Inside Hockey’s Seth Rothman Dishes on the NYR and Brad Richards
FullTilt Rangers Magzine caught up with NY Rangers beat writer for Inside Hockey, Seth Rothman. He was kind enough to share his thoughts and experiences on an incredible season for the Blueshirts.
FTR: What an amazing season you got to cover this year. Did you ever think the Rangers would’ve made it to the Stanley Cup Final?
SR: I’ve been saying for a while the Rangers were close. You build from the goaltender on out — they have the best goaltender in the world, they have one of the best D-cores in the league. That’s how you build a championship team. They’re a little weak up the middle, but when you have the best goaltender and such a strong defense, you can win games — and especially win playoff games — 2-1. That being said, yes, I was surprised. I don’t think you can ever expect to get to a Cup Final, especially after the disastrous 2-6 start, and 16-18-2 after 36 games. But should we have been so surprised? They were 29-13-4 over the last 46 games of the regular season. So, maybe we all just weren’t paying close enough attention.
SR: Well, Henrik Lundqvist has a lot to say about that. He was three wins away from the Conn Smythe, and it would have been unanimous. He was terrific throughout most of these playoffs — had a couple goals he’d like back along the way, a couple games that got away from him, but it all begins and ends with him. A lot of people think Martin St. Louis’ mother passing away was a motivating factor, which is a little simplistic. What spurred them on wasn’t France St. Louis’ memory, it was the way Martin responded to it. When he played 24 hours after her death, I knew they were winning that Game 5 in Pittsburgh. There was no way they were losing that game. The thing kind of snowballed from there, they started to believe. The contributions they got from up-and-down the lineup were also a huge factor. Ryan McDonagh’s series against the Canadiens would have been legendary had they won the Cup. Despite Rick Nash not scoring, despite Brad Richards running out of gas in the Final, the rest of the group contributed. But I think the biggest factor is a belief that permeated that room. And that belief stayed with them even when they were down 3-0 to the Kings — they really did believe they were going to author that comeback. They were a very mentally-strong team.
FTR: Why do you think they lost to LA?
SR: As strong as the Rangers were mentally, the Kings were just on another level. Nothing seemed to faze them. The most mentally-strong team I’ve ever seen. They were tremendous. The Kings were clearly the better team, but I’m still not so sure they played better than the Rangers during the Cup Final. It was the most competitive five-game series I’ve ever seen in the NHL. Rangers could have easily won that series in five games. What if Kreider hits his breakaway in Game 2? What if he scores in Game 5? What if Ryan McDonagh’s shot doesn’t clank off the post in Game 5? What if the puck doesn’t roll off Dan Girardi’s stick in Game 1? What if the Rangers win Game 3, which was their best effort of the entire series? This was a very tight series. That being said, the Kings spanked the Rangers at the faceoff dot for much of the series. They were bigger, they were stronger, they dominated the Rangers up the middle. Again, they were the better team — they deserved to win this series.
FTR: Personally, what memory stands out for you as a reporter covering this team?
SR: There were so many special moments to cover, but three moments really stand out. The Stadium Series at Yankee Stadium was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. I was a Yankees fan growing up, still am a Yankees fan, in fact. To be able to work in that press box was a pretty cool career goal for me, and I’m glad I got to do it. Game 6 of the conference final, just chronicling a conference-clinching game was great. I remember the sound of the crowd that night, someone had thrown a rally towel right in my line of sight, I can still hear the noise when the streamers were fired off. The most intense sports arena I’ve ever been in. And obviously, covering my first Stanley Cup Final was an experience I’ll never forget. I took a moment, about three hours before Game 3, to soak it all in, and it really was almost overwhelming. I’m a pretty young guy, so to be covering a Cup Final was definitely something I didn’t take for granted. It was special, I realized it was special, and I hope my work did it justice.
FTR: The Brad Richards buyout was a tough decision, your thoughts?
SR: They had no choice. They would have loved to keep him — he was a tremendous teammate, a tremendous leader. They’re not Eastern Conference champions without him. The leadership and tutelage he provided in that locker room was invaluable to this young team in their run. He taught them how to win. But this was all about the cap-recapture penalty. They simply had no choice. Had he retired in the last three years of the deal, he would have cost them $5.67 million in dead cap space for three years. They just had no choice. It’s a shame, because he’s a good player, a good man, and someone who really wanted to stay here. But the new CBA prevented that from happening. His teammates will miss him, the media will miss him, and the entire organization will miss him.
FTR: Looking ahead, what do you think happens with some of the Rangers key free agents?
SR: I think Stralman and Boyle are probably going to find better contract elsewhere, which is going to negatively affect this team. You wonder if they can re-sign Dominic Moore — he was a huge part of the fourth line’s success. Glen certainly has some decisions to make.
FTR: Do you see the Rangers busy in the UFA market come July 1st or do they look to the trade market for a #1 center?
SR: I could see a trade. I’ll be honest, I don’t think they sign major contracts in free agency, just due to the overall weakness of this FA class. Stastny is going to be so overpaid because he’s the best player of this class. He’ll get a lot more than he deserves. I think they’ll try to do some minor tweaking, I think they’ll try to bring some of the minor-league guys into the fold — Fast, Miller, Kristo, Haggerty will all get a long look in training camp, so I could definitely see the Rangers not make major moves in FA — sign a couple of depth guys, try to re-sign their own players, and go from there. I think there’s a risk in doing too much to a team that went so far. You’ve lost Richards, you might lose another of your glue guys in Boyle, so this team is already going to look very different next season. Of course, Glen Sather has never been risk-averse, so not too much would surprise me.
FTR: Looking ahead, what will it take for the Rangers to get back to the Final and this time win?
SR: They definitely need to improve up the middle. Especially with Richards gone, their centers right now are Stepan, Brassard, perhaps Dominic Moore, and a question mark. That’s not good enough. Maybe they make a trade, maybe they surprise me and sign Stastny, but they’ll have to do something. You know what else you need to win a Stanley Cup? You need luck. Forget x’s and o’s, you need luck to win a Cup. You need to get hot at the right time. You need to get through the regular season healthy. A lot has to go right — and as we saw, lots did go right this season. It’s so tough to win a Stanley Cup, you need everything to go right.
FTR: Thanks for taking some time out for us today!