The Rangers’ Superstar Problem

Gorton (MICHAEL DWYER/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Gorton (MICHAEL DWYER/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The New York Rangers have been one of the most successful teams in the NHL over the past half decade. With three trips to the Eastern Conference Final, one trip to the Stanley Cup Final and more playoff wins than any other team over the past few years, they certainly have had some amazing moments.

This season and post-season, though, did not go as planned. Besides a stretch of play earlier in the season, where the Rangers started off scorching thanks to the play of Henrik Lundqvist, it was a season of inconsistency and ultimately one of failure as the team got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fans are asking: “What does the team need to do to improve?” and “Where do we go from here?” Well… there are all the usual answers that I can tell you: Trade Girardi and Staal, buy them out, re-sign Yandle, trade Nash, and so on and so forth. But the problem that the New York Rangers have extends beyond their suspect defense and the possible departure of Yandle.

The problem the New York Rangers have is one that they need to address and they need to figure out sooner rather than later. What is that problem? Well let’s take a look around the league for a moment. The Dallas Stars, the St. Louis Blues, the Washington Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks, the Nashville Predators, the Chicago Blackhawks and yes, even the New York Islanders all have something the Rangers don’t.

All of those teams, while some are bonafide contenders for the Cup and others are getting there all have an offensive superstar, or in some cases two, to build around and thrive around. The Rangers do not have that and that ultimately is going to continue to hurt them down the line if they don’t get one. Now just how can they obtain one? Well that’s much easier said than done but they either need to decide to rebuild, become a lottery team and get a top pick or hit the market. The market route is to go out and sign one or trade for one but the Rangers haven’t had much luck that way in recent years. We’ll go over both options and why one is better than the other.

Lundqvist stop Crosby Image Credit: Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

Lundqvist stop Crosby (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

The St. Louis Blues drafted one of the top snipers in the league when they drafted Vladimir Tarasenko. The Capitals have had the best pure goalscorer of the past decade since they drafted Alexander Ovechkin in 2005. The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a two headed monster manning their top two lines since they drafted Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. We can keep going down the line and talk about Steven Stamkos and Joe Pavelski and Patrick Kane but at the end of the day my point is clear: sometimes it is absolutely necessary to bottom out and get that top pick.

Before Towes and Kane got to the United Center the building was basically empty. The same goes for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Capitals hadn’t been competitive in years until Ovechkin came on the scene and brought energy and life into that franchise. The Rangers are in a spot right now where some people say it would be crazy to rebuild and I completely understand that. We still have Lundqvist along with some solid young players on the team as well but in the end, we don’t have a gamebreaker. We don’t have someone that can just simply take over a game and run with it. The NHL is now a superstar driven league and the Rangers don’t have anyone close to that status.

The trade market as well as free agent signings have also been an option for teams searching for that missing piece. The Rangers have tried this route but have not been as successful at it as other teams have been. The Dallas Stars traded for Tyler Seguin and that was one risk that turned out immensely well for them. The Nashville Predators took a leap of faith this season and traded defensemen Seth Jones for a young, strong and extremely talented center in Ryan Johansen. Both the Stars and Predators knew they needed to get some young and much needed firepower and yes, both trade prices were steep but the teams knew they needed to get players of those calibers. The Rangers signings of Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards never quite panned out the way they wanted them too and the trade for Rick Nash hasn’t looked so good recently.

Nash (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Nash (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Yes, for the past few seasons they have been great at scoring by committee and obtaining quality players. Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash and Chris Kreider have all had their moments for this franchise. So did Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik. But at the end of the day the Rangers have tried to rely on players that simply are “Robin” type players and not “Batman”. They aren’t elite and they aren’t the type that pushes teams over the hump to a Stanley Cup.

The way I see it now the Rangers management needs to take a step back and look around the league at what’s happening. They have all the complementary pieces to win a cup. With a few tweaks and with the right players getting ice time, their defense can be shored up as well. But they need to find an offensive superstar to be a gamebreaker for them. They need someone who is going to step up and take control of a game and be feared when he steps on the ice.

Seguin, Ovechkin, Crosby, Tavares, Kane, Towes, Pavelski, Stamkos… those named are feared. Brassard, Zuccarello, Stepan, Nash and Kreider? Not as much as those other guys. Let me make one thing clear as well: in no way am I saying that players like Brassard, Zuccarello, Stepan and Kreider are bad but they just aren’t up to the level that some of the other players in the league are at.

The biggest problem Rangers fans have with a full on rebuild is that, even myself to some extent, we are all extremely attached to Henrik Lundqvist. He has been the heart and soul of the franchise for years now and a full rebuild means the departure of Henrik Lundqvist.We want to see him hoist the cup in New York City but how much more time does the man have left? It times like these though where management needs to use their brains and not their heart and realize this team just might not be as good as it was perceived to be.

Another reason a rebuild might be difficult is because of where the Rangers play. Why? Well the NBA’s New York Knicks are in the same building and are currently in a pseudo-rebuilding phase of their own. The owners of both franchises, James Dolan, won’t want both his teams playing bad at the same time. Ticket sales could suffer and the Garden wouldn’t exactly be rocking for either team. Chances are if the Rangers decide on a rebuild they may have to wait until the Knicks begin to perform better.

At the end of the day, whether it’s through a rebuild or through an absolutely astronomical trade or signing, the Rangers need to address their superstar problem: They don’t have one and in this superstar driven league, they need to decide how they’re going to get out or else it will be a very very long time until the Stanley Cup comes back to NYC.