Let's Go Rangers!
And so, we have the first concluded series of this year’s playoffs, and quite possibly the second one tonight if the Ottawa Senators beat John Torturella and his Lightning.
I cheer Let’s Go Rangers! First of all, my take on the New Jersey Devils. They played perfect hockey by taking advantage of every situation. This is the first time they beat the Rangers in the playoffs, so congratulations to them.
The EGG line works magically and as I praised him before during the course of the season, Patrick Elias IS the Devils. Martin Brodeur would have not been able to put the Devils in the playoffs by himself. But Elias did so. By far, he has been the best European captain in a while. I know that may be blasphemous for Leafs fans with regards to Mats Sundin. But, Elias put a team that was heading to the bottom of the league back to being a top Eastern team, and winning the Division title. When he came back, nine wins in a row. If the Devils win the Cup this year, my Conn Smythe vote is automatically awarded to Elias.
Now, I remember a few years ago where I criticized Devils GM Lou Lamoriello for re-signing Elias to a contract that was way too short. This guy is already a free agent. Now, I really, definitely, and convincingly doubt that the Devils will not re-sign Elias; however, the Devils are known to be tough negotiators with their players. Elias wants to be rewarded this season and I don’t see this guy getting anything less than $5.5M a season. If he does accept something lower than that, then by all means… he is a great Devil and a class act.
If the Devils manage to upset Elias in contract talks, then they simply do not deserve any respect, none whatsoever. He goes away to another team, then the Devils are really not caring about their team. I don’t think they drew much attendance this season (if I am correct), and they spent $39M all the way. Plus, this season they need to re-sign Brian Gionta, Scotty Gomez, Colin White, Paul Martin, and see if they will re-up with UFAs like Jay Pandolfo (a must), Ken Klee, and Jamie Langenbrunner.
And, it’s not like the Devils have a rich farm system either. I think their #1 objective is to immediately re-sign Elias right after the playoffs.
Other than that, the Devils are a very solid team right now, but are starting to get overrated by the media. I am a fan of Eddie Olczyk, but the guy needs to stop kissing the Devils performance in hopes of landing an interview with Lamoriello.
Yes, the Devils are a very good team, but it’s not like they really outplayed the Rangers on even strength. The Rangers were not an easy team for the Devils to beat 5-on-5, and I am talking about a banged up and inexperienced Rangers team. New Jersey’s next opponent should stay away from the sin bin, and play a solid defense on the EGG line. If the EGG line is getting shut down, then the Devils are a much easier team to beat.
On to the Rangers
LET’S GO RANGERS! is what the fans still said after the series came to an end. This team proved a lot of people wrong. They played like a team, they had chemistry, they had their own team rituals. This was a great and fun Rangers team to watch. Special performances by Petr Prucha and of course… Jaromir Jagr. The unforgettable shootout goal by Marek Malik. They were a real team. They showed up, gave whatever was in their gas tank and the fans were thankfull. So was I. An ugly exit in the first round, but that was to be expected anyway. This would have been an awesome series if the Rangers came in nearly 100% healthy, and I would have predicted a Game 7 with a coin toss on who would have been the winner.
What should the Rangers do now? I want the same core, but modify the defense. Rangers have a really good farm system now, they got some good skills in the minors with Immonen, Staal, Dawes, Dubinsky, Pock, Helminen, and Korpikoski. Let them develop! Most of these guys are rookies at the AHL level anyway.
Jaromir Jagr will retire from the NHL once the contract expires. So, the Rangers should take advantage of the situation. They should not feel rushed by playing their rookies. They’re fine in Hartford, and another year of experience and playing together won’t hurt.
I want to see the Rangers keep Steve Rucchin. They got this guy for playoffs hockey and ever since he was injured, the Rangers played sloppy. Keep Petr Sykora, why? Though he did not do much to step up in the playoffs, he is a 2nd line scorer and can always put in 30 goals. Plus, if the Rangers want a big size forward to add muscle, would Jason Arnott be interested to join Sykora? Not to be ruled out. Another scenario, very far fetched though, is if the Devils get stupid with Elias, the Rangers could let go of Rucchin and Rucinsky, re-sign Sykora to a lesser salary, and what about making Elias the offer he wants with Jason Arnott and Sykora on his line? Not to mention, Czech Star Jagr is on the team and once he is out, Elias can take over. Far fetched? Yes, but how many people bet on Holik signing with the Rangers? Oh wait, I did!
Back to reality. For real, the Rangers can add maybe Jason Arnott, then keep Rucinsky and Straka as well, for lesser salaries. This would give the Rangers two solid lines.
Not a bad idea after all. But, the point is to keep the same core of players and give it another go. The rookies/sophomores will be more experienced and the team chemistry is there.
The defense needs a shake-up and muscle. Unfortunately, the Ozolinsh trade was a bust for this year, but a trade should only be fully judge after the player’s term with his team runs out. Maybe Ozolinsh will be as sharp as ever next season, who knows? Rozsival is a tricky situation. He gets credit for having a season that was greatly unexpected after he faced a couple of serious injuries. But, he’s also been a bad defenseman. Rangers should add more size to their defense with a stable d-man. Hey, why not add another Czech in Pavel Kubina? My favorite of the group, though, who is a 2nd tier d-man is Dannil Markov. Tom Poti is definitely done in New York. I appreciated his defensive play improvement (overall deserves a solid grade with a B), but he’s out. This may leave a spot for Tomas Pock, maybe Marc Staal.
One thing for sure, Rangers need to revamp the defense a bit.
It is way too early to discuss free agency talk, and I would write more about which players the Rangers could sign. But, the message that Glen Sather should give is the same as Mike Keenan’s message. Keep the same team and get ready for a more improved season.
This is the first winning season for the Rangers in years. This club is just starting to become an above .500 team. The best thing going for the Rangers right now, though, is not having Jagr. The best thing for the Rangers is the farm system. The WolfPack are one of the better AHL teams with a lot of youth. These youngsters are playing the system that the Rangers want them to play, they are winning as a team and when they are NHL ready, they create a bigger nucleus for the Rangers. That is what the Rangers did not do in the 1990’s and it is what kept them without playoffs for years. GM Glen Sather has done a lot of screw ups with the free agency and quick patches to the Ranger$ of old, but he has given this team a very very very bright future.
So, all is not horrible this week for the Rangers and the fans. It’s time to move on and wait for what is best to come in the next years. It was a fine and fun season.
Thank you New York Rangers!
And thanks to you fellow hockey fans for reading,