What to expect… as mentioned in several dozen previous writings prior to this one our beloved Rangers will build the club through the free agent market and not through the youth, well atleast for the most part. One can sum up the draft of 2002 by saying “it will take a few years before we can even begin to grade this crop of future New York Rangers”.
Meanwhile the AHL system shows enough grit, experience and even youth to carry the Wolf Pack through next season or two other than the normal tweeking of the roster. Players like Kenny Gernander, Brad Smyth and Jason Dawe among others are ofcourse up in the air as far as what they will be doing next season but otherwise a solid core of AHL guys featuring Jamie Lundmark, Benoit Dusablon, Boyd Kane and Chris St.Croix are around while others like Mike Mottau, Sean Gagnon, Matt Kinch and Roman Lyashenko will likely spend some time in New England`s rising star… Hartford.
At the NHL level Lundmark, Mottau and Fedor Tutin will be given an opportunity to make the club as bits and pieces but the real truth is that the free agent market which has not in recent years shown so many fruit ripe for the taking will be plucked and yes by the dear Rangers. The only question is… will Sather fall asleep at the wheel? Will Guerin, Holik, Chelios and Amonte receive a call? or sign with Dallas leaving the Rangers no choice but to trade for the necessary help or…?
Now with the retirement of Dominic Hasek Detroit is added into the NHL “I need a goalie too” group… so this will increase the value of now free agent MIke Richter whom perhaps as loved as he is… may need to re-start his career elsewhere and may do so. Curtis Joseph & Byron Dafoe(now that Boston has acquired Steve Shields) may be New York bound and needed in order for Holik, Amonte and the rest to consider playing for Sather and Trottier. Dan Blackburn who should earn atleast 30 starts this year as part of the gradual building plan is a key. Will Joseph want to play for perhaps 2 years in New York knowing that in his second year maybe he will share 50% of the load? or does he want to be the no.1 for the remainder of his days?
On defense there has been much talk about the ageless wonder…no not Mark Messier but Chris Chelios a true gladiator … and how the Rangers should make an offer to him to shore up the defense. This move is a no brainer and even at 41 he can help out the team in the dressing room as Brian Leetch appears to have lost his way. Bryan Berard on the other hand will have to look for work elsewhere, maybe Tampa?. This could open the door for Mottau or Tutin or even Kloucek but it depends on Chelios and other defenders the Rangers need. Sylvain Lefebrve is likely to be headed elsewhere by trade, waivers or outright release even though he played spirited hockey last season after returning from exile in Hartford. Maybe Montreal, Tampa, Florida or St.Louis could be his new mailing address.
At forward Theo Fleury was waived “good bye” and his old buddy Gretz will likely take him in Arizona. Look for Fleury to thrive and somewhat rejuvenate his career down there with 30 goals. Now to whom can maybe move up from Hartford? Not anyone… if Holik, Amonte and Guerin come…there is simply no room at the inn.I would like to see Lundmark take over a spot at the no.4 learning the NHL trade but Mark Messier will likely return for one more go. However there may be a bright light… “If” Petr Nedved is dealt and this would depend on the free agent frenzy and how Sather does fare… Lundmark may find a home at no.4 or even 3 if Messier decided 8 mins a game is enough. “If” Sather has to deal for Keith Tkachuk or the likes of Fred Modin(Tampa) say… Kloucek and a package of Nedved may be part of the total asking price thus opening up a spot or two in New York. In short…it will take something big either through failure or trade for a young Wolf Pack player to earn ice in New York next year… a city so ready for the playoffs it can make one sick.
Strange Move: Kris Oliwa… now was this a move to replace Steve McKenna or what? Or was this a move to keep Oliwa from the Isles, Devils and anyone else? I am not sure about this… normally the acquisition of a tough guy would help the club. 2001-02 club featured Sandy McCarthy who has never ever had a higher value than now (trade bait?), Matt Barnaby(light-middle weight), Dale Purinton(light-heavy) and Steve McKenna. The 2002-03 addition will feature only a part of the aforementioned group. Richard Scott, Dale Purinton, and Christian Gosselin of all the “younger” players may have to battle it out for the no.1 tough spot behind Oliwa as it appears McCarthy is available to a west coast team. Time will tell… or perhaps Oliwa was acquired simply to toughen up the Rangers and then be rewarded by being waived. Who knows what Glen is thinking…
In the end…the first 10 days of July will be maybe the most exciting in New York hockey… until next time I ask for you to send your thoughts to me.