It’s the eve of the NHL season opener and I don’t know that I’ve been more excited to see the Rangers back in action. Maybe it’s just that natural feeling of giddiness that hockey is back, but I think there’s something different this year. The most obvious is the addition of Brad Richards. Who’s not excited to see him in a Rangers jersey for the first time in a real game?
But my excitement really stems from last season. The Rangers sputtered down the stretch, barely got into the playoffs, got bounced in the first round pretty handily, etc. But what Eric and I have discussed countless times is how fun that team was to watch. The youth, the energy, the grittiness. It was just a genuinely fun team to watch.
At the same time, we knew while that was a fun team to watch, it was also a team that didn’t have enough to actually contend for a Stanley Cup. That’s what is different about the New York Rangers going into 2011-2012 (I think/hope). With the addition of another star player in Brad Richards, plus the nucleus of last year’s team coming back this should be a year the Rangers aren’t fighting just to make the playoffs – rather, they should be battling for positioning in the upper-half of the Eastern Conference standings and perhaps even an Atlantic Division title.
The one red flag, and it’s a major one, at this point that could really put a damper on all those expectations is the health of Marc Staal. The Rangers know they won’t have him to start the season because of post-concussion problems, and Sidney Crosby’s continuing issues on that front provide all the evidence you need to be very concerned.
There’s no question while there is a lot of young talent on that defensive unit, it is largely inexperienced. To address that, the Rangers claimed a veteran defenseman per Andrew Gross.
The other obstacle the Rangers will be dealing with early on is their schedule. Obviously, they have their first two games overseas against two very good teams in LA and Anaheim. Further, their first seven games are on the road because of the MSG phase I of construction. Not only that, but they go from two European games to a roadie at the Islanders (never a gimme) and then on a West Coast Canadian swing. That’s a ton of travel in the first couple weeks of the season, so it will be interesting to see how the Rangers are able to deal with that. Perhaps the caveat to all of that is how good of a road team they have been over the past couple of seasons.
Eric and I discussed in our first show how important it will be for the Rangers to establish some dominance on their home ice this season, but they will also need a good jumpstart on the road.
On the Avery front, it’s definitely bittersweet for me as well. He’s an incredibly emotional guy who can often provide a spark, but it just seemed like Avery lost touch with his coaches and teammates as last season wore on. He became totally ineffective in the offensive production department and lacked overall consistency in his play. From a talent standpoint alone, I thought it was best to choose Christensen over him. I will miss Avery, but at the end of the day the Rangers made the right move.
Eric and I wanted to get one more show out before the puck drops tomorrow, but unfortunately our schedules didn’t pan out this week. We’ll get back on it after these first two European games and break down the start of what should be a very exciting season.
Before I wish you a Merry NHL Season, I leave you with a gift. Here’s to hoping this magic returns in 2011-2012.
Merry NHL Season!