The New York Rangers proved that winning the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team means absolutely nothing in the postseason.
New York finished with a 53-22-7 record for 113 points but lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning. What made it worse for the Rangers is they lost Game 7 on home ice at Madison Square Garden.
A loss like that will make for a long summer.
Other than the need for a backup goaltender this offseason, new Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton doesn’t need to tweak the organization’s roster. With a world-class goaltender like Henrik Lundqvist, a solid veteran core, and an extremely talented group of young players, the Rangers are poised for many more trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Rangers reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2014, but eventually lost to the Los Angeles Kings. With consecutive deep postseason runs, the Rangers have the experience and the players to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994.
The Rangers have the potential, it’s only a matter of finishing the job and that preparation begins in the offseason, according to Rangers star forward Chris Kreider.
"A lot of teams within our division made moves -- a lot of moves. We're a young team and guys have to put in the work this offseason and we have to build from within,” Kreider told ESPN.com. “We've got to step up and take a larger role as individuals and contribute more and be more consistent across the board. The leaders will set the tone and we've got a really good group of vets, so it's up to the young guys to follow."
Kreider finished the 2014-15 season with 21 goals and 25 assists for 46 points, including a plus-24 rating in 80 games. The 24-year-old added seven goals and two assists for nine points in 19 postseason games.
Kreider and former Rangers defenseman and Hall of Famer Brian Leetch recently participated in a charity hockey game to benefit ALS. Leetch was a member of that 1994 Stanley Cup winning team and he also won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. He spent 17 seasons in New York before finishing his career with the Boston Bruins in 2005-06.
Even Leetch understands the Rangers are on the verge of winning again.
"The big key is Lundqvist and he's still in his prime,” Leetch told ESPN.com. “When you have one of the best goalies in the world you're always going to have a legitimate chance if he stays healthy, and the core is ready to go in the playoffs.
"But it's a grind to get into those playoffs. You've got to play well at the start, and not hit that bad spell of injuries where you're fighting to get back into it. But once you're in, and you look at those eight playoff teams it's hard for me to say one through eight that one of those teams doesn't have a chance to make the finals. It's exciting as a fan, but it's tough as a management team and as players because it's a lot of work to get in there and just as hard to beat those teams in the finals."
The Rangers will be without the veteran presence of Martin St. Louis.
After 16 seasons in the NHL, St. Louis announced his retirement in early July. He spent the majority of his career with the Tampa Bay Lightning and won a Stanley Cup there, but he asked to be traded during the 2013-14 season and finished his career in New York.
Kreider and St. Louis were linemates for the Rangers, so when the future Hall of Famer decided to hang up his skates, Kreider had nothing but admiration and respect for his former teammate.
"I didn't have many posters in my room growing up. I had a Stanley Cup poster, a U.S. poster and a Marty St. Louis poster. I told him that but I waited for him to retire to tell him that; I didn't tell him when he was still on my line," Kreider said. "Personally, he meant a lot to me. Both my parents are Vermont grads and he's their favorite player. He just did so much for the game, so much for whatever community he was in at the time and I think he'll continue to do that. He's just an awesome guy and I feel lucky to have played with him and pick his brain on a day-to-day basis. To call him a friend is special."
Thanks to the work done to draft, sign and develop players within the organization, while adding veteran pieces to go along with Lundqvist in net, the Rangers are perennial Stanley Cup contenders. They’re only missing one thing, and Kreider can’t wait for another opportunity next season to reach hockey’s ultimate goal.