Bobby Lemaire, Staff Writer
New York Rangers:
When the NHL and NHLPA finally agreed on a collective bargaining agreement, the New York Rangers were considered one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. The addition of superstar Rick Nash, along with already established players such as Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Henrik Lundqvist, made the Rangers one of the most talented teams in the league. However, all of the preseason hope in Rangers nation has faded away due to the slow start the Broadway Blueshirts have had. About a half of the way through the shortened regular season the Rangers are currently on the outside part of the playoff picture. After 20 games, the Rangers are 10-8-2, with 22 points, and 1 point shy of the final playoff spot.
There are many different reasons that have attributed to the Rangers tough start, with offense being number one. While Rick Nash has missed some time due to an undisclosed injury, players like Gaborik and Richards have both been inconsistent and at times, having both been benched by Coach John Tortorella. The Rangers have very little depth at forward, because they gave up established players including Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky in the trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets, in order to acquire Nash. Another issue on offense has been the power play. Even with all of the talent on their roster, the Rangers have the 26th ranked power play in the league, which is not cutting it at 14.1 percent.
While there have been serious struggles on offense, that does not apply to all of the forwards. Night in and night out, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin have been the two best players on the ice. They rank fourth and sixth on the team respectively when it comes to points, but they always seem to create scoring chances while on the ice. If Stepan keeps his solid play going and Richards keeps struggling, it is very possible that Richards will be bought out this summer and made a free agent.
While the Rangers start has been unexpected and poor, they are still in the race to make the playoffs. If they can find a way to turn things around, possibly with Nash coming back into the lineup, things may not be as bad as they seem. If the struggles continue though, and the Rangers either fail to make the playoffs or get ousted in the first round, head coach John Tortorella may be looking for a new job this summer. This team has too much star power to miss the playoffs.
New Jersey Devils:
Even though the New Jersey Devils lost star forward Zach Parise in the free agency last offseason, this team has not missed a beat. Coach Pete Deboer has his team playing hard every night and are comfortably in a playoff position. One of the most pleasant surprises for the Devils has been the great play of forward David Clarkson. In past years, Clarkson has been a solid two way player, who was more known for blocking shots and laying big hits, then scoring goals. But this year, Clarkson has really stepped up his game to a whole new level. Clarkson leads the team in both goals and penalty minutes, showing that he can do it all. With Ilya Kovalchuck and Patrick Elias both contributing on offense, and goalie Martin Broduer playing as if he is ten years younger, this team will be in a playoff spot at the end of the season, and even be in contention for the division title.
New York Islanders:
The Islanders are in a similar position as the Rangers. They are just on the outside of the playoffs looking in. The only difference is that there weren’t as many expectations of the Islanders to succeed as compared to the Rangers. The main reason the Islanders are even close to contending is due to the start play of forward John Tavares. Through 22 games, Tavaras has 13 goals and 12 assists for 25 points. When Tavares is on the ice, the other team has to make sure they know where he is at all times. If the Islanders are able to sneak into the playoffs, Tavares could be the winner of the Hart Trophy, as the league’s most valuable player; he is just that good. In other news, the Islanders placed often injured goalie Rick Dipietro on waivers, and no team claimed him. It is possible that his contract will be bought out this summer.
One of the league’s most disappointing teams has to be the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo is last in the Eastern Conference standing which led to the firing of former head coach Lindy Ruff. Before he was let go, Ruff was the longest tenured coach in the NHL, being behind the Sabres bench for the last 15 and a half years. While a change was necessary in Buffalo, I don’t think that was where to start. The problem was not with Ruff, but with a lack of talent on the roster. After being let go, the Sabres continued their losing ways, dropping their next two games. Ruff won’t remained unemployed for long, he is too good and too much of a well respected of a coach to not find work elsewhere.