-1 in the 2010-11 Stanley Cup playoffs.  It is always a surreal few days.  When it hits the team and the fans the season is over it is a tough time for both.  But that time is now for the Rangers.  Now they need to figure out what didn't work, why it didn't work and what they need to do this offseason to get better.

There is no question around the league that the Rangers are a hard-working, heart driven team.  You can't put a price on that.  The coaching, the work ethic of the players and the determination was there all season, and in the playoffs as well.  But they are missing skill players.  The line of Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust-Sean Avery was as tough as they come.  They grinded, cycled and did everything right.  However, those three guys aren't players with a ton of offensive skill.  The ability to finish and put the puck in the net wasn't there.  That's OK if that's the Rangers 4th line, but they were being used as a 2nd line.  Unfortunately, that's when it hurts a team.

The team is loaded with forwards who just continue to get better.  Brandon Dubinsky took a huge step this season.  Ryan Callahan was outstanding, despite his injuries.  Artem Anisimov has some natural skill, but is way too inconsistent.  Derek Stepan had a solid rookie season, netting 21 goals and looks like a great 2nd line center for years to come.

Chris Drury was hurt most of the season, but showed his worth late.  It is going to be very interesting to see what the Rangers do with their man wearing the 'C.'  He is a $7 million cap hit, with only one year left on his deal.  I would not be shocked if they look to buy out his contract (a blog I will be writing in the next two weeks).

The Rangers have one truly skilled forward and that is Marian Gaborik.  I know he was in the doghouse this season, but his skill is for real.  It should not be discounted that he had a bad shoulder most of the season, followed by concussion (along with other dings and nicks I am sure we were unaware of).  The rest of the team (not including Henrik Lundqvist) - and this isn't a bad thing - is all blue collar.  The team fights for everything.  But the fact remains, a team needs skill and heart to win.  With only one skilled player (you could almost make a small case that Wojtek Wolski is a skilled player, but is invisible on most nights), the team isn't going that far. The lack of talent causes opposing teams to really pressure Gaborik and that really puts a damper on the power-play.  We can write 50+ paragraphs on why the Rangers power-play is inept, but not having enough finishers is the main reason.

Look at the last few Stanley Cup Champion teams:

Chicago Blackhawks - Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa

Pittsburgh Penguins - Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin

Detriot Red Wings - Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk

Those teams all had great complimentary players, as well as stud defensemen.

I think it is fair to say the Rangers have a very solid young defense: Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, Matt Gilroy -- also Michael Del Zotto and 2010 1st round pick Dylan McIlrath.  This combo blocks shots and bangs bodies and there is hope that Del Zotto, who had  great rookie season, but struggled this season before being sent to the minors, could eventually turn into a top offensive defenseman and power-play quarterback.  Bryan McCabe, whom the team acquired late in the season to be just that, was pretty good, but not great.  I'd be shocked if the team were to bring the impending UFA back.

After another 30+ win season, and 11 shutouts, Henrik Lundqvist again showed why he is one of the best goalies in league.  He struggled early in the season, but really buckled down to put himself again in the elite group of NHL goaltenders.  Despite being snubbed as a Vezina Trophy candidate, there is not much work needed there.  Martin Biron was as good as backup goalie there was until he broke his collar bone.  He is signed through next season, giving the Rangers no question marks in net.

So where do they go now? It seems like they've done a pretty solid job drafting the last two seasons.  They have two top offensive prospects in Chris Kreider (1st round in 2009) and Christian Thomas (2nd round in 2010), and will likely try to sign both of professional contracts this summer.  At this year's draft in June, I would expect them to be looking at forwards in the first two rounds, then shifting towards depth defensemen.

Finally, the belief amongst most is that when Stars center Brad Richards becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, the Rangers are going to be looking to strike. Richards, who will be 31 on May 2nd, has 716 points in 772 games, including 496 assists.  He is great with the puck, has a sense of the game and can make plays happen.  He is exactly the kind of top center the Rangers (and Marian Gaborik) are in need of.  He will be looking for a long-term contract, and the Rangers will have to make a few moves to open up some cap space.  They are going to need to sign Dubinsky, Callahan, Anisimov, Boyle, Sauer and perhaps Gilroy to new contracts.  Which in turn means upcoming UFA's Alex Frolov, Vinny Prospal, Steve Eminger and maybe even Ruslan Fedotenko may not be offered new contracts (Frolov for sure, I just had to include him on the list so I didn't miss anyone).

It is a work in progress.  I certainly understand the venom and frustration of the fans.  You hate to lose.  But coming off a 44 win season, it appears coach John Tortorella will be extended, which he deserves.  The team is headed in the right direction.  They are building from within, and developing some core players.  It's tough to be patient in New York, but a lot of people believe the wait will be worth it.

Follow me throughout the rest of the playoffs and as the Rangers offseason begins on twitter: @BMonzoNHL660

Leave your thoughts on the Rangers season in the comments below.

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