As someone who still considers himself a New York Rangers’ fan even when trying to be an objective NHL follower, I know what it’s like to have a Stanley Cup window open and then quickly shut.
From 2014-16, the Blueshirts had a good enough team to win the Cup. They lost in the Final to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014 and then lost in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning the following season. In 2016, they had a solid team as they had over 100 points in the regular season, but the Pittsburgh Penguins dominated them in the first round of postseason and won the series in five games.
Speaking of the Lightning, their window is still very much open to capture hockey’s Holy Grail. For starters, this is a team that has had a lot of success in recent years.
In 2015, they lost in the Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. In 2016, they lost in the Conference Finals to the eventual cup Champion Penguins. Last season, they lost in the Conference Finals to the eventual cup Champion Washington Capitals.
That is three of the last four years that the club has gotten to the Conference Finals. With all the parity in this league, that is something that is very difficult to do.
Secondly, this team will have a dynamite offense for the foreseeable future. Guys like Steven Stamkos (27 goals and 59 assists for 86 points), Nikita Kucherov (39 goals and 61 assists for 100 points), Brayden Point (32 goals and 34 assists for 66 points), Tyler Johnson (21 goals and 29 assists for 50 points), Yanni Gourde (25 goals and 39 assists for 64 points), and J.T. Miller (23 goals and 35 assists for 58 points) all bring a lot to his team.
These guys are all young, have shown they can produce, and a few of them signed long-term deals to be with the club for years to come. If they can continue to play this way, their offense is going to be extremely tough to contain once again this upcoming season.
This team also has a rock-solid defensive core. It is led by Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman (17 goals and 46 assists) someone who is still just 27 years of age and is going to be a member of the Bolts for a very long time.
The other guys on the team’s blue line are perfect complementary defensemen to Hedman. Guys like Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev all provide stability, some offense, and be guys that can help clear rebounds, break up passes, and be smart with the puck.
That leaves us with All-Star and Vezina Trophy Finals netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy, 24, was an absolute workhorse last season and was one of the main reasons why his club had so much success last season.
While his goals against average was somewhat bloated (2.62) due to an inconsistent second half of the season, he still finished the year with 44 wins, a .920 save percentage, and 8 shutouts. He should be able to replicate that success in the upcoming season, but head coach Jon Cooper needs to find a way to give him some rest so that he can be fresh and ready to go come playoff time.
This Bolts’ hockey club is more than likely going to get a few more cracks at Lord Stanley. Hopefully for their franchise and their fans, they’ll be able to come through and capture the Cup for the first time since 2004.