As the dust begins to settle following Friday’s loss at home in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the question on everyone’s mind is this:
Without the Stanley Cup, will this season be remembered as a complete and total failure, or simply an overwhelming disappointment for the New York Rangers?
Truthfully, it could probably go both ways.
The Case for Dubbing the Season a Failure
The Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy. With 53 wins and 113 points, they were the best team in the regular season. They have one of the elite goaltenders in the world in Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash is a premier 40 goal scorer, and general manager Glen Sather mortgaged part of the team’s future in order to acquire Keith Yandle at the trade deadline – thought to be the final piece to the championship winning puzzle.
Heading into the postseason, the New York Rangers were also Vegas’ odds on favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
After last year’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final, a venture which fell just three games shy of glory, expectations from that experience rose. The combination of the young core group of forwards and defensemen, along with the sprinkling of Stanley Cup winning veterans was supposed to be the mix that finally ended the more than two decade championship drought.
An offense that scored over three goals per game during the regular season, a defense deeper than the Atlantic itself, a blockbuster trade to acquire the final missing piece and a world class goaltender protecting the crease.
This Rangers team was supposed to “Change the Ending.” This Rangers team was supposed to deliver the Cup back to New York. Anything less was not to be accepted.
When a team’s championship window is open, it doesn’t always remain that way for long. The management of this year’s Rangers team saw the championship window open, and went all in to try and jump through it.
And yet some way, somehow, they still came up short.
Don’t understand Rangers fans cheering tbh. I know the team is gutty, but this was cup or bust. Case Closed.
— John Jastremski (@john_jastremski) May 30, 2015
New York sports radio personalities Michael Kay and John Jastremski said it, as did so many others. This year was Cup or Bust on Broadway. Anything less should be looked at as a failure.
The Case for Dubbing the Season a Disappointment
In the New York sports world of pundits and critics, Don La Greca of ESPN radio was the champion of this cause by making the case that it didn’t matter whether or not the Rangers won or lost on Friday, this season was not one to look back on as if it were a failure.
While hard to accept, I personally agree with him.
La Greca made the case that the Stanley Cup playoffs are not always catered to the best team. He also argued that the Stanley Cup is one of the toughest, if not the toughest trophy to win in all of sports. It’s tough to contest both of those points. La Greca tried to find the light in what has turned out to be a somewhat dark ending to this Rangers season, however if we need some positives to look at, there are plenty to go around.
First and foremost, this team won the Presidents’ Trophy for the third time in franchise history, and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final for the third time in four years. While not the Stanley Cup, it’s rare that you see a team consistently that competitive year after year. And if nothing else, this years’ run has only contributed to the growth of an already extremely experienced playoff bunch.
And let’s be honest, only eight of the so far 28 Presidents’ Trophy winners have gone on to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, so winning it really should have heightened nobody’s expectations.
Now it is true that moves and acquisitions were made which moved this team from serious contenders to odds on favorites. It is true that this team was not able to live up to expectations and reach the heights of last spring’s Stanley Cup Final. And it is also true that Henrik Lundqvist is not getting any younger and the window to win a championship may not remain open forever.
But the fact still remains that this was a memorable year for so many reasons – the maturity of Kevin Hayes and JT Miller, as well as the incredible emergence of Cam Talbot who all but saved the season in “The King’s” absence, just to name a couple. And to have again been one of the final four teams standing in a league as tough as the NHL for the third time in four seasons, only to once again come up just short?
Well that is indeed mighty disappointing, is it really a failure?
Plus, we haven’t even mentioned the fact that Mats Zuccarello was sidelined with an “upper body injury” for the majority of the playoffs, while captain Ryan McDonagh played the last “couple games” of the series against the Lightning with a broken foot.
A BROKEN FOOT! I don’t know about you, but if I tried to put pressure on a broken foot, let alone skate at a high level in the NHL playoffs, I’d probably pass out. (Yes, I know they froze it and whatnot to numb the pain, but still…)
While certainly not excuses, it’s hard to say this team failed when they still came within one 20 minute period of the Stanley Cup Final.
Let the Debate Rage on All Summer
Failure or disappointment?
This is a debate which could go on all summer among Rangers fans. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, though, it’s important to remember that it’s the heartbreak of seasons like this which will make the eventual raising of the Stanley Cup that much sweeter.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.