Monday, May 14, 2007

Rangers' Thoughts...

Although the Rangers' loss to the Sabres was heartbreaking, their is reason for optimism in Rangerland. The New York Rangers, remember, were out of the playoffs for seven years and spent money like drunken sailors. G.M. Glen Sather initially continued with that approach upon being hired, but decided/was forced to build a team from within. It began in March 2004 really, and for the John Dellapinas of the world; yes it was time to get rid of Brian Leetch. Hey John, get over it! The Rangers have to find a way to balance improving their team's chances at the Stanley Cup, while continuing to bring along their plethora of bright prospects. Let's look closely, shall we:
This part is relatively simple. Henrik Lundqvist we'll probably get locked up this summer to a seven year deal. He has one more year on his contract, despite Larry Brooks' otherwise assertion. It was reported that a deal had been struck, but both sides have since denied any contractual agreement. Kevin Weekes will not be back; too expensive of a backup in this new salary cap world. So, it appears as though Stephen Valiquette will serve as Henrik's backup. Al Montoya, meanwhile, will continue to hone his craft in the A.H.L., unless of course, the Rangers use the super prospect as part of a blockbuster trade. Can you say Vincent Lecavlier? The Blueshirts probably will draft a goalie or two this summer, to give the organization more depth at that position.
I can't understand why Rangers' fans boo Marek Malik. Yes, he makes boneheaded plays at times, but you don't boo your own player, especially in the playoffs. Malik has one year left on his deal, and I believe he returns. Dan Girardi and Fedor Tyutin look like a pairing that will be together for the next ten years, depending upon Girardi's development. Toots is a #3 or #4 d-man; Girardi is a #3 or #4 right now in basically half a season of work. He could develop further, we'll see. Paul Mara played above what many thought he was capable of. Karel Rachunek is a restricted free agent, and I hope the Rangers let him walk by not offering him a qualifying deal (one year at the same price he was paid for 2006-07). He was mediocre for the first part of the season, good at times in the latter half, abysmal in the playoffs. Thomas Pock came a long way this season when he was given the opportunity. If I'm the coach, Pock plays every night. I'd like to see the Blueshirts sign Jason Strudwick who spent some brief time with the team this year. He's a good seventh d-man and can also play as a wing. Marc Staal should absolutely be on the team next year, I expect him to be paired with Mara, unless of course the Rangers deal Malik, then we could see Staal with Michal Rozsival. Staal is projected as the cornerstone of the Rangers' blueline for years to come. New York's 2006 1st round pick, Bobby Sanguenetti, from all that I have read is still a year away. Now let's take a look up front:
This is where things can be a bit sticky! Let's take it line by line. Michael Nylander is an unrestricted free agent. I'm not entirely sure he will be back. He plays well with Jaromir Jagr, however, at 35, one has to question if he should be your top pivot. More importantly, though, he will command big money if he goes to July 1, without a contract. Jagr will be back next year. Ditto Martin Straka. Matt Cullen played his best this year as a third line center, which is why the Rangers are going to look hard at unrestricted free agents Daniel Brierre and Chris Drury. My money is on Drury playing on Broadway next season.
The other big question is Brendan Shanahan? Most likely, it looks as though he will come back for an encore.
Then you have to wonder where everyone fits in and who could get traded? Does Petr Prucha get dealt? Head Coach Tom Renney finally found a role for Prucha - hurt by the arrival of Shanahan - the Czech sophomore played brilliantly with Ryan Callahan and Matt Cullen.
One guy who may get overlooked is Jed Ortmeyer? A free agent who wants to be back and absolutely should be signed. Great penalty killer and plays relentlessly on the puck. Yes, Lundqvist's play around Christmas improved a solid two notches, but Ortmeyer returned from a heart embolism around the beginning of the year and I noticed a definite commitment to playing solid defense from the Rangers at the same time. I hope they don't let him walk, because they'll regret it.
Other guys like Brad Isbister and Marcel Hossa probably will start training camp with the Blueshirts, but I'm hoping the Rangers give Brandon Dubinsky and Nigel Dawes legit shots at making the team. There are some other questions? Do the Rangers make a run at Scott Gomez, an unrestricted free agent. Or how about this one folks. Would the Rangers pull off a major coup or what in signing, Ryan Smyth, a free agent from the New York Islanders. Hmmm, former Oiler, gritty forward, can score, cost the Islanders a few handful of first-round picks. Wow, did I just have a V8 moment. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I'm up for Starbucks. Meanwhile, don't forget...
Stay Onsides!

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