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The Puck Stops Here

New York Rangers Are Not An Elite Team

The news from Thursday is the New York Rangers will be in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.  I think it isn't too controversial to say that they are not an elite team.  The fact that they finished in 12th place in the regular season should be sufficient proof for anyone.  The salary cap has brought us an era where there are no elite teams so we consistently see Stanley Cup finals without them.  It is a significant loss to hockey fans. 

The CBA has worked.  The NHL has the situation they want.  The most important thing the last two CBAs brought in is increased player movement.  Liberalizing free agency by reducing the age of unrestricted free agents has led to more player movement.  The best players who become free will be able to wind up in the market of their choice.  Sure there is a salary cap to prevent one team from buying all of these players, but that is a smokescreen.  You only need to buy some of those players to make a team.  The bigger markets tend to get these players and the smaller markets tend to lose them.  The NHL has a dream Stanley Cup final.  The biggest city in the country will play against either the second or third biggest city in the country.  They couldn`t ask for better.

The fans lose out.  We have one Stanley Cup finalist who is clearly not an elite team in the New York Rangers.  Historically nobody will look back on the 2014 Rangers as one of the great NHL teams of all time.

I have long held a necessary but not sufficient definition of an elite team.  This definition has to be independent from success in a given year.  A league with no quality teams will still have a team win and that team is by no means elite.  An elite team necessarily has some very good players.  Without that it cannot be an elite team.  Historically there must be at least three players who are on track to have Hall of Fame careers and these players must be close enough to their prime that they are not aging role players who are barely holding NHL jobs.  There is no necessary division of positions required among this group except that goaltending is so important that they must have a top level NHL goaltender.  The goalie must be among the top group of goalies in the league (top five or so - when you rank the talents of players there are usually natural breaks in achievement and if it turns out there is a group of four or six top goalies then I would use them as the top NHL goalies).  This goalie may be on the list of Hall of Fame tracked players but it is not necessary.  There aren't five future Hall of Fame goalies in the NHL at any given time.  This definition is necessary but not sufficient.  That means that a random group of top players does not make an elite team in and of itself.  The team must still play like an elite team, but without the elite players they cannot be an elite team.

How do the Rangers stack up to the definition?  Clearly they have the goaltending in Henrik Lundqvist.   He is one of the best goalies in the NHL and is on a Hall of Fame track.  The only other player on the team likely to be a Hall of Famer is Martin St Louis.  I think he will make it regardless of what happens in the rest of his career.  The Rangers do have two other forwards who once looked to be on Hall of Fame tracks but have fallen off the pace enough that it looks very unlikely they will ever get there.  Brad Richards is 34 years old and put up 51 points this year.  His last point per game year was 2010/11.  In 2004 when he won the Lady Byng and the Conn Smythe Trophy he certainly looked like a future Hall of Famer but it doesn't look likely any more.  His best hope at this point is if he stays healthy and producing for at least half a decade further and significantly clears 1000 career points.  That is looking like a poor bet at this point.  Rick Nash is in a similar situation.  He turns 30 this summer and is coming off a 39 point season.  If he stays healthy and productive for the better part of a decade his career numbers could make Hall of Fame levels, but it is also a poor bet. 

It is hard to find another player on the Ranger roster worthy of discussing in terms of the Hall of Fame.  Ryan McDonagh might be next.  He is a good defenceman, but there is no reason to believe he is a future Norris Trophy candidate and he would have to be to be a future Hall of Famer.

The New York Rangers are the kind of team that wins in today's NHL.  They are a big market team that is attractive to available players.  They have been able to use that muscle to bring in Brad Richards as a free agent and trade for Martin St Louis and Rick Nash.  A smaller market would not have acquired those players.  It gives the Rangers a solid above average extra line of forwards that they can use and that does a lot to differentiate them from the field but it doesn't make them an elite team on any historical level.  Elite teams don't seem to exist anymore and that is one of the biggest problems in today's NHL.  This is something NHL fans should be up in arms about but largely they are not. 

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Comments

w2j2's avatar

There are 2 ways to look at this ‘mediocrity”...

From the standpoint of the “purist”, who is detached from any particular team, but will enthusiastically follow hockey and watch any game, it is sad to think we will not have any more “elite” teams.

From the standpoint of the average fan, who cares about his team, but cares much less about other teams, and does not bother to watch just any game, ...that fan will spend more on hockey if his mediocre team is competitive and makes the playoffs even against mediocre competition.

Now you could way that 16 teams make the playoffs every year, so the total fan spending is not going to change, but the difference is that some team that otherwise would never be competitive and make the playoffs now becomes competitive. 

So that particular otherwise weak hockey market becomes strengthened

You might say that from an overall NHL business point of view, the league is only as strong as its weakest franchise. 

The CBA-engendered mediocrity strengthens the weak franchises.

Posted by w2j2 on 06/01/14 at 05:51 AM ET

Luongo-is-my-hero's avatar

great feedback. you should take it to heart.

Posted by Luongo-is-my-hero on 06/01/14 at 09:15 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

From the standpoint of the average fan, who cares about his team, but cares much less about other teams, and does not bother to watch just any game, ...that fan will spend more on hockey if his mediocre team is competitive and makes the playoffs even against mediocre competition.

16 teams make the playoffs every year.  In a mediocre league there are 16 teams.  In an elite league there are 16 teams.  There is no gain by making the teams weaker but there is a loss.

The idea that *any* team can win is a myth.  This season is a prime example.  Who is left?  New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  Big markets are all that is left.  The big markets have the advantages in the league today.  Before the salary cap and liberalized free agency, teams in Edmonton, Denver, Colorado, East Rutherford, New Jersey and Tampa Bay could and did win the Stanley Cup.  They no longer have that same shot.  Fans were sold a lie if they believed that the new situation made it fair for all the teams.  It didn’t.  Only the big markets win now.

Today the interest in the playoffs is maximum in the first round.  For many fans as soon as their team is out of the playoffs they stop caring.  Its sunny and warm so they go outside.  What could keep them interested?  In the past it was that elite team that transcended hockey.  There were teams that were so good they drew in casual fans.  Those teams are no longer.  Nobody cares who wins the Stanley Cup today except the fans of that team. 

The hockey in the Stanley Cup finals is worse in the current system and that is the biggest problem.  It has other problems that I have touched upon.  Making the weak sisters of the NHL less weak but still in last place doesn’t add much of anything to anyone.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 06/01/14 at 10:20 AM ET

Avatar

Before the salary cap and liberalized free agency, teams in Edmonton, Denver, Colorado, East Rutherford, New Jersey and Tampa Bay could and did win the Stanley Cup.  They no longer have that same shot.

Tampa made the conference finals in 2011.
Jersey made the finals in 2012, and Phoenix made the conference finals that very same year.

Posted by Garth on 06/01/14 at 12:00 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Bait and switch Garth.  You are replacing winning the Stanley Cup with having a run and falling short.  They are not the same thing.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 06/01/14 at 12:37 PM ET

Red Winger's avatar

I now consider the New York Rangers an elite team.

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 06/01/14 at 01:14 PM ET

Alan's avatar

“Elite” team or not, they’re in the cup finals.

Posted by Alan from Atlanta on 06/01/14 at 03:29 PM ET

Avatar

They are not the same thing

You’re right, they aren’t, but that’s not what you said.

*ahem* and I quote:

They no longer have that same shot.

Teams that make the conference final have a chance, and teams that make the finals absolutely have the chance.

Posted by Garth on 06/01/14 at 05:56 PM ET

Avatar

i love how much hate the blushirts are getting.  the facts that everyone is upset that were in the cup final means were doing something really right.

only two teams in the last 3 years have made it to the conference finals.  the kings and the rangers.

the kings won it all the last time they made it this far.  pretty much everyone thinks they are as elite as it gets in this league

tell me again why the kings are elite and the rangers are not???

are you saying there is no such thing as an elite hockey team at all?  im pretty sure lots of people considered the ‘09 penguins, the ‘12 kings, and the ‘13 hawks pretty damn elite ? 

your argument is that to be elite you need to have a top 5 netminder and multiple future HOFs.  what teams again are you talking about besides the gretzky oilers?

also, you say that free agency causes the best players to flock to the same teams.  wouldnt that mean that all the future hall of famers would end up in the same place?

this article is so full of holes and bad logic.  sucks man, sorry.

Posted by blueshirtsalltheway on 06/01/14 at 07:01 PM ET

DrewBehr's avatar

“The best players who become free will be able to wind up in the market of their choice…The bigger markets tend to get these players and the smaller markets tend to lose them.”

Tell that to Minnesota…

The salary cap has brought us an era where there are no elite teams so we consistently see Stanley Cup finals without them.  It is a significant loss to hockey fans.

Well… I’m a hockey fan, and I’d sure as hell rather see different teams winning the Cup each year than the same team winning each season. This isn’t the godd@mn NBA.

Posted by DrewBehr from The Mitten on 06/02/14 at 12:35 AM ET

Puppies and Hookers's avatar

An elite hockey writer would have more positive responses than negative responses to his columns.  The majority of responses to PSH are negative.

IwoCPO has more positive responses than negative responses to his columns.  IwoCPO is an elite hockey writer.

PSH has has had years to develop a following of devoted readers but has failed to do so.  Therefore PSH is not an elite hockey writer. The hockey reader loses out.

Posted by Puppies and Hookers from La la land on 06/03/14 at 01:53 AM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

Why am I blogging? I want to.

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Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com