By Eric Bancker
The Rangers' season didn't end as they had hoped, as they missed the playoffs for the first time since the lockout.
The Rangers played inconsistent hockey all season long, and that proved to be their downfall.
If it weren't for a seven-game win streak in the beginning of the season and a record of 7-1-2 in their final 10 games, the Rangers wouldn't have even come close to a playoff spot.
The Rangers were led by superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik, who seemed to put this team on their shoulders.
Lundqvist once again proved why he deserves the title "The King" because Hank was phenomenal all season, especially down the stretch, when the Rangers needed him the most. Hank posted a record of 35-27-10 with a goals against average of 2.38 and a save percentage of .921 in 73 games this season. He was also named the team’s most valuable player for the fourth straight season.
Henrik's numbers don't exactly show how great he was all season. The defense in front of him was once again awful and left him to win games all by himself night in and night out.
Gaborik signed a five-year, $37 million contract with the Rangers last offseason, and he showed why he deserved that contract. Gaborik was the Rangers' only true offensive threat this season, collecting 42 goals and 44 assists. Gaborik tied his career high in goals and set a new career high for points (86)—not too bad for his first year on Broadway.
The sky is the limit for Gaborik so long as he stays healthy. Don’t be surprised if he scores 50 goals next season.
The emergence of young talent was a good sign for the Rangers' future. Players like Artem Anisimov, Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan, and Brandon Dubinsky proved that the Rangers have a strong foundation, but they just need to find the right veteran players to complement their young talent.
Where, oh where to start with this team?
Chris Drury was nothing short of awful this season. Drury only had 14 goals and 18 assists this season, his lowest totals since his rookie season with the Avalanche back in 1998-1999. Even that year he had 20 goals and 24 assists. Drury only had two power-play goals this season, whereas he had 22 power-play goals in his first two seasons with the Rangers.
Other than penalty killing, Drury wasn't a factor at all this season. But he cannot be totally to blame for this because Rangers coach John Tortorella kept him on the third and fourth lines all season. Drury didn't see much ice time, and his numbers prove that.
There was a rumor floating around that Drury might be retiring after this season, which would be a godsend for the fans of this team. He is making $7 million a year and is not proving to be worth the money, but I don't see him hanging his skates up just yet. He will most likely play out his contract and then retire. The only problem is that his contract expires at the end of the 2012-2013 season.
Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden are without a doubt the two biggest underachievers on this team. The tandem consumes an amazing $11.5 million a season on the cap. For all you math geeks out there, that is roughly one-fifth of the Rangers' salary cap space.
They were supposed to add offense both on the power play and five-on-five play. But they only managed to combine for 37 points this season, which is just as many points as rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto had by himself. Oh, and Del Zotto only made $1million this season, $10.5 million less than Rozsy and Redden. Do I even have to say any more?
Looking ahead to this offseason
The Rangers have the 10th overall pick in this year's draft, and they need to expand on their already great young talent. Derek Forbort would be the ideal choice for them at the 10 spot. Forbort is a tough and physical defenseman. He is smart in his own end and is not afraid to throw his weight around. He would be perfect for the Rangers considering their only true shutdown defenseman is Marc Staal.
The Rangers also need to decide who they want to bring back out of their current group of free agents.
Vaclav Prospal was a great signing for the Rangers last offseason. Shortly after being released by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Prospal signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Rangers, and it proved to be one of the best signings of the offseason. Prospal chipped in 20 goals and had 58 points. He should be back in a Rangers uniform next season, as it seems Glen Sather would like to hold on to Prospal.
Erik Christensen was a great waiver pickup. In 49 games he had 26 points and played top-line minutes down the stretch. Christensen has never really reached his potential, but after coming to the Blueshirts it seems like he has reinvented himself. Expect him back in a Rangers uniform as well.
Olli Jokinen was acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames, and in 26 games he had 15 points. Jokinen seems to be exiting his prime and is no longer the No. 1 center that he used to be. If he does in fact come back, it will be for about $3-3.5 million, not the $5 million he makes now.
Dan Girardi is interesting because the Rangers could very easily part with the inconsistent defenseman and pursue other interests.
The same holds true for Enver Lisin. Lisin wasn't really a factor this season and was scratched throughout most of the second half of the season. Don't expect him to be back.
Marc Staal will without a doubt be back with the Rangers next season. His offense is starting to come around, and his defense gets better with each passing game. He is the Rangers' only shutdown defenseman and does a good job against the other team’s top players.
Brandon Prust and Jody Shelley should be brought back as well. These two led the charge down the stretch not only with their fists, but with their offense as well. These guys are two of the toughest and best fighters in the NHL and make the Rangers more intimidating to face.
Once the Rangers figure out who they are bringing back and who they are not bringing back, the focus will then switch to who they want to bring in to better this team via free agency. There are a few guys that the Rangers will have their eye on, but if Sather can’t work out another Scott Gomez-type trade, then there will be very little money for the Rangers to spend this offseason.
Ilya Kovalchuk is on top of their free agent list, as well as on the top of every other team's list. Kovalchuk is looking for a contract that will pay him $10 million a year, so if the Rangers don't move some other big salaries, then they won’t even have a chance to negotiate with the Russian superstar.
Patrick Marleau is another player the Rangers will have their eye on. Marleau is still a No. 1 center and would go very well with Marian Gaborik. The Rangers tried to acquire him a few years ago, but negotiations didn't go anywhere. Now that he is on the open market, expect the Rangers to make a strong push for him.
Anton Volchenkov is a dominant force on defense and someone the Rangers could really use to complement Marc Staal. "The A-Train" is not afraid to hit or throw his body in front of the puck. He leads the league in blocked shots almost every season.
No matter what route the Rangers decide to take this offseason, one thing remains certain and it’s that this team needs help, badly. The fans are starting to grumble, and when they start holding "Fire Sather" rallies outside of Madison Square Garden, you know all is not well on Broadway.
Sather needs to get to work this offseason and turn this team around because this is without a doubt the most important offseason of his tenure in New York.