Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Breaking Up For Rangers Is Hard To Do

The outlook for this season was full of hope, while the finish was akin to an empty glass. That’s partially why this year’s breakup day was so difficult, along with the usual fact that many of these players will never be teammates again.

All of today's area newspapers have coverage of the Rangers’ breakup day from yesterday. There are some big questions surrounding this team right now, particularly with regards to Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery, all free agents. Let’s take a look and for what it’s worth I’ll offer my two cents.

The forward position is a good place to begin. Will Jaromir Jagr come back to play for the Rangers? Do they want him back? What can they reasonably offer him? A two-year deal makes the most sense to me. Jagr says in this article in today’s New York Post that his father wants him to play in the Czech Republic in 2010-2011, but he also said he promised that he would play in Russia. Money as always will dictate and I don’t have a strong feeling as to where Jagr will end up, one way or the other.

Brendan Shanahan has definitely lost a step and should only be brought back for a one-year deal, in which he would be used as a penalty killing specialist.

Sean Avery wants $4 million a year - that is tough - but his value to the team is immeasurable. Meanwhile, Martin Straka’s best days are clearly behind him, I wouldn’t bring him back.

So how do the forwards shape up? If the Rangers follow my line of thinking they would look like this:

(OPEN)-Brandon Dubinsky-Jaromir Jagr
(OPEN)-Scott Gomez-Sean Avery
Nigel Dawes-Chris Drury-Ryan Callahan
Brendan Shanahan-Blair Betts-Petr Prucha
Lori Korpikoski-Ryan Hollweg-Fred Sjostrom
Extras: Colton Orr

Those two left-wing spots on the first two lines could be filled by either Korpikoski, Dawes, Prucha or Callahan. Let’s also not forget that 19-year-old Artem Anisimov who played for Hartford in 2007-2008 could play a role, and New York fans also await the arrival from Russia of 19-year-old superprospect Alexei Cherepanov, who has broken Pavel Bure’s records in Russia and has been compared to Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

The Blueline. Michal Rozsival, Paul Mara, Marek Malik and Jason Strudwick are all free agents. So long to Malik, who fought Sean Avery during one practice, dissed the coach, and was ineffective on the ice this season. He can be good, but the Garden crowd did not give him any breaks. Best for everyone that he go elsewhere.

Rozsival was not as strong this year as 2006-2007, but I’d still like to sign him and hope for a bounce back year. Nothing long-term, maybe a one-year deal. Paul Mara is solid and has proven to be a worthwhile acquisition from Boston a season ago. I’d like to see him back. Jason Strudwick does it all: defense, plays wing, blogs, etc. I could see him as a coach when his playing days are done. He’s a good spare, I’d resign him. I'd love to see the Blueshirts find a way to part with Christian Backman as quickly as he turns over the puck to the opposition.

As far as additions to the defense, if I was the general manager I would target Ottawa’s Wade Redden. The Rangers are also waiting for 20-year-old stud d-man Bobby Sanguinetti to be ready to man New York’s blueline. The New Jersey native is big (6'3" 190) and can move the puck. So here’s what I envision:

Marc Staal-Wade Redden
Fedor Tyutin-Dan Girardi
Michal Rozsival-Bobby Sanguinetti
Extras:Jason Strudwick, Paul Mara

In goal, Henrik Lundqvist had another fine season and also has a long-term deal under his belt. Backup goalie Stephen Valiquette is a free agent and should be signed. He has the unique ability to play infrequently and still be able to step in and perform admirably whenever called upon.

So in a nutshell, although I’m not big into signing other teams’ free agents because it hasn’t worked very well for New York, I would go after Wade Redden and keep most of our own: Jagr, Shanahan, Avery, Mara, Valiquette and Strudwick.

Regardless, it will definitely not be a quiet off-season for the Blueshirts.

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