From now through the start of the NHL season on Oct. 4, TSN.ca presents '30 Teams In 30 Days,' a quick glimpse at each NHL club as the 2008-09 campaign approaches. Get the lowdown on every lineup, storylines to follow and Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis. It continues today with the New York Rangers.
If you thought the introduction of a salary cap would force the New York Rangers to curb their free-spending ways, you clearly don't know the Rangers. In the past few years, the team has shelled out big money-contracts to the likes of Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund, Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival and Henrik Lundqvist.
But where the Rangers once imported offensive stars like Pavel Bure and Jaromir Jagr, the club appears to be going the defensive route this time around. Already one of the league's better defensive squads last year, the Rangers should only be better with Redden on the blueline and Lundqvist's continued success.
As always, the Rangers have big aspirations. In New York City, nothing less than a championship is acceptable. The Rangers will have to be on their game. The Atlantic division - home to the Stanley Cup finalist Pittsburgh Penguins, the ever-dangerous New Jersey Devils and the up-and-coming Philadelphia Flyers - promises to be one of the most competitive in the NHL.
General Manager: Glen Sather (9th season)
Head Coach: Tom Renney (5th Season)
2007-08 Record: 42-27-13 (5th in Conference)
Points Leader: Jaromir Jagr - 71
Goals Leader: Jaromir Jagr - 25
Assists Leader: Scott Gomez - 54
PIM Leader: Colton Orr - 159
+/- Leader: Nigel Dawes - 11
PP Goals Leader: Chris Drury - 12
SH Goals Leader: Michal Rozsival - 2
What they did: In a bid to re-vamp the team's tepid offense from a year ago, general manager Glen Sather made some big changes to his team's corps of forwards. Former Hart Trophy winner Jaromir Jagr was allowed leave to find greater riches in Russia, while super-pest Sean Avery did the same in Dallas. In their place comes longtime Vancouver Canuck and former 48-goal scorer Markus Naslund. The Rangers also took a gamble on Nikolai Zherdev, acquiring the talented but enigmatic forward (along with centre Dan Fritsche) from the Blue Jackets for defenders Christian Backman and Fedor Tyutin. The Rangers also bolstered their blueline, signing Redden to a six-year contract worth $6.5 million a season and retaining Rozsival with a four-year, $20 million deal. The Rangers also added defencemen Dmitri Kalinin.
What to watch for: It wasn't so long ago that Redden was considered one of the top blueliners in the league. But 2007-08 was a tumultuous season for him, as the relationship with the only organization he ever played for went sour. Redden struggled under coach John Paddock and even got into a fight with teammate Chris Neil at practice. He offered to take a hometown discount to stay in Ottawa, but by the end of the season the Senators were asking him to waive his no-trade clause. While Redden comes to New York under the burden of a $39 million contract, his departure from Ottawa has clearly ignited some passion. He spoke this summer of having something to prove after last season's disappointment. Redden's ability to move the puck was one of the reasons Sather went hard after the blueliner and he should help the Rangers create breaks on offence.
With Jagr, Avery and Martin Straka all gone, this team now officially belongs to forwards Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. Gomez had a solid season last year, with his 54 assists good for 12th best in the league. Drury's scoring dipped with 12 fewer goals from the year before and was a disappointing minus-3 despite the fact the Rangers gave up the fourth fewest goals in the league.
The real wild card on this team will be Zherdev. His talent is unquestionable, as he put up a career-high 61 points last season, but the Blue Jackets grew frustrated with the Russian's lack of consistency and his clashes with team management. Last year, the Rangers were 25th in the league in scoring and depending whether or not Brendan Shanahan returns, three of their top five scorers from last year will not be on the roster. The Rangers are going to need Zherdev's scoring.
Lundqvist's name rarely comes up when discussing the best goalies in the game, but this might be the season that all changes. The Swedish netminder has been nominated for the Vezina trophy in each of the last three years. In the last two seasons, he has recorded the fifth most wins for a goalie (74) and the second most shutouts (15). With the addition of Redden and Kalinin and the continual improvements of Rozsival and Marc Staal, Lundqvist should be playing behind one of the most solid defences in the league. King Henrik should be on the verge of making that leap from Vezina nominee to Vezina winner.
Parting Shot: Jagr and Avery were the two most visible players on the Rangers last season. Their departures have left a substantial void, but should allow guys like Drury and Gomez to assume bigger roles. Also, the rumour mill continues to churn out whispers of Mats Sundin coming to Broadway. But until the Sundin sweepstakes is resolved, the Rangers will make do with what they have. The Blueshirts have all the makings of a legitimate Stanley Cup contender with stellar goaltending, a defensive play and plenty of postseason experience. But with an uncertain offence, the team hopes to prove the old adage that offence wins games, but defence wins championships.