The regular season starts tomorrow night! Unfortunately for me, it's a Jewish holiday so I will not be able to watch the game.
The hockey world is filled with previews and predictions. There's not much to add in those categories. Besides, making predictions is really more for entertainment than anything else. Especially in the new NHL where parity reigns supreme. The truth is that there really isn't a team in the league that's dominant from top to bottom. Many teams have overwhelming strengths. Yet they all have fairly significant weaknesses as well. Ultimately, the last team standing in June of 2008 will be determined primarily by hot goaltending and good health as opposed to any other factor(s). That being said, I've prepared my top five lists. I've got two lists for you here: (1) The Top Five Reasons Why The Rangers Will Win The Stanley Cup This Season and (2) The Top Five Reasons Why The Rangers Will Not Win The Stanley Cup This Season. Here we go!
I. THE TOP FIVE REASONS WHYTHE RANGERS WILL WIN THE STANLEY CUP THIS SEASON:
1. Offense. This team is stacked up front. The Rangers are quite possibly the deepest offensive team in the league. Jagr, Gomez, Drury, Shanahan, Straka, Avery and Prucha. That list doesn't even include Marcel Hossa (who came alive late last season) or the up and coming rookie Nigel Dawes (who may very well get a shot with the big club this season). The Rangers have scorers on each of their top three lines.
2. Henrik Lundqvist. He's the King on Broadway. After a slow start last season he really came alive to carry the team through their unbelievable run down the stretch. He gives the team the confidence it needs to play an offensively oriented game. When he's hot he gets into shooters' heads forcing them to try to pick their spots carefully, too carefully!
3. Jaromir Jagr. Yes he fits into reason number 1 (offense). But Jagr is literally in a category of his own! He's an old school super star who can literally change the course of a game (or a series) by himself. To me Jagr is the Rangers' nuclear weapon. His skill and game breaking ability are virtually unparalleled. If opponents don't match up against him, he'll break the game open. If they do match up against him, they'll be forced to pay less attention to the team's other stars. A no loose situation for the Rangers! Most importantly, he's in great shape and appears to be determined to win it all.
4. Transition/Speed. This team can fly. Period. Of the top 9 forwards, 7 of them have serious wheels: Jagr, Drury, Straka, Gomez, Prucha, Callahan and Avery. As weak as the defense is, Roszival, Mara, Tyutin, Pock and Staal all have respectable mobility. They can all make outlet passes as well. We're obviously not going to have flashbacks of Leetch and Zubov, however, this team should be able to get down the ice in a hurry.
5. Grit. The Rangers are not what you would call a big bruising team. Nonetheless, they do possess a handsome serving of team grit. Avery loves the rough stuff. Drury plays a fearless in your face style. Shanny's big and strong (albeit slow!) and he's earned high marks for dropping the gloves in the preseason to stand up for teammates. Jagr may not be tough but he's absolutely huge. Trying to get body position on him will wear out even the biggest and strongest opponents. Prucha and Callahan are fearless cannonballs. Dubinsky is a big strong physical presence. Even Gomez has good size (5'11" 200lbs.) and is used to playing Atlantic division hockey. Hollweg is a physical presence. Betts is a gritty player and Colton Orr is a legitimate heavyweight. On defense, Roszival and Tyutin played like warriors down the stretch. Although neither is overly physical, they both have good size and know how to use their bodies. Strudwick is a tough player. Staal has good size (although he is young and has some filling out to do) and he seems to be proficient at playing the angles well. Malik has great size... forget it! The bottom line is that although no one will mistake this team for the old Broad Street Bullies, the Broadway Blueshirts can handle the physical demands of a long and grueling Stanley Cup tournament.
II. THE TOP FIVE REASONS WHY THE RANGERS WILL NOT WIN THE STANLEY CUP THIS SEASON:
1. CHEMISTRY, CHEMISTRY, CHEMISTRY. The Rangers' opening night roster will apparently feature up to 10 new players who were not on the opening night roster last season. That's a huge turnover. An adjustment period seems inevitable. If that happens, it's not outside the realm of possibility for the Rangers to find themselves in the same boat they were in last season: being forced to play playoff hockey in February just to qualify for the posteason. The Rangers' offense is their strength, yet we don't even know if the forwards will form a cohesive unit. The Gomez-Jagr experiment has already been put on the back burner (for now) and the season hasn't even started! Chemistry makes the Rangers' offense a double edged sword: it could turn out to be tops in the league or it could wind up being far less then the sum of its (very significant) parts.
2. Defense. Enough said!
3. #2 Goalie. Right now there is none. At least not an NHLer. Even though Lundqvist is expected to play the lion's share of games, it is very important to have a reliable back up. It's one thing to play 70 games a season because you are an elite goaltender who can and should carry that kind of a load. It's a very different thing to play 70 games in a season in part because there is no adequate back up. The latter creates a lot of unnecessary stress and pressure. Goaltending is already the most psychologically grueling position in the sport, Hank doesn't need any extra adversity.
4. The "Kid" Line. The 3rd line for the Rangers could turn out to be the energetic, cycling and responsible line that this team desperately needs it to be. Or...... Dubinsky may prove ill suited to handle the pressure of anchoring an important line for a contending team in his rookie season. Callahan was impressive down the stretch, but he's also a rookie having played a grand total of 24 NHL games in his career (regular season and playoffs combined). 2/3's of the Rangers' kid line has a grand total of 30 games of NHL experience between them (regular season and playoffs combined). Then there's the Prucha factor: he looks ready to break out. Is it in his best interests to be lined up with two gritty rookies rather then on a more offensively oriented line? Prucha had great chemistry with Jagr as a rookie. Why not put him on Jagr's left and move Straka to the left of Dubinsky? The Rangers don't really have a pure goal scorer in the prime of his career right now. Prucha could be that guy. But will he be while playing with Dubinsky and Callahan? Like I said, the 3rd line for the Rangers could turn out to be the energetic, cycling and responsible line that this team desperately needs it to be. Or......
5. Specialty Teams/Flow. Another double edged sword for the Rangers. On paper, the specialty teams look to be pretty impressive. However, could this be a case of relying on too few players to do too many things? Drury will get significant time on the power play, penalty kill and even strength. Ditto for Shanny. Ditto for Avery. Ditto for Straka. Maybe even a ditto for Gomez. In fact, Blair Betts seems to be the only player who will not be asked to "do it all". In the "New NHL" a lot of time is spent on special teams play. If many of the teams top players on on the ice killing penalties, who does Renney send out for that very important first even strength shift? Jagr will be rested, but Straka and Drury won't be. Gomez may be rested but Shanny and Avery won't be. Renney will be forced to mix and match his lines which hurts the teams' flow. The same thing will happen after power plays. Apparently, Renney has recognized this potential problem and has decided to keep his top two lines primarily intact for power plays. That will make it easier for him (although certainly not easy) to continue rolling his lines after the power play is over. You might think that I'm being hyper sensitive here, but these little things make a big difference in a long season and an even longer (in some respects!) playoff tournament.
It should be a great season in New York. Here we go!