Everyone inside and outside the organization should be able to appreciate both the qualitative leap Rangers have been able to take this season and the remarkable distance they have come since the Reset mandate was established in February 2018.
But the truth is, moving from here to Canyon of Heroes will be more difficult for the club than moving from Lotteryland to Game 6 of the conference final. The distance from competitor to champion – a distance that neither Henrik Lundqvist’s nor Eddie Giacomin’s team can take – represents the biggest gap in the sport.
Of course the Blues will benefit from their excellent playoff adventure as they won five knockout matches and pushed the Great Lightning to six. They learned what they were able to achieve in the Crucible while at the same time receiving an education about what it would take to reach the promised land. Some may have gone beyond the limits they previously thought.
To a man, after exit interviews with President and General Manager Chris Drury, Rangers spoke of “unfinished business” on Monday in their latest interaction with the press. They expressed a strong opinion that the team does not necessarily need to add components but instead can take the next step by applying the lessons learned this time around. That’s exactly what you’d expect from this group whose belief in themselves has been an important component of the club’s success.
But even though it looked as if the Rangers were close when they took a 2-0 lead midway through Game 3 in Tampa Bay after winning the opening two contests of the series in the park, the more the series progressed, the further away the trophy became.
And let’s face it, the Tampa Bay team has physically dominated the blue jerseys and didn’t hold back much for a single bout. Borrowing a principle nearly half a century ago from Freddie Shero, Lightning arrived on time and maliciously. They hit with a target. The Rangers could not win the fights. The Rangers couldn’t get inside. For the only time in the playoffs, Rangers looked small.
And since it was Drury’s responsibility last summer to add grit, sandpaper, mental and physical toughness and driving pedigree to complement the great talent amassed under Jeff Gorton’s tenure as GM, he’ll now have to add volume and a meaner edge up front.
Drury will have to put together a team that will be able to hit the net when the Rangers open snowboard rush game is eliminated. The GM will have to make sure the portfolio is diverse initially so the team can score different ways, not simply out of neat back plays and one-on-one dashing through open spaces that happen less by the week as the playoffs progress.
It is clear that Drury will have to work within the constraints of the ruthless salary cap and the many no-trade/no-move clauses contained in many of his player contracts. There is a second line center issue that must be addressed before focusing on the image.
Are the Rangers one kind of team if Ryan Strom returns, another if Andrew Cobb is the second midfield and another if Philip Chettle gets a crack in the top-six midfield? Or do the blue shirts need a second, more physically powerful hub via free agency or the trade route? This is what I believe in.
But if there is a material change in the second-line position’s DNA, Drury will have to gauge the impact it will have on Artemi Panarin, who said he will take what he learned during this round and apply it to future qualifying tests.
“Sure,” said Panarin, who often couldn’t be the same kind of playoff influencer he did during the regular season. “Hard situations make people stronger and soft situations make people nice.
“It depends on how you react. Things didn’t go the way I wanted in the qualifiers.[ed]But thank God for this opportunity. I will be better. “
Rangers need their best players to be at their best at the most important time of the year. Mika Zibanegad continued to raise his profile and playing during the first deep round of his career, but he has not scored five points on five during his last four games against Tampa Bay and has scored only three points (1, 2) in even strength over his last nine games.
There’s reason to believe that Zipanegad will thrive from this experience – all of them, really – but he may need a more physical presence on his right side that can make some room for the center and work on walls and nooks. This is where Sammy Blais could play an important role next year.
There was absolutely nothing cute about the Rangers. But they need to add more physical attackers and tougher edges to the mix to diversify the team’s look even further. They need to add components that allow the club to become a team that owns a puck ball. Perhaps Will Cuylle will be ready to contribute.
Rangers have run miles over the past year. They still have miles to go.