New York Rangers 2001-2002 Season Preview; Oilers are Next

The Rangers marked a career high of 5 straight seasons without entering the playoffs. Although this was a very disappointing and very frustrating season, it was different than the previous seasons where the Rangers never accomplished anything good. This is the review of the Rangers 2001-2002 season as there will be the reviews of the other non-playoff teams. A review of the players, coaches, GMs’ transactions, the positives and negatives that came out of this season, and what the team should do in the off-season.The Rangers started the season with a slowly. Players like Lindros, Fleury, Berard, Richter, and Malakhov were trying to find their game since missing the previous season’s games. When the special FLY line was created and was the best line in the league, the Rangers started winning, played harder, hit harder, and got superb goaltending from Mike Richter. It was when the Rangers hit the road for the western games that Lindros sustained a minor concussion, and the Rangers responded very well in the first three games, but slumped and started their losing streak in Phoenix, where they lost 5-0. Since then, the Rangers had a horrid 2nd half of the season. Players underachieved and started to hit slumps.

THE PLAYERS

Here is a quick review of the Rangers players. Eric Lindros had a slow start in October, but found his game rather quickly. Although every hit he takes, every breath we fans take, but every move Eric makes, every goal Eric takes, we will be watching him. Lindros finished his season with 37 goals 36 assists (73) and a +19 in 72 games. Lindros did his job and satisfied Ranger fans. He could have a stronger, and hopefully healthier, second season as a Ranger, especially playing along side Pavel Bure.

Theo Fleury did everything a hockey player could do. Score, create plays, take penalties, game misconduct, slumps, fines, basically helping and not helping the team. Theo finished with 24 goals and 39 assists (63) along with a +2 and an astonishing 214 PIM. Although Fleury “wants” to come back with the Rangers, I highly doubt that Sather will re-sign him. As Sather was interviewed before the Flyers game, he said with a face full of doubt “We’ll see what we can do.” I think Fleury is a good player when he gives his best, but when he has troubles he is not the player you want on the ice, on the bench, in the locker room, and on the team. I understands he wants to play better for the fans, the City, and the Rangers organization, but if he said that then why didn’t he show up in the last three games? Fleury will most likely go to Europe unless Sather doesn’t sign a Guerin, an Amonte, or a Holik in the off-season, then it is worth giving Fleury a shot for half the price of his original team option.

Brian Leetch had a great start to the season with Malakhov. Leetch still plays his usual game and finally finished a season with a +13, there is a positive. Leetch scored 10 goals and 44 assists (54) and has one more season left on his contract. The only fear I have with Leetch is if he starts losing his scoring touch. He has to shoot the puck more as he did not this season. I doubt Berard will be re-signed, and if Leetch becomes trade bait on the deadline or will not be back as a Ranger in the 2003-2004 season, then that is when Tom Poti is the positive. You always need one or two puck moving defensemen, Leetch being on of the best in the league. Defensively, Leetch played okay. He is better in blocking shots and passes and he must keep that going. Overall, “Leetchy” had a pretty good season.

Petr Nedved might soon be gone. He played horrible all season long, but there was a point where he actually threw his body and used his strength more. Nedved was a key player for the Rangers since he was the 2nd line center. Nedved did not use his lethal wrist shot as much this season and seemed careless sometimes on the ice. The only game where Nedved looked good both defensively and offensively was when Martin Rucinsky was paired with Dvorak and Nedved. It seemed like they were the old Czech line. Sather will look for a solid 2nd line center, which could mean Nedved would be traded for maybe Valerie Bure? I am not sure and I doubt the Rangers want to have two brothers. Expect Nedved to be traded this summer, or early next season, depending on who is on the team.

Radek Dvorak, he shoots…he misses the net. He shoots, it hits the post. He shoots, the goalie makes a marvelous save. A very unlucky season for Dvorak as he took many shots, created his breakaways but had trouble finding the net. Dvorak finished the season playing 65 games, 17 goals and 20 assists with a horrifying –20. It is unsure what Sather wanted to do with Dvorak as he once mentioned that Dvorak’s injury changed some plans. Meaning trading Dvorak? Who knows…but Dvorak’s speed will be very useful. Dvorak had a very bad season but the effort was there.

Vladimir Malakhov played a pretty consistent season. He had a good 1st half where he scored points and blocked shots, but a bad 2nd half offensively. Defensively though, Malakhov put in effort and did not make many bad plays, he went for the safe ones. I liked Malakhov’s play and I would not mind keeping him for the rest of his contract, which also expires next season. He finished the season with 6 goals 22 points (28) and a good +10. He played with effort, so overall he had a good season, nothing great and nothing bad.

Andreas Johansson played a high-energy season and I hope the Rangers will re-sign him. A.J put in a lot of effort in most of the games, he has a hard shot, plays hard, and is just the player you’d want to have on your team, for a low price too. He also made Mikael Samuelsson much better as these two Swedes built a chemistry together. I would like to see A.J next season, he was one of my favorite Ranger players this season. His stats are not much, with just 14 goals, 9 assists and a +5, but his work ethic is worth having.

The other favorite hard working Ranger is Sandy McCarthy. He was one of the best acquisitions from Sather. He does not put up the numbers, but he tries to do offense, he fights, stands up for his teammates and works hard every night. He had a so-so 1st half but the 2nd half was really good. He is a player to have for a very long time. He is also the type of enforcer you could play in the playoffs, he is not just a 4th line goon.

There is a high probability Mark Messier will play one more season. Why? Well, for one thing, this was a bad way to finish the season, playing half of it, and not skating around the ice saying good bye. The other reason is, Messier is about 48 points behind Gordie Howe to be the NHL’s number 2 scorer. If you were he, you’d want to beat that record to be the NHL’s number two player. Why not sign him anyway? Sure…he would take a spot at center, probably 3rd line, but if Gilmour does it, if Larionov does it, so can Messier. Let Messier be captain for one more season and let him lead and tutor the other players. He did not have a good season in scoring points, but you can’t expect much from him. He is there for the team just like Gilmour is there for Montreal and Larionov for the Wings. Let one of the game’s best players retire in a proper way.

Bryan Berard was very brave to take another shot at the NHL. This young player made the decision to play in the league again, and now will have to pay the insurance 6.2 million dollars. The Rangers option on Berard is 9.2 million dollars for two seasons. Sounds a lot of money, but when Berard pays the insurance, he is left with 3 million dollars. It is a big favor for Berard and he deserved it. He put in the effort and although he had an inconsistent season, I think he deserves one more season in the NHL. He missed two seasons of hockey, he needs to find his game again and I think he has the confidence to do it. However, I am not sure if Sather will keep Berard. I think Berard was really good when it came to two on one’s against him, but when you see Poti on the team, you’re thinking Berard will most likely leave.

Matt Barnaby is the player that everybody hates. You hate it when he smiles and when he draws the penalties, but you sure do like him when he is on your team. I used to hate Barnaby so much, yet now I like him because he is on my team. He contributed offensively at times, which is always good, and he did his job. Barnaby basically was traded for free since the Lightning released Zdeno Ciger. Barnaby was a good addition, especially when nothing was given up for him. Overall he had a decent season, but Ron Low did not use Barnaby the correct way. Plays him on the 1st line and then decides to put him on the 4th, then the 2nd, back on the 1st…and so on.

Surprisingly, the Rangers went on a scoring slump. Igor Ulanov was placed on waivers. The Panthers should seriously kick themselves in the butt for doing this trade. The 1st round pick could be a good one, although I doubt it since their draft picks have been poor and this season’s Draft appears to be a “weak one”. So many teams traded away their picks. Filip Novak was a good prospect for the Rangers but Fedor Tjutin stole Novak’s spot and is very highly touted. Ulanov, Novak, and 1st round pick do not have much trade value, especially when you compare it to the league’s best goal scorer known as the Russian Rocket. Bure scored 20 points in 12 games with the Rangers. He built a great chemistry with Lindros as they both could have superb 2nd seasons as Rangers. One thing that shocked Rangers fans the most was Bure’s back checking. He used his amazing speed to back check players and that shows good effort. To think that Pavel bure could have been worth so much more, this was a steal for the Rangers. Say what you want about Bure, he will assure 35+ goals for the Rangers next season and would be a threat. Fleury was not a big threat, neither was Nedved, York, or Dvorak, but if you see Bure on a breakaway, it would most likely be a goal.

Mikael Samuelsson had a decent rookie season. Andreas Johansson made him fit really well. Samuelsson is good on the PK but he needs to learn how to clear the puck better. He is also a great fore-checker, he won’t back down, he stands up for his teammates, and is very smart. One thing he can’t do is anything offensively. Not a bad player in return for Adam Graves, maybe one day Samuelsson could be better on the offense, but his defensive game is his strength.

It is unknown whether or not Martin Rucinsky will re-sign with the Rangers, or I should say it is unclear if the Rangers want to re-sign Rucinsky. Rucinsky told the NY media that he’d be more than pleased to play for the Rangers next season. Also, Lindros and Bure loved his style of game, which blended in very nicely. I wouldn’t mind Rucinsky on the Lindros line. He comes in cheaper than Fleury and would have more willingness to play for the Rangers than Fleury, meaning no dumb penalties or acts. Overall, he played well for the Rangers, and not to forget that he could build that old Czech line magic of last season if Nedved is kept.

Dave Karpa had a really inconsistent season, but a better finish than I expected. Unlike Ulanov who gave up, Karpa worked harder and showed his effort by not taking bad and “stupid” penalties, especially after his two twins were born. Karpa could end up having a solid second season with the Rangers. He is a physical defenseman, and it is just what the Rangers need.

Everyone still complains about the Poti trade. Sure, Sather was not going to let the Islanders have a better team with Poti, but again, no one knows what Leetch’s and Berard’s future would be with the Rangers. Poti could remain as the only puck moving defenseman for the Rangers if both of those players are out. Even if only Berard leaves, Poti is a plus because it is always good to have two puck moving defensemen who could play on the power play. Poti is not a physical defenseman, but as long as he blocks shots, intercepts passes and ties up his man, he is just fine, and he is only 25 years old. Makes the Rangers defense younger as well. Overall, Poti looked good with the Rangers, nothing great or bad, but has a bright future.

The other players I’d like to mention are Roman Lyashenko, Dale Purinton, Tomas Kloucek, and Rem Murray. Lyashenko was a steal. As much as I favored and protected Manny Malhotra, I must admit that Lyashenko is way much better than Malhotra. Lyashenko is much smarter and plays very well defensively. Scouting reports says he could be a Selke nominee on day. Malhotra…still plays the same way in Dallas. Purinton changed his game from black to white. He was just a fighter, a mean nasty player. He realized that he is a UFA at age 26. He said that he will re-sign with the Rangers at whatever price, without raise. He has finally played like a true physical defenseman, and recently he made some good plays. Hopefully he will be on the line-up next season. Some hockey fans stupidly said that Kloucek is “gone” because he went down to Hartford. Well, the reason why they sent him down there is so he gets better. Kloucek was having a bad season. It took him a while to get his knee back in shape but they number of penalties and suspensions were just too much. He is an incredible hitter, almost like a Kasparaitis, except much bigger and stronger. The Wolfpack staff and the Rangers think and expect Kloucek to have a strong training camp and be able to make the team next season. Rem Murray is what the Rangers needed, a number 3 or 4 center who plays defense and fore-checks, and who comes at a low price as well. Murray fits in very well with the Rangers and is very useful.

THE HEAD COACH

Ron Low was not the right guy for this team. He is a great coach in a sense that he shows his confidence in players and has the ability to help young players gain their confidence. But, he was unable to coach a team with youth and veterans, and his hockey tactics were no match for top teams. When he once tried to play a trap like system, the Rangers had two straight back to back shutouts. Why did he change system? I don’t know. Low never called a time out to motivate his team either. When the Rangers were being badly outplayed by the Flyers in the 1st period, he should have called a time out. Either way, he never did call a time out, rarely did he ever call one. My condolences for the loss of his brother and my best of luck for him and his family, maybe a minor league team will hire him. Sather’s worst mistakes was hiring Low and not firing Low. Also, Low will NOT BE FIRED, the Rangers will let him walk as his contract has expired.

THE GENERAL MANAGER

Sather made his good moves and obviously his bad moves. The best moves were Lindros, Blackburn, Bure, Lyashenko, Johansson, McCarthy, Barnaby, and most of his draft picks, like Garth Murray, Fedor Tjutin, Shawn Collymore, Dominic Moore, Hollweg, and others. His bad moves were hiring Low, signing Ciger and Ulanov (fixed those), and…and…and…, what else? Sather did not make the changes he wanted to make, like trading for Shane Doan, but the Coyotes backed away since they were “winning”. I was disappointed and frustrated that the Rangers missed the playoffs this season, since it seemed like they could have made it. Sather’s 3rd season will come up, and if he does not get this team into the playoffs next season, then he did not do the job. If he does get this team into the playoffs next season, then he did do his job as well as kept his words of taking 3 seasons to make this team a true playoff contender. He made some good trades, more good ones than bad ones, he just needs to find the right coach and find the other right players.

THE POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES

The best thing that happened this season for the Rangers was Dan Blackburn. This young 18 year old goaltender proved that he has the potential to be a future all-star (ask the Flyers fans, Leclair, Roenick, Primeau, and Justin Williams). He could face the sophomore jinx, but two more seasons as a back up goalie would be enough, maybe even one, but two is more likely. The other positive thing is that the Rangers had a much better season than the previous ones. The Rangers finished with a 30-24-3-3 6 record against the Eastern Conference. The Rangers took a lead in their division as well as the Eastern Conference. The Rangers finished with more points than the previous four seasons. The Rangers finished two games under .500, which is better than the previous seasons. Also, the GA was not as horrific as last season’s, about 40 goals less. And, most importantly, the Rangers do have a bright future. The negatives are the obvious. The Rangers miss the playoffs for the 5th consecutive season. The defense still remains a problem. The offense was inconsistent. The Rangers had an underachieving and terrible 2nd half of the season.

IN THE OFF-SEASON

The Rangers should try to sign Holik, make an offer sheet to Holik. They should try to sign Kasparaitis so that their defense would be a physical threat with Kloucek and Purinton. Billy Guerin is always an option. I doubt Sather would go after Amonte and Selanne, maybe Amonte, but Selanne is out of the question. Sather should first hire a coach however. Hitchcock’s name has been brought up as well as Pat Burns and Ted Nolan. I disagree that Nolan should get the job since he does not have a good resume`. I am unsure about Hitchcock, but maybe Pat Burns. Sather will have to start interviewing again. Look for Sather to sign one or two UFA players, trade Nedved, and expect Messier and Richter to be back next season, and hopefully expect the Rangers to make the playoffs next season. Here we go again though. The media will once again say the usual thing of the Rangers signing most of those free agents and overpaying those free agents as well. So, for example, “Rangers will most likely end up signing Bill Guerin and Kasparaitis to high contracts, something that will probably prevent the team’s youth from producing.” Ok, but let’s say the Rangers then sign…Bobby Holik and that’s it, then you’d see “The Rangers missed out on Guerin, Amonte, Kasparaitis and other free agents who could have brought this team into the playoffs next season, Holik might not be enough.” The media must have journalists with a brain that lives without cells. Like last off-season where the media criticized the Rangers for probably signing Joe Sakic and when they didn’t they ended up criticizing them anyway, and same with Jaromir Jagr and I could go on. The thing is, the popular media like ESPN, CBS, THN, and others, always end up by switching ideas and opinions and contradicting themselves.

Thank you for reading. Next team will be the Edmonton Oilers.

Micki Peroni