The Boston Bruins made quick work of the New York Rangers in their Eastern Conference semifinal, eliminating the Blueshirts in five games.
For the Rangers, it was a miserable end to a disappointing season. A team which began the year considered a Stanley Cup contender never played up to lofty expectations.
Acquiring Rick Nash last summer was supposed to bolster their offense, yet the return to Columbus adversely affected their depth and character. Over the final month of the regular season, there was genuine concern over the Rangers missing the playoffs.
Shipping unhappy Marian Gaborik to Columbus for Derick Brassard, John Moore and Derek Dorsett, and acquiring Ryane Clowe from San Jose, addressed the depth issues, but essentially, the Rangers were the same team they were a year ago.
Goaltending, of course, was never an issue with the superb Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes. Their defense, anchored by blueliners Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto, remained solid.
An eye injury to Staal in early-March, however, robbed the Rangers of their best all-round blueliner. He returned for one game against the Washington Capitals and missed the remainder of the postseason. His absence was a significant blow.
Offense, the very thing the Nash trade was supposed to address, was once again the Rangers Achilles heel.
They were middle of the pack during the regular season (15th overall in goals-per-game) but ranked in the bottom third (23rd overall) on the power-play. The offense struggled in the playoffs (10th overall through two rounds, second-worst among the conference semifinalists), while their power-play ranked second-worst of all 16 playoff clubs, even through two rounds. They also ranked 12th of sixteen clubs in shots-per-game.
Their best forwards – Nash, Brad Richards, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan – were kept off the scoresheet more often than not. Only Brassard, who led his teammates by a wide margin with 12 points in as many games, was a consistent offensive threat.
The decline of Richards, a proven playoff performer with only 1 point in 10 playoff games, attracted considerable attention, especially when he was a healthy scratch for the Rangers final two games against the Bruins.
Richards struggles has put his future with the Rangers in question, as more than a few observers believe GM Glen Sather could use his remaining compliance buyout to dump the 33-year-old and free up valuable cap space to bolster the lineup.
Head coach John Tortorella also faces a questionable future, as his abrasive style may be wearing thin with his players after five seasons.
Sather has never shied away from making bold off-season moves to improve his roster via trade or free agency. He could decide this season’s results were less the result of a shortened season and more to do with a need for a coaching change and more offensive punch.
He also has several notable free agents to re-sign or replace. Stepan, Hagelin, McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello are restricted free agents, while Clowe is their notable unrestricted free agent. With over $51 million invested in 18 players, Sather will have over $13.5 million in cap space to re-sign those players.
Retaining his RFAs alone could eat up most, if not all, of that cap space, potentially making a Richards buyout a priority if cap space cannot be free up by trade.
The Rangers made a major move last summer by acquiring Rick Nash to bolster their offense. Don’t be surprised if Sather is busy again this summer.