The first season of the new CBA saw the once high-spending Rangers build their team from within, and for once the new Rangers squad, under the meticulous Tom Renney, were bringing them back to respectability. Little did everyone know that this strategy would be shortlived, as the Rangers splurged on the market the following year, signing Scott Gomez and Chris Drury to multi-million, multi-year deals that saw both players take up a total of $14.5m combined. It remains to be seen if the Rangers’ two centres can build on their disappointing Blueshirt debut, and if the Rangers’ big spending this year, Wade Redden, will find more success than his last couple of seasons in Ottawa.
Say what you want about Jaromir Jagr, but even in some of his worst games it’s hard to replace his production. Now that Jagr is gone, there is no one on the Rangers’ squad that brings quite the same scoring pedigree as Jagr. Nikolai Zherdev comes close, but the enigmatic winger has a tendency to disappear for stretches and Markus Naslund hasn’t had the same wrist shot after wrist surgery. Gomez and Drury will have to return to their pre-Ranger forms and earn their paycheques, or face the wrath of a fickle Manhattan crowd. Perhaps the two forwards that can make the most difference in the Ranger lineup this year are second years Nigel Dawes and Brandon Dubinsky. Dawes, a marginal player on the fabled North Dakota Canadian World Junior squad, slowly played himself onto the team and has become one of the Rangers’ fastest weapons, while Dubinsky, who really clicked with Jagr near the end of the season, is looking to build on his 40-point rookie season in which he appeared in all 82 games, itself an already impressive feat. Perhaps another body that the Rangers will miss is Sean Avery‘s. The no-holds barred player whose antics caused multiple frustrations for the other team, but when Glen Sather didn’t budge, even though the Rangers had a much better record with Avery in the lineup than without. Aaron Voros and Pat Rissmiller were signed to vacate his spot, but neither players brings as much agitating or scoring ability to the team. Petr Prucha is also expected to rebound, after posing a paltry 17 points after back to back 40+ point seasons. The Rangers offense is talented, there’s no question about that, but the Rangers are banking an awful lot of their core offense (Drury, Gomez, Naslund, and Zherdev) on 4 players that have had disappointing seasons of sorts last year. It’s a little risky, but perhaps a change of scenery and new wingers might ignite a latent offense (25th overall, 22nd PP last year).
The biggest name coming out of New York these days is Redden. The former Senator hasn’t been the same since Zdeno Chara left, and there was some talk about them re-uniting in Boston, but it was the Rangers, to one’s surprise, that were able to cough up big money ($6.5m) to land him. Time will tell if Redden is really worth the money, after the Sens made it clear he wasn’t going to get a cent over what Chris Phillips ($3.5m) was making. The talent is there, but Redden needs to be more consistent and be more careful with the puck if the Rangers are to be successful. Michal Rozsival returns once again after testing the free agent waters, and both sides are glad to be re-united. With Redden, they could potentially combine to be the best pair in the East, rounded up by the ever-emerging Marc Staal and the steady yet underrated Dmitri Kalinin. Dan Girardi and Paul Mara round out a very good defensive corps (4th overall, 6th PK).
No goalie since Mike Richter has captured the hearts of Rangers fans, but Henrik Lundqvist has just done that. “King Henrik,” as the fans call him, exploded onto the hockey radar and has since then transplanted himself as one of the best goalies in the East. If it wasn’t for Martin Brodeur, the East would be completely under King Henrik’s reign. This is one part of this talented team that Renney doesn’t have to worry about consistency issues. It was the emergence of Lundqvist that allowed the Rangers to cut loose long forgotten prospect Al Montoya, which means that Stephen Valiquette will be back to backup Lundqvist, although it is safe to say Valiquette won’t be seeing much game time.
The Rangers have only about $2m cap room left, but it hasn’t stopped the rumour mill from churning. After the Drury, Gomez, and Redden signings, it looks like the Rangers are back to their free-spending ways, and had been heavily linked to Mats Sundin, which would have culminated in them trading away Gomez. While that rumour has died down, the focus now shifts to Brendan Shanahan, who has been in talks with the Rangers over the summer about a contract, but he has not been invited to training camp yet and with the Rangers’ tight cap they have little room for him, and signing him would mean that an extra body would have to be moved. So far management has shown confidence in Zherdev and Naslund, but still are legitimate question marks and it would not be surprising if Sather starts looking for help if the Rangers have a poor October.
The Rangers are well-rounded in all aspects of the game. They have two solid two-way centres with good playmaking abilities, wingers that can really shoot the puck, a strong PK unit, a well-rounded defense, and an elite goalie. The problem for the Rangers is putting it all together into a winning team.
Markus Naslund – Scott Gomez – Chris Drury
Nigel Dawes – Brandon Dubinsky – Nikolai Zherdev
Patrick Rissmiller – Dan Fritsche – Petr Prucha
Aaron Voros – Blair Betts – Ryan Callahan
Michal Rozsival – Wade Redden
Paul Mara – Marc Staal
Dmitri Kalinin – Daniel Girardi
Henrik Lundqvist – Stephen Valiquette
scratches: Colton Orr, Lauri Korpikoski, Fredrik Sjostrom
Coach: Tom Renney
GM: Glen Sather
Predicted finish: 3rd Atlantic, 5th East