With the calendar flipped to September, this is normally an exciting time for hockey fans. Camps will soon be open, preseason games will be getting under way, and in a few weeks, the new season will commence.
But as we all know, this is not a normal year. I received an email from the Rangers recently, confirming where they should send my tickets when the time comes to ship them. Usually, such emails elicit giddiness, topped only by the day the FedEx guy comes with the package. Rather, I felt depressed, firm in the belief that while I may get them a week or two before November 1st it’ll be long after that I get to tear anything out of that booklet.
None of us want to see a lockout, let alone another completely lost season so please do not mistake this as me rooting for one. It would be a major disappointment if we the League shut down for any period of time. This is merely an attempt to try and examine a few ways a shortened season could benefit the New York Rangers, if heaven forbid it came to that.
The (Long) Road Not Traveled
Due to the first phase of renovations at Madison Square Garden in 2011, the Blueshirts took the mother of all road trips. After a few local pre-season games, they shipped off to Europe, not only playing their first 2 regular season games in Stockholm but had a European exhibition schedule that saw them playing 4 games, all in different countries, in 5 nights. After returning to the States for a road game against the Islanders, they then headed out for a 4-game, 7-day Western Canadian swing before finally headed home.
Phase II of the renovations sends the Rangers on the road again this year. The miles traversed and the time zone changes aren’t as harsh (there are three preseason games out of the metro area, followed by an 8-game road trip to start the season that, after the first 2 games in Los Angeles and San Jose, remains in the Eastern Time Zone) as last year. Travel is friendlier within the Eastern Conference, but if any trip that keeps them away from home for almost the entire first month of the season can be avoided, it’s not a bad thing.
More Time To Heal
Marian Gaborik was slagged last spring for pulling a disappearing act in the playoffs. When it was all over, we learned the reason for his poor performance was the torn labrum he was playing with. Gaborik underwent repairs and continues to heal and rehab. The best-case scenario has him out until November. Even with Rick Nash on board to help offensively, losing a 40-goal scorer for one-quarter to one-third of the season has to have an impact. The fewer games the Rangers have to play without a full complement of forwards, the better it is for them.
Lost in the mix (and in my opinion could be the Rangers’ X-factor heading into 2012-13) is defenseman Michael Sauer, who hasn’t played since being concussed on December 5th, 2011. Sauer emerged as one of the Rangers’ top-4 defensemen in his 2010-11 rookie campaign, and his absence hurt. Sauer was averaging 18:43 of ice time a game (and this was before Marc Staal was eased back in from his own concussion woes).That time not only had to be absorbed by the top-4, but by other defensemen that John Tortorella didn’t always trust (think back to that triple overtime game 3 against the Capitals, where Stu Bickel saw 3:24 of ice time for the whole game and Anton Stralman had 28:00 of time, while Ryan McDonagh logged 53:17, Dan Girardi, 44:26, Marc Staal 49:34 and Michael Del Zotto 43:33). None of us can predict if or when Sauer can or will return to action, this season or any for that matter. The point is, a healthy Sauer, who has proven himself as a go-to guy, gives Tortorella another player he trusts out there. If the extra time a lockout would buy is what he needs to get back to playing, a corps of Girardi, McDonagh, Staal, Sauer and Del Zotto with Stralman and Bickel as the 6/7 brings more balance to the workload of the defensemen.
Not So Bruised And Battered
With their grinding, shot-blocking style of play, the Rangers definitely earned the “Black-and-Blueshirt” moniker that was thrown around last year. Regardless of an athlete’s conditioning level, taking an 90 MPH or slap shot off any part of the body – cushioned or uncushioned – takes a physical toll. With some of the new blood brought in this off season, how much the Rangers will continue to rely on that style in 2012-13 remains to be seen. We all remember how the air came out of the balloon in 2012-11 when Zdeno Chara’s shot broke Ryan Callahan’s ankle. Fewer games will diminish the number of nights the players risk serious injury that can sideline them for awhile.
Give It A Rest
In 2004-05, NHLers flocked to other leagues to play, and undoubtedly, many are contemplating doing that again. Taking a proactive stance, some of these leagues are setting parameters for handling it. KHL teams will be allowed to take on three NHL players for however long the lockout lasts, but only one non-Russian. The Swedish Elite League has come out and said they will only sign players that will commit to a full season, cutting off a homecoming for players such as Henrik Lundqvist, whom many thought might have returned to the Frolunda Indians. Ironically, in 2004-05, when some NHLers flocked to the SEL, Lundqvist had a breakout year, named the League’s best goaltender, player of the year and voted MVP by the players, all while backstopping the Indians to a championship.
The goal the last two seasons has been to reduce Lundqvist’s workload to keep him fresh for a playoff run. Concern grew in the second half of the season over backup Martin Biron’s play (the lowlight being against the Blackhawks on February 16th). Biron has been re-signed for the next two years, the Rangers opting for what they know rather than wade into what was a relatively weak free agent market for goaltenders. If what was seen late last season is due to diminishing skills and not a technique issue, something that can be worked on with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, the plan could go to hell in a handbasket. Depending on whether the reigning Vezina Trophy winner heads overseas or remains in the U.S. and trains, he very well might end up with a lesser workload, with or without Biron’s assistance.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927