Overtime: The 2010’s New York Rangers: An (Almost) Lost Decade

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Overtime: The 2010’s New York Rangers: An (Almost) Lost Decade

Rangers fans can take solace in the face that not all is lost from the last 10 years. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Rangers fans can take solace in the face that not all is lost from the last 10 years. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Rangers fans can take solace in the face that not all is lost from the last 10 years. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Rangers fans can take solace in the face that not all is lost from the last 10 years. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Dylan Balsamo, Assistant Sports Editor

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With the exception of the Yankees, being born into a family that roots for New York sports teams is not something I would wish upon anyone.

My poor father has been a fan of the New York Rangers since his boyhood. Growing up on Long Island, he was rooting for the Rangers before the Islanders even existed. He has been nothing but loyal to his team, and, being the good-natured guy that he is, he would never get angry at them, but instead find different ways to channel his frustrations in their worst of times, frequently calling them “the Strangers.”

That is why it actually pains me to think about the fact that my dad had to wait until 1994, when he was in his early-30s, to see New York hoist the Stanley Cup. He often tells me that he watched the final game of that final against Vancouver alone in his apartment, as he could not handle the emotion of the game in front of people. And after the final whistle, his phone blew up, with everyone he knew, including ex-girlfriends, calling to congratulate him.

Before that fateful year of ‘94, led by the likes of Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter, it had been 54 years since the Rangers, one of the “Original 6” NHL franchises, had won the Cup. In fact, by the mid-’80s, chants of “1940” were almost hackneyed in the arenas of New York’s biggest rivals.

But that was a quarter of a century ago. Since then, there have been no more Stanley Cups for the New York Rangers.

At this point, chants of “1994” are probably not that far away.

Entering the 2010-11 hockey season, things looked to be changing for the Rangers. They had been eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the regular season the year before, but they returned to the ice that October with a young core of talent that was set for the long haul of an era: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Derek Stepan and of course Henrik Lundqvist, perhaps the best goalie New York has ever had.

That season resulted in an early playoff exit, but the next season, along with the help of Michael Del Zotto, Mats Zuccarello and traded-for starlet Brad Richards, the Rangers won the Eastern Conference regular-season title and went to the Conference Finals before a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Devils put New Jersey in the Cup Final against the Kings. In those three postseason series, what became evident was what would plague the franchise for the remainder of the decade: an inability to execute in a timely manner.

For a club that had so much talent, they were unable to make light work of teams that they were better than the Senators and the Capitals. The forward line had plenty of pop but were always sloppy in their passing and playmaking, and the defense would allow open spots, so they would have to rely on the heroic gymnastics of a younger Lundqvist. They had a flair for the dramatic, but only because they had allowed the game or series to go that long. By the time the series with New Jersey rolled around, the Rangers were fatigued.

New York would get that deep into the playoffs two more times in the decade: the first came two years later when, after a change at the head coaching spot, the highly publicized acquisition for goal scorer Rick Nash and the mid-season acquisition of Martin St. Louis, the Rangers found themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 20 years. But by the time that series rolled around, after long bouts with the Flyers, Penguins and Candiens to get out of the Eastern Conference, the Rangers had already played 20 games, and they were meeting the Los Angeles Kings, known to make light work of playoff opponents in those days. LA embarrassed the Rangers, winning the series in five games. Nash only touched the puck nine times over those games.

The other time New York made it that deep was the next season. The club lost Richards to free agency but gained fresh-faced Kevin Hayes, a signee right out of Boston College. That Ranger squad went onto win the President’s Trophy, the best statistical team in the NHL regular season.

But that is not where Stanley Cups are won.

The Rangers found their way back to the Eastern Conference Finals again after series with the Penguins and Capitals. But the same ailments were still a burden on the New York Rangers as was before. The five-game series with Pittsburgh easily could have been four, and the series with Washington was a brutal seven games. In the battle for the East, New York met the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that had everything going for them. The series went the full distance, and the Lightning took Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.

And now, here we are.

It’s 2019. New York has missed the playoffs the last two seasons. David Quinn is in his second year as the head coach, and Jeff Gorton is in his second season as general manager. Chris Kreider, once a playoff hero who came straight from the college ranks, is now the seasoned vet at age 28. Henrik Lundqvist is beginning to look his age of 37. Most everyone from the days of hope and Cup contending have either abandoned ship, washed up or retired. 

But, in a strange way, hope still remains. The Rangers had the second pick in the NHL Draft this year and snagged Finnish starlet Kaapo Kakko. Gorton pulled off a trade to get talented defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets and then signed him to a seven-year deal. The current roster only has three players 30 or older. And hockey is a sport that is only getting younger.

Nobody is suggesting or expecting a Stanley Cup run in 2019-20. But perhaps this upcoming season will push the Rangers far forward in the right direction so that soon my father can see his team win their second title of his lifetime.

And his kids will see their first.