It's funny how quickly things can change in the NHL.
For years, the Rangers were the big spending punchline of the NHL as they paid millions of dollars per win thanks to a bloated payroll and an untalented roster. General manager Glen Sather took a lot of deserved blame for that era of Rangers hockey, an era that reached its end on Thursday.
That's when the team took advantage of the new "compliance buyout" option made available in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and told Wade Redden that he needn't bother showing up for work any more. Redden hasn't been in the NHL since the final game of the 2009-2010 season (the last time the Rangers didn't make the playoffs), he was banished to the AHL all of last season, but his presence continued to serve as a reminder of how ugly things once were for the Rangers.
Redden's $6.5 million salary will still count against the cap this year, although that only serves to show how far the Rangers have come since Sather was signing everyone and anyone that walked through the door to outrageous contracts. The Rangers are $5 million under the cap despite having a roster that most people feel is good enough to at least challenge for the Stanley Cup.
Getting rid of Redden doesn't make that challenge any likelier to succeed, although you can't help but appreciate the timing of things. A player who was one of the faces of the last Rangers team to miss the playoffs gets sent packing on the eve of a season where expectations couldn't be much higher.
It's an impressive turnaround that happened with remarkable speed. The Rangers haven't stopped spending money, see Rick Nash and Brad Richards, but their moves are more rational now and less focused on putting together a team with more name value than game value.
John Tortorella's had a lot to do with the way things have turned around as he's instilled a new level of accountability on a team that had none before he came to town. Sather deserves some credit too, especially for drafting well enough to stock the pipeline with talent that can be used to bolster the team on the ice or via trades.
Despite all that, the biggest reason to believe these Rangers could win the Stanley Cup goes back to a player who was there for a good portion of the bad old days. Henrik Lundqvist was between the pipes in Redden's last game and he'll be there again this season to defend his Vezina Trophy.
All the excitement about Nash, Chris Kreider and the rest of the skaters wouldn't add up to much without the brick wall behind them at goalie. Lundqvist gives them a chance to win games 1-0 when the offense gets shut down and he gives them a chance to come back should they fall behind because you know there aren't going to be more than a couple of goals on most nights.
Things have changed dramatically around the Rangers in the last two years, but it's still one guy who has been there forever that has the potential to take the Rangers from being a good team to a great team.