Not that the Rangers were supposed to accomplish much this season — they were supposed to finish on the bubble of the playoffs, which is exactly what they did — but that doesn’t make the season any less disappointing, especially considering the flashes of competitiveness at the very beginning and very end of the season. But what exactly went wrong this year? Here are ten things, for starters.
1. They never found a second offensive weapon. Henrik Lundqvist won the team MVP award, but it’s hard to justify not giving it to Marian Gaborik, who tied his career high with 42 goals and set a new personal best with 86 points. The Rangers didn’t get much production beyond him, though: No one else scored more than twenty goals, and Olli Jokinen — brought in mid-season to provide some scoring punch — was unimpressive, scoring four times in 26 games.
2. “Safe is Death” never really happened. In theory, John Tortorella should have been in a better position to run his system this year than when he took over as coach last year, but it never really happened. Not a lot of guys on this team can forecheck like, say, Ryan Callahan, and none of the defensemen carried the puck themselves with any consistency.
3. The young (non-rookie) players didn’t improve enough. Brandon Dubinsky didn’t show he could play on the top line, Dan Girardi’s season will be remembered (by us, at least) for failing to jump in when Gaborik dropped the gloves in Philadelphia, and though Callahan does an awful lot of things right, they needed his goal totals to go up, not down. (It should be mentioned, though, that Mark Staal has developed into this team’s top defenseman.)
4. Chris Drury underachieved, big time. Like Callahan, Drury’s a very useful player, but he had the worst season of his career: Stellar penalty killing doesn’t make up for a sorry fourteen goals and eighteen assists, especially considering his bloated contract.
5. Sean Avery was only Sean Avery on occasion. We asked back in November what was wrong with Avery, and though he’d have his moments over the next couple of months, he didn’t begin to resemble the agitating Sean Avery of old until after Tortorella scratched him from the lineup in March. By that point, it was too little, too late.
6. Other than Gaborik (and maybe Vinny Prospal), they had a brutal off-season. Donald Brashear was doomed from the start, Ales Kotalik’s three-year contract was two (or maybe three) years too long, and Chris Higgins (who was really only here because it freed up money to sign Gaborik) had all kinds of trouble finding the net. That’s not a very good batting average for Glen Sather. At least he was able to dump Kotalik and Higgins, if only because it brought in tough-guy Brandon Prust, who did a shocking amount of scoring over the last two weeks of the season.
7. The young defense wasn’t ready for prime time. Matt Gilroy (who, for a recent college grad, isn’t actually all that young) played like a rookie and lost his job late in the season. And Michael Del Zotto couldn’t have been expected to keep up his scoring pace from the season’s opening weeks — but at least he is actually just a kid, and should continue to develop. And needless to say, a young defense is even more problematic when Wade Redden is your most experienced veteran.
8. They couldn’t win at home. Eighteen wins in 41 home games doesn’t cut it. Only one team in the East had a worse record in their own building.
9. They couldn’t win in overtime, or in the shootout. Whether you like the NHL’s overtime system or not, it’s the one they use, and the Rangers didn’t take advantage of it. They finished 1–7 in the five-minute overtime, and 3–4 in shootouts. It’s only right that they were finally eliminated in a game that wasn’t settled in regulation.
10. They couldn’t win the big game. Their pivotal game at Boston on March 21 ended with a 2–1 loss, and though it didn’t provide the knockout blow to their playoff hopes, it came pretty close. And of course, with the season on the line in Philadelphia, they were badly outplayed, only getting as close as they did because of Henrik Lundqvist and his good friend, the cross-bar. Tortorella, by the way, made no secret yesterday of the fact that he didn’t think Gaborik came to play in big games — especially in the season-ender in Philadelphia.
Sadly, there are more than ten reasons this team missed the playoffs — blown third-period leads! Marian Gaborik Olympic injuries! — so feel free to add any we neglected to mention in the comments.