New York Rangers: Storming back against Carolina by Sam Prevot

New York Rangers: Lessons learned in dominant 6-2 win over Carolina by Steve Paulus

COLUMBUS, OH – JANUARY 13: Nick Foligno #71 of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers pose with Rick Nash and his family for a ceremonial puck drop prior to a game on January 13, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Coming off of a demoralizing Eastern Conference Finals loss to an inferior New Jersey Devils team, the New York Rangers’ loaded up and went after Rick Nash in the summer of 2012.

The dust has settled on the Henrik Lundqvist era, one of, if not the best player in the history of the New York Rangers’ franchise is riding out the storm on an abysmally bad team. This is the worst collection of talent on a team since prior to the 2004 lockout season. Through it all, Lundqvist was typically viewed as the sliding door in terms of contention.

Meaning that in every sport, there are individual decisions that dictate the direction of a franchise for the next decade. The window to realistically compete for a championship can evaporate in just a single season.

Take the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL, the team had one of the best defenses in the history of the sport during the 2017-2018 season. The team ultimately fell short of capturing a Lombardi Trophy when it lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.

Winning a championship is, to put it bluntly, insanely hard. The Rangers have existed as a franchise since 1926 but have just four championships. Simply put, when the opportunity to actually compete for one presents itself, the front office cannot bide its time and feel confident in what it already has.

Sliding door moments happen all of the time in professional sports and before you can even realize it, the door closes on a team. The Detroit Red Wings made the postseason 25 straight years and failed to reload to the cupboard to continue to compete. The great Detroit dynasty died in the 2013 lockout season when it lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round.

Teams do not realize that the door has closed until it was already too late. This brings us to the Rangers sliding door moment of the decade, the Rick Nash trade.

Why it was so crucial

The 2011-2012 Rangers were a defensively oriented team that would grind the opposition into dust every single night. Under then head coach John Tortorella, the team was content to try and win most games on defense and the superb play of Lundqvist. In fact, that was the year the Swede captured the first and only Vezina trophy of his career.

But, the writing was on the wall when it was eliminated in gut-wrenching fashion against the Devils. For as talented a team as New Jersey had that year, it was not as well rounded or good as what New York featured. However, the Rangers simply failed to score enough to win in the postseason.

The Nash trade was the moment that New York went from up and coming young team to a legitimate contender. In addition to adding one of the fifteen best players in the entire league to a talented group, it also prevented the team from giving out bad contracts to Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov.

During this entire period with Glen Sather as head of the organization with Lundqvist in net, and especially during the cup window years, he had a bad habit of overpaying homegrown talent. Now, both Dubinsky and Anisimov are fine hockey players, but their prospective cap hits would have sunk the team.

In Dubinsky’s first deal with Columbus, the forward signed for $4.2 million per season for four years. As time went on, it was clear that the American’s gritty of style play did not hold up well and it sapped him of skill. There’s nothing wrong with a player like Dubinsky, but paying him more than $4 million per year is poor team building.

His subsequent contract (6 years $5.85 million per) is insanity. Since signing that second deal in the summer of 2015, Dubinsky has recorded seasons of 48, 41, 10 and six points respectively.

When it comes to Anisimov, the forward got traded to Chicago in the summer of 2015 and has faired about just as well as Dubinsky. The Russian has seasons of 42, 45, 31 and 21 points respectively. At $4.55 million per season this contract is slightly more palatable, but still a slight overpay relative to production.

The context

In the grand scheme of things, the Rangers failed to win a Stanley Cup with Nash and Lundqvist as the focal points of the team. However, it is imperative to note that the team would not have been as successful as it was this decade without the Nash trade. Say all you want about Nash failing in the postseason, but to get there, the team had to be consistently great during the regular season.

The Rangers won the most postseason games this decade of any team to not capture the cup. Those long runs into May and June were the most exhilarating Springs in New York City since the early 90s.

As someone who’s personally gone back and forth on the quality of this trade for the Rangers, it’s fair to say now that the Nash trade catapulted New York into the upper echelon of contenders. Without this move, the Rangers likely never move up to that next level and remain a fringe contender that needed help to compete.

New York went to the eastern conference finals three times in five years, made it to the Stanley Cup final and played the closest five-game series possible. Three games lost in overtime, two of which were in double OT. It does not get any closer of a difference than that.

For all of the Rangers’ issues now, the Nash trade made the Rangers a legitimate contender and did so while being a consummate professional. It’s sad that the two time Olympic Gold medalist wasn’t able to go out on his own terms or retire as a member of the Rangers.

Next: It’s clear that this is not David Quinn’s team

The Nash sliding door moment lasted three full seasons, it’s safe to say that even though it took until 2018 to blow it all up, it slammed shut when the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Rangers in game seven of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

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