As a New York Mets fan you have no idea how much I’ve been dying for fall to begin. So far it hasn’t disappointed. The New York Jets have been playing clutch football (knock on wood) and hockey is FINALLY right around the corner. More importantly, New York Rangers hockey is right around the corner. At the start of every hockey season two questions cross my mind: 1) Will this be the year ESPN finally spends more than 5 minutes on NHL highlights? 2) Will this be the year the blueshirts lift the cup again? For some reason I always think the answer to both these questions are yes. It’s funny how much of a difference a couple years can make. It wasn’t too long ago that a playoff birth alone meant a successful season for the Rangers. Now after four straight years in the postseason it’s time for broadway blue to step it up. Does this year’s addition of the New York Rangers have the ingredients to pull that off?
Let’s start with the obvious. The Rangers will have solid goaltending thanks to Henrik Lundqvist. Every year since he entered the NHL Lundqvist has been one of the top goalies in the league. Yes it’s true last season was his first year without a Vezina nomination, but when you’re on a team with absolutely no offense it’s hard to stop them all. My fear with Lundqvist this season is the fact that we are in an Olympic year. The last time Hank partook in the Olympic festivities he came back exhausted, his numbers diminished greatly, and the Rangers were swept by the Devils in the first round. This time around will Lundqvist be okay once the Olympic games are over? John Tortorella claims he will watch King Henrik’s minutes carefully, but that’s a lot easier to say in September than during an intense hockey season.
Glen Sather made a lot of changes this season. Let’s start with the departures. First thing is first the Rangers will be playing a much faster paced game under John Tortorella. The irony of this is Scott Gomez, the player who probably would’ve benefitted most from the change in systems, is now gone. Personally I was happy about this change. Gomez didn’t seem to mesh with anybody and constantly would drive the puck up ice only to dump it into the corner and give it right back to the opposing team. You can’t say he had no talent around him either, the man had the opportunity to play with players such Nikolai Zherdev and Jaromir Jagr. I don’t think Gomez made anybody around him better, and his constant soft wrist shot didn’t make things better for him. Atleast Markus Naslund’s shot sometimes went in (another player gone). Nikolai Zherdev left when Rangers GM Glen Sather didn’t give the man the money he was looking for. Zherdev had a lot of upside, but rumor has it Nikolai was not the most mature player, which I am sure didn’t float with Mr. Tortorella. I also heard a couple weeks after his arbitration hearing, Zherdev called Sather and said he would play for the offer Sather originally offered him. That’s not the kind of player I want on my team. Mid season pickup Nik Antropov will be getting paid over four million dollars for Atlanta this season. While I love the fact that Antro was a big body who could shoot, I’m not sure if it’s worth the salary cap hit when the Rangers need to pay the young guys soon.
The salary cap. Those two words have spelt doom to the New York Rangers for some time now. Days after finally being freed of a big contract in Scott Gomez the Rangers threw all their new cash at Marion Gaborik. A player who can light up the ice… when he’s healthy. Gaborik is well capable of scoring 50 goals. The problem is the last couple years the only 50 he hits is games missed. For over 7 million dollars this is a huge risk for the Rangers. However Gaborik claims he is healthy and I have to believe nobody would offer somebody money like that if the player was not 110% healthy. I heard reports Gaborik missed the first few days of training camp with a sore groin. He claims it happened because of the rust. In his second pre season game against the Captials Gabby (that’s my nickname for him) had two goals. I think if Marion stays healthy he scores 50 goals atleast. But I am a Rangers fan, I am biased, and I am an optimistic. We’ll see.
Gasborik wasn’t the only acquisition this off season. Glen Sather was a busy man. Vinny Prospal, a former Tortorella man, agreed to a deal with the Rangers. Prospal was bought out of his contract last year from Tampa Bay. I hope the motivation to prove Tampa wrong and being reunited with an old coach will lead to a successful year for Vinny. The Rangers also picked up Ales Kotalik to hopefully cure their power play problem. Kotalik has a great shot, it’s just not always accurate. But as a Rangers fan, just hearing that he likes to shoot the puck on the power play is enough for me! Another move made was when the Rangers traded Laurie Korpakowski for Enver Lisin. I hear Lisin has a lot of speed but not much else. Hopefully all that can be taught. Plud, speed is what Torts wants in his system. In the Scott Gomez trade the Rangers acquired Chris Higgins. Higgins is a local New Yorker and hopefully that works for him and not against him. John Tortorella says he is capable of 35 goals. Let’s pray I’m not the only optimist here…
The last notable signing of the offseason makes me want to vomit. Glen Sather let Colton Orr walk to sign Donald Brashear. The same Brashear who knocked Blair Betts out of the playoffs. The same Brashear who Brendan Shanahan took on a couple years ago and after the fight sucker punched Aaron Ward for no good reason. To me putting a blue shirt on means a lot more than being a member of a hockey team. Brashear will have to earn my respect, and not by high sticking players for no good reason. If Brashear had gotten a penalty for his hit on Betts it could have changed the entire complexity of game 6 against Washington. Donald Brashear signed a two year, 1.4 million dollar contract. First off 1.4 is a lot for a guy who will be playing less than ten minutes a night. Secondly, Colton Orr wanted less! It’s true Brash has better numbers but Orr skated better than ever last year and Brash has ten more years experience. I have a hunch Glen Sather is the kind of GM who would jump on an opportunity to sign Mike Vick.
The players coming back on wing are all the big question marks in how the Rangers perform this year. Chris Drury, our captain, needs to start playing like one. He needs to break out and play like the 7 million dollar guy he is supposed to be or the Rangers will go nowhere. Brandon Dubinsky finally signed and in the end I see him centering for Marion Gaborik. He was successful playing with Jagr, and while he may still seem young I think he would play better at center and Prospal would play better over on wing. Sean Avery spent the summer working out and opening his new bar. Coach Tortarella said he was in top shape and I feel Avery’s head is clearer than ever. I say put Avery on the same line as Gaborik. I know I know, I am crazy. But hear me out! I remember Avery’s best games were when he played on Jagr’s line. If he can be the presence on the ice he was for Jagr, Gaborik may have things a little more open for him on the ice. The last big Rangers forward returning, and their secret weapon…Ryan Callahan. This guy does it all. He’s aggressive. He doesn’t quit on the play. And he can finish. This may sound crazy, but I see 35 goals from Callahan this year and flourishing in Tortorella’s system.
If only the defense could flourish like I hope Callahan does. The Rangers defense has a very interesting spin to it. Two overpaid “veterans,” Two up and coming guys, and two rookies. Michal Rosival and I haven’t gotten along in the past but he does have upside in his offense and his intelligence. Wade Redden on the other hand… what is there to say about him? For 6.5 million the guy was a total bust. My last image of him is doing NOTHING to stop Sergei Federov from putting the final nail in the 2008-2009 New York Rangers season. I also feel like Wade Redden made Dan Girardi worse. These two were on the same pairing for a while and I think/hope it is the reason Girardi suffered a set back last year. Marc Staal on the other hand has nowhere to go but up, and the only reason I would want him to fail this year is because next year he’s a free agent and you know he will deserve good money. The last two defenseman on the Rangers will be Matt Gilroy, who has done nothing but impress this pre season, and Mike Del Zotto. Both of these guys will be playing in their rookie years. Knowing that scares me a bit. But maybe young guns are what the Rangers need if Tortorella expects a lot of speed. Younger guys have better legs. Who knows??
So what is there to expect from this year’s Rangers? People around the league are giving them their lowest predictions since the lockout. And of course the Rangers proved those predictions completely wrong. I am a firm believer in chemistry, which aside from Brandon Dubinsky to Ryan Callahan, the Rangers have none of. It’s a shame that every couple years Glen Sather breaks up the team completely. Did you know the only two players who were on the Rangers opening night after the lockout? Lundqvist and Rosival. That was only four years ago!! I see the Rangers sliding into the playoffs, but that may be the believer in me. The Atlantic Division is still the toughest division in hockey, but thankfully the Devils got worse and the Isles are still one more year away which will help the Rangers.