New York Rangers
By Andy Clendennen
The Sporting News
The thought of wearing Broadway Blue has lost whatever luster
remained, and that's evident from this offseason. Not only did the
Rangers miss out on every free agent they targeted, they couldn't
even make a trade for one of the game's best players.
Obviously, the best years of Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Mike
Richter are a long time gone.
So, if the Rangers knew what was good for them, they'd stop worrying
about signing the next Valeri Kamensky and instead start giving
playing time to some of the young up-and-comers.
Guys like Pavel Brendl. Manny Malhotra. Mike Mottau. Jamie Lundmark.
These players represent the future of the Rangers. It's painfully
obvious that the Rangers are headed to another season of missing the
playoffs (yes, it's safe to assume that even though the start of the
season is months away).
But the Rangers have never been ones to do things the way they should
be done. Instead, the bean-counters like having overpriced, over-the-
hill veterans try and pace the club. Yeah, that works real well.
It's time to come to the painful realization that this club is going
nowhere, and fast. The best thing to do would be to shuttle the high-
priced vets and prepare the youngsters for what could be a glorious
resurgence of the Broadway Blueshirts.
If only the front office lets them.
Unfortunately, not a lot. In ecent attempts at acquiring Keith
Tkachuk, Nikolai Khabibulin, Eric Lindros and Jaromir Jagr, the
Rangers have been slapped away like gnats. This team hasn't done
anything to improve itself, and it has had to watch just about every
other team in the conference (with the possible exception of the
Penguins) make significant moves to improve.
Richter's knee might as well be new, though. With two knee
reconstructions, Richter could literally be on his last legs -- which
is a large reason the team took goalie Dan Blackburn with the No. 10
overall pick in the draft. How Richter bounces back from his latest
reconstruction -- both physically and mentally, which has been
problematic for Richter in the past -- will greatly influence what
the Rangers do this season.
One intriguing new face on the Rangers will be that of Zdeno Ciger,
who hasn't played in the NHL since 1995-96, when he had 36 goals for
Edmonton. He's played overseas for the past five years, last season
suiting up in Slovakia. He obviously has skills, but how rusty those
will be in a return to the world's premier hockey league remains to
REASONS FOR HOPE
FOLLOW THE LEADERS: Any team with Messier and Leetch can't be all
that bad. Although Leetch never particularly was a bad player, he
enjoyed a career resurgence, at least from an offensive standpoint.
He had a team-high 79 points, his highest total since the 1995-96
season, when he had 85.
Messier is on the downside of a spectacular career, but maybe a
return to New York was just what he needed. He had 67 points --
paltry by his standards -- but it was his highest total since his
previous season in New York, 1996-97. Both of these guys have too
much pride to let the team wallow in mediocrity much longer.
REASONS TO WORRY
ADRIFT IN THE ATLANTIC: The Devils reached the Stanley Cup finals, so
they didn't need to do much. Philadelphia kept John LeClair, then
signed Jeremy Roenick and Eric Weinrich. The Islanders have Michael
Peca, Alexei Yashin, Adrian Aucoin and Garth Snow. The Rangers? They
did nothing. What makes anyone think the Rangers will improve upon
last year by just standing pat, while their division rivals all
PIPE DREAMS: Goaltending is in a seriously bad state right now. With
Richter one collision away from a wheelchair and Kirk McLean asked to
find gainful employment somewhere else, the Rangers are hurting.
Especially when considering that they gave up 290 goals last season --
and didn't bother improving their defense.
Messier must gear up for one more run. Although his tank is running
on empty, one of his proudest moments was helping the Rangers win the
Cup for the first time in 54 years. Now, although winning another Cup
is completely out of the question, he has to strap it on and get the
team back into the playoffs, if for nothing else than to show the
younger players how it's done for future reference.
Theo Fleury might hold the key to the team reaching the playoffs. Has
Fleury has exorcised the demons that ruined his season last spring?
He had 30 goals, 44 assists in 62 games before going into rehab for a
substance-abuse problem. If Fleury can return to form, at least the
offense will be in decent shape. But if he's in a funk -- as he's
been prone to do -- then the Rangers will be in more trouble than
they already are.
There's never been a rebuilding mode in the Rangers' itinerary. But
this is the time. If the team remains patient and smart, it will
bring young talent into the mix and continue to phase out under-
The problem is, how will fans react? Management must be strong and do
what it believes is right.
Andy Clendennen is an associate editor for The Sporting News.