Thursday, June 16, 2011

Being Built On Similar Foundation, Rangers Not Far From Being Bruins

Coming into the 2010-11 season there was some doubt as to the importance of having an elite goaltender between the pipes in order to contend for and win a Stanley Cup championship.  The focus had turned away from the netminder and towards ensuring that had multiple offensive stars in order to compete for the championship.  The run of Tim Thomas and the Boston Bruins reaffirmed the need for top flight goaltending, which gives even more hope to the New York Rangers that they can get back and contend for a title in the near future.  In fact, if the New York Rangers look at the newest champion, they will find that there is a lot in common in how the two teams are constructed.

In terms of style, when at their best, both play a physical, grinding style that allows them to impose their will on the opposition and generate their offense in that way.  The foundation of both teams starts in the goal with their All-Star goaltenders needing to be the best player on the ice nightly if they are going to win.  What Thomas was to the Boston on their march to the title is what Lundqvist has been to the Rangers for the last five seasons. 

Working with the goaltending the defensive groups are led by shutdown defenders.  While Boston possesses Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara and underrated Dennis Seidenberg, the Rangers possess All-Star Marc Staal and Dan Girardi as their top pair.  Even if you give Boston the edge in terms of the top pairing, the Rangers have the potential with Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto and Tim Erixon to have not only a better overall defense corps than the Bruins just had in winning the championship, but one of the best in the entire league.

The place where the Rangers struggle is in consistently finding the back of the net.  The Bruins run also gives the Rangers hope there as Boston has it fair share of struggle scoring the puck as well.  While Brandon Dubinsky led the Rangers with just 54 points, David Krejci and Milan Lucic only had 62 of their own to lead the Bruins.  The difference was that they had more consistent help behind them as the team had eight guys with 40 or more points while the Rangers only had five. 

Boston being led by Krejci, Horton, Lucic, Bergeron, Recchi and Marchand is not all that different from the Rangers with Gaborik, Dubinsky, Callahan, Anisimov and Stepan.  The first thing that jumps out at me is how each team has players they drafted as those they rely on for offense.  The Rangers have Gaborik and the Bruins traded for Horton and Recchi, but development is key.  There is no doubt the Rangers do need more skill up front, or at least more consistency in their offensive output.  The question after watching Boston finish it off playing their way is whether that skill has to be the elite center that has been clamored for in Brad Richards or just another 50-60 point two-way player that fits into the Rangers system and the progression of the players already here.  An elite talent is certainly not going to hurt New York on the ice in terms of goal production, but that does not automatically mean a big contract is what the team needs to contend.

It is certainly possible that all the chips fell right for Boston this season and the mold to win a Stanley Cup in the post-lockout era is still based on having multiple offensive stars, but if the Rangers are going to contend for a championship they are better off sticking with the process they have been building along the lines of the Boston model as opposed to swinging big and hoping for the payoff.