Getting Back in Touch With the Rangers - NBC New York

Getting Back in Touch With the Rangers

The lockout's over so it's time to reacquaint ourselves



    Getting Back in Touch With the Rangers
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    The window's open again for the Rangers.

    Anyone who even remotely cares about hockey is happy that the league and the players deigned to save even a small portion of the season, but people who care about Rangers hockey are probably among the happiest. 

    When last season ended in a bitter loss to the Devils, the saving grace was that the future looked incredibly bright for the Rangers. They had been the best team in the Eastern Conference over the course of the regular season, they had a strong core of talented, young players blossoming around them and Henrik Lundqvist as the kind of goalie you need to win a Stanley Cup. 

    News of a trade for Rick Nash only made the prospect of the year to come even more exciting as Nash's arrival promised more scoring up front for a team that often lacked punch behind Marian Gaborik, who was slated for shoulder surgery. And then the lockout came to spoil everything. 

    Windows only get so big for a team in any sport to win a championship and the Rangers were staring at a big opportunity when the lockout hit. The prospect of a season, even if it is a limited sprint that doesn't provide good teams the same kind of time to separate from the pack, gives them a chance to climb through. 

    The biggest reason to think they can break past the conference finals this time around is the arrival of Nash. There was a moment in just about every loss last season when you found yourself wondering whether a Rangers forward could come up with a goal, usually on the power play, and Nash should eliminate this need to wonder. 

    It's not just his scoring touch, either. With Nash in the fold, Gaborik healthy (an unintended benefit of the lockout is that he shouldn't miss any games) and Chris Kreider poised to build on last year's sparkling debut, the Rangers have more talent and more depth up front than they did last season. 

    Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan should round out the top couple of forward lines in some combination and it's the most impressive group in quite some time for the Rangers. The defense returns its three rocks in Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh with Michael Del Zotto likely to take care of his contract in enough time to join the team for the abbreviated season. 

    There's tweaks to be made on the bottom of the defensive depth chart, but, all in all, it looks like a better version of the team that did so well last season. The biggest question is whether the lockout and the lack of preseason time as a time will impact them on the ice. 

    Last year, the most essential part of the Rangers package was their unyielding fight and that was something that certainly came because John Tortorella started molding things in training camp that carried over into the regular season. They'll need to bridge the extended gap to this season because there isn't any time to work on anything but the fundamentals between now and the start of the season. 

    The return of hockey brought those smiles, but they'll only last as long as the Rangers provide reasons for them beyond showing up on the ice.  

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.