NEW YORK RANGERS
2008-09: 43-30-9 (7th in the East – Eliminated in Conf. QF by Capitals)
Pre-season TSN.ca Power Ranking: 22
General Manager: Glen Sather (10th Season)
Head Coach: John Tortorella (2nd Season)
What They Did in the off-season:
Rangers' general manager Glen Sather got the jump on the market with a blockbuster move that saw Scott Gomez go to the Canadiens for Christopher Higgins, a move that saved the team millions in cap space in the long run. Markus Naslund did Sather a favour by announcing his retirement from the NHL, freeing up even more money.
With Derek Morris, Paul Mara, Nik Antropov, Colton Orr, Fredrik Sjostrom and Blair Betts gone, the Rangers brought in Marian Gaborik with a multi-year deal, along with Vaclav Prospal, Ales Kotalik, Tyler Arnason and Donald Brashear. When Nikolai Zherdev was awarded a sizeable arbitration settlement, the Rangers simply walked away and allowed the enigmatic sniper to attempt to negotiate a return to Russia. The Broadway Blueshirts rounded out their summer by sending Lauri Korpikoski to Phoenix for Enver Lisin.
One problem that Sather does face is promising young centre Brandon Dubinsky remains unsigned with the two sides reportedly miles apart in negotiations. It has also been rumoured that Manhattan would be Senators' sniper Dany Heatley's preferred destination via trade, however nothing has materialized on that front.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
While Sather should be commended for getting out from under Gomez's massive contract, the team remains woefully short in the scoring department. The Rangers are throwing a lot of their eggs in the Gaborik basket, believing that the silky Slovak will flourish now that he's freed of the shackles of the Minnesota Wild.
Gaborik's level of skill is unquestioned, but like the aforementioned eggs, he is extremely fragile. He has suffered groin injuries throughout his career, while hip surgery limited him to just 17 games last season. He also griped about the Wild's style of play (albeit under now-departed head coach Jacques Lemaire) and had several disagreements with management about the severity of his numerous injuries.
'Gabby' appeared to be in desperate need of a change of scenery and a new Manhattan area zip code is likely just what the doctor ordered. It will be interesting to see how his relationship with John Tortorella develops. 'Torts' cut his teeth working with superstars like Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards in Tampa Bay. There may be rough times out of the gate as the player and coach become accustomed to each other's ways. If Tortorella is able to muster the same type of production and desire out of Gaborik that he was able to out of his Holy Trinity in Tampa, it could be the beginning of a fruitful run on Broadway for a marquee performer.
If Gaborik is able to stay healthy, the Rangers will need a great deal of scoring support wherever they can get it. Unfortunately for the team, their most likely source of offense remains unsigned at the time of publication.
Although far from an elite scorer, Brandon Dubinsky has shown a great deal of promise as a two-way centre in his first two seasons in the league. Neither side will benefit from a lengthy holdout, so expect a move to be made during training camp. Either the signing of a one year deal, or perhaps a trade out of town.
Player to watch:
While there will be lots of interest in seeing how Gaborik fits in with his new team and if Dubinsky and Marc Staal can take that next step in their bright careers or if fans will lighten up on Wade Redden; realistically speaking, every single set of eyes in the hockey world will be on Sean Avery once again - and that's exactly how he likes it.
Avery has had a limited shelf-life with any team he joined. While 'The Mouth' can be an extremely effective player on the ice, he can also wear out his welcome with teammates, coaches, management and fans very quickly. Avery was on his best behaviour in his return engagement on Broadway, but can only remain silent for so long. A leopard can't change its spots and Avery's history is well documented. At some point this season, chances are that he makes himself the centre of attention and annoys those around him.
When he is able to focus his energy on hockey it can be a very positive. Martin Brodeur would never admit it, but Avery completely took the NHL's winningest netminder off his game two seasons ago in the playoffs with his notorious stick-waving incident. The problems with Avery occur when he decides to adopt his 'heel' persona off the ice and gets into verbal sparring matches. Avery may be correct in his assessment that the NHL doesn't know how to market their superstars properly, but his own ham-fisted approach to guerrilla marketing isn't helping his own cause.
While there was no incident last season, could a confrontation with head coach John Tortorella be bubbling under the surface? While Tortorella famously declared his disdain for Avery on the NHL on TSN, the pair was able to avoid any real conflict in their short time together. If nothing else, a blowup between the two would be extremely entertaining from the outside looking in. Neither Avery nor Tortorella has ever met a microphone that they did not like. What happens off the ice may prove to be more interesting than what could transpire on it in New York this season.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
An offseason of change certainly gives the New York Rangers a new look. Given how ineffective they were offensively last season, any kind of change has to be considered positive.
The greatest potential for improvement comes as a result of signing electrifying winger Marian Gaborik. When healthy, Gaborik is a dynamic offensive force with unparalleled speed and natural finishing ability. Since the lockout, his .59 goals per game ranks second only to Alexander Ovechkin.
Of course, skill only tells part of Gaborik's story. Injuries have limited Gaborik to 207 games over the last four seasons, including just 17 games last season. If last year's hip surgery will, in fact, cure the ongoing groin problems that have plagued Gaborik, then he could have the opportunity to put up his point-per-game numbers while playing in 70-plus games -- a feat he's accomplished once in the last five seasons.