Winning Is Now The Expectation, Not The Exception
Sunday while the players spent time with their families, trying to get over the anguish of having just lost the Stanley Cup to the Los Angeles Kings less than 48 hour prior, the braintrust of the Rangers held organizational meetings at the MSG Training Center to plan for the future, both the immediate and the long-term.
While there was most definitely more than a few looks back at what the Rangers accomplished this spring, the focus of these meetings was on what lies ahead — the draft late next week, the free agency period right afterwards. There was plenty of evaluating players both at the NHL level and in the pipeline to Broadway, along with considering players who aren't even yet a part of the Rangers organization.
This is what Glen Sather, Jeff Gorton, Jim Schoenfeld, Gordie Clark, Alain Vigneault and all the scouts and coaches and front office personnel must do in order to keep the New York Rangers humming along as one of the top franchises in the National Hockey League.
And make no mistake, that's exactly what the Rangers have been the past few years. Amidst plenty of roster turnover, a head coaching change and a somewhat disruptive transformation of Madison Square Garden, the Rangers have played nine playoff rounds the past three season combined. They have appeared in two of the last three Eastern Conference Final. They are one of two teams to have won at least one playoff round in each of the last three seasons. They appeared in their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years this spring, falling just three wins short of the ultimate prize. And only the two-time Cup champion Los Angeles Kings have won more playoff games and playoff rounds the past three years.
So while it easily could be considered a very pleasant surprise that the Rangers made such a run to the Cup Final this year, this is also who the Rangers are — a consistently top team in the NHL. There is a foundation in place which supports year-in and year-out success, and as evidenced on Sunday, management is always looking to solidify that foundation and better the on-ice product. No one in the Rangers front office is taking for granted that this spring's success guarantees anything when the puck drops next fall on a new season.
Vigneault said as much yesterday. Basically all bets are off because the Rangers will be a new team next year, and other teams will change their mix, too. But as the successes pile up — 2012 Eastern Conference Regular Season champions, 2014 Eastern Conference playoff champions — a confidence grows throughout the organization that a winning culture is in place.
Henrik Lundqvist has pointed out that winning is the expectation now in New York, and has been for a while. However, remember when Lundqvist first arrived on the scene in 2005-06? The Rangers had not made the playoffs for seven straight seasons. Since The King's arrival, New York has made eight post-season trips in nine years, five times advancing past the first round. That is due in large part to him, the most important player in the franchise. But no one player gets the job done by himself. That's where the work of Sather, his assistants Gorton and Schoenfeld, and Clark — the Director of Player Personnel — comes into play.
There are always changes to the roster each season, some dramatic — Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash — some more subtle and under the radar — Anton Stralman and Cam Talbot. None are made on a whim, all are examined, discussed and analyzed until a group consensus is made. That's the same whether you are talking trades, free agency, or the draft.
With how competitive the NHL is and how tightly bunched its teams are, there is little margin for error — not only on the ice, but off of it, as well. So the Rangers' braintrust must have another strong off-season to set the team up for success in the immediate future and on down the road for years to come.
Yesterday Ryan McDonagh spoke with confidence about how the players know that Rangers management always is in the frame of mind of building a winner on the ice. Other players have referenced that point as well. It is one of the reasons why New York, Madison Square Garden and the Rangers are a sought-after destination by players around the league.
The pressure is not off just because the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Final this spring. In fact, it can be argued the heat has been turned up even more so that the Rangers don't fall just short the next time they arrive at this point.