Landing Stanley Cup champions doesn’t guarantee success for Rangers

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-New York Rangers at Los Angeles Kings
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers lost an important leader and two-time Stanley Cup champion when Barclay Goodrow was claimed off waivers by the San Jose Sharks earlier this offseason. But will his previous championship experience be missed that much by the Rangers moving forward?

Since then, they have added another Stanley Cup winner in Reilly Smith, who will look to fill the void as the top-line right wing.

While it surely doesn’t hurt that Smith is a former champion with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2023 and proven playoff performer, the Rangers have gone down this route before, and it did not pan out how they envisioned. Just two seasons ago, the Rangers brought in three-time Stanley Cup winner Patrick Kane and 2019 (and now 2024) winner Vladimir Tarasenko.

It was widely believed that the two champions would help to get New York over the hump after falling short in the Eastern Conference Final the year before. The result, though, was a first-round postseason exit in seven games against the New Jersey Devils.

Looking at the recent Stanley Cup winners, the recipe for success may come from within, rather than going out and hunting past rings. In fact, Tarasenko was the only player on the Florida Panthers who had won a Stanley Cup prior to this season. So, in New York, that puts the onus on core players like Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Chris Kreider, who have yet to prove they can deliver a championship.

Take the 2021-22 Colorado Avalanche as another example. They had just two rings on their bench, courtesy of Andre Burakovsky in 2018 and Darren Helm in 2008. Still, they captured the ultimate prize, winning the Stanley Cup in 2022.

Other teams have been more loaded with past winners. Take the 2022-23 Vegas Golden Knights, for example. They had previous Cup winners Phil Kessel (2), Jonathan Quick (2), Alec Martinez (2), and Alex Pietrangelo (1), though only the latter two actually played in the 2023 Cup Final.

Related: Division rival believes Devils ready to compete with Rangers

Rangers won’t ever be able to replicate 1994 roster that included many Cup winners

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Florida Panthers at Vegas Golden Knights
Reilly Smith — Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

More often than not, a championship-caliber team is built from within. In very rare cases, like that of the 1994 Rangers, a team can be pieced together from proven winners through trade and free agency. Players on that team totaled 28 rings before winning it all in 1994, bolstering the homegrown core of Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Alex Kovalev and Sergei Zubov with past champions like Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe, Esa Tikkanen, Glenn Anderson and Greg Gilbert, among others.

“People talk about all the Oilers on that team. That didn’t happen by accident,” former Rangers general manager Neil Smith said on the NHL Wraparound podcast recently. “That was by design because they were available and they were winners. If you’ve got winners that are available, you’ve got to get them on your team, in my opinion.”

Current Rangers GM Chris Drury does not have the luxury of adding this many proven winners. It was a benefit that certainly helped push the 1994 team over the hump to end a 54-year championship drought, but one that is almost impossible to come by in today’s game, especially because of the salary cap.

“It just happened that I was fortunate enough that I was able to make the deals to bring first [Adam] Graves, then Messier came a month or two later, then Jeff Beukeboom, and then Esa Tikkanen and Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish and then Glenn Anderson at the deadline,” Smith explained. “Without every single one of those guys, we wouldn’t have one that Cup. You had all those guys in your room. As the manager, I had great confidence in the group, that they would get it done.”

After a quiet free agency for Drury, acquiring Smith in a trade with the Penguins was the best deal he could make. It brings in at least one championship ring to join the three from Jonathan Quick and one from coach Peter Laviolette.

However, the likely formula is that the Rangers are going to need to win from within. It is up to the current core to get New York over the hump. Zibanejad, Kreider, Panarin, Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin. Those are the players who need to deliver, not past championship winners that are brought in at the trade deadline.

Adding Smith certainly helps, and replaces the championship experience lost in Goodrow. But that Rangers core built from within must find a way to do what other teams like, most recently, the Panthers have done to become Stanley Cup champions.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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