2007-08 Team Preview: New York Rangers
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The Starting Line
By Scott BurnsideFor a brief moment on July 1, it seemed as though the hockey clock had been turned back and the New York Rangers were in the midst of one of their vaunted free-agent spending sprees. But times have changed, so the Rangers' acquisition of centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury isn't about having a bigger checkbook, just bigger vision (and money to support that vision). After bowing out to Drury's Buffalo Sabres in the second round of the playoffs -- a series that turned on Drury's tying goal with fewer than eight seconds left in Game 5 -- the Rangers filled what was a significant void down the middle by bringing in two of the top three free-agent centers available. The moves do not guarantee the Rangers a trip to the finals for the first time since their 1994 Cup win, but the Rangers have justifiably set their sights high this season. OFFENSE
By signing Drury and Gomez, GM Glen Sather had to let Michael Nylander fly the coop (the Swedish pivot is now in Washington), which means one of the new guys will be responsible for getting Jaromir Jagr the puck. The pressure will be on because Nylander and Jagr had terrific chemistry, combining for 381 points in the two seasons since the lockout. Let's assume Gomez and Jagr manage to find the net a few times; the real bonus for the Rangers should be in the pairing of Drury and Brendan Shanahan, who returns after a 29-goal campaign in his first season as a Ranger but struggled to score five-on-five. Throw in Petr Prucha, Martin Straka and Sean Avery, and the Rangers will be able to light it up with any team in the conference. DEFENSE
OK, so no team is perfect, and if there are question marks surrounding the Rangers' ability to make the jump to Cup contender, they are focused on the blue-line corps. The Rangers were the ninth-ranked team in goals-against last season, so there isn't a whole lot wrong with coach Tom Renney's game plan. But it is a group that lacks identity, remindful of the group that won a Cup two seasons ago in Carolina. No one believed that group could win a Cup, either. Michal Rozsival is the leader of the Rangers' blue-line group, in ice time (23:46 last season) and in point production (40 points). Paul Mara, who came over in a deal with Boston for Aaron Ward at the trade deadline, should see his production increase (he had 47 points for Phoenix two seasons ago), and that will help a group that hasn't been all that productive offensively. Fedor Tyutin missed 16 games last season to injury, and he must get back on the track that had him pegged as the Blueshirts' blue-line anchor of the future. Marc Staal of the ubiquitous Staal clan will make a case for a place on the big club; at 6-foot-4 and 204 pounds, he may yet be the physical big man the Rangers have been looking for in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist. GOALTENDING
Well, we guess Lundqvist is the real deal after all. After a sluggish start to last season, the sophomore netminder -- known to the legion of Rangers fans as King Henrik -- lit it up, turning in a 1.89 goals-against average and .929 save percentage over his last 44 games. Lundqvist was equally good in the playoffs as the Rangers swept Atlanta, then bowed out to Buffalo in a six-game series, turning in a 2.15 GAA and .921 save percentage. A Vezina Trophy nominee for the second straight season, Lundqvist gives the Rangers the kind of elite goaltending that will be needed to return to the Cup finals. So confident are the Rangers that Lundqvist has the mental makeup required for such a challenge, they will leave the backup duties to journeyman Stephen Valiquette or prospect Al Montoya. That thinking might change come trade-deadline time, but regardless, this is Lundqvist's ship. COACHING
When Renney took over as the Rangers' coach in the summer of 2004, the main question dogging him was whether he would be able to get maximum production out of Jagr while simultaneously implementing the kind of work ethic and defensive scheme needed to succeed in the NHL (something the team was missing for most of the past decade). Two years in, Renney gets full marks on both sides of the equation. Jagr has been exemplary, and the Rangers have, for the most part, been a very difficult team to play against. Renney has managed to balance the skilled element of his lineup by giving forwards Ryan Callahan and Ryan Hollweg and defenseman Dan Girardi valuable experience in limited roles. With the addition of Drury and Gomez, Renney has more tools at his disposal than ever. One imagines that shouldn't be a problem. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
NEW YORK RANGERS
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• Search: Rangers LAST-SEASON REVIEW
• Record: 42-30-10
• Division: Third in the Atlantic
• Conference: Sixth in the East
• Playoffs: Ousted in the second round by Buffalo
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The question for the Rangers is whether to give the sixth overall pick from 2004 another year of seasoning at the AHL level or give him a taste of NHL life as Lundqvist's backup. Montoya was 27-17 with six shutouts for the Rangers' AHL affiliate last season. Defenseman: Daniel Girardi
The undrafted native of Welland, Ontario, appeared in all 10 Rangers playoff games, averaging an impressive 19:51 a night in ice time. Forward: Scott Gomez
Everyone assumes playing in a more offensive system will lead to an offensive explosion for the longtime Devil. But Gomez has hit the 20-goal mark just once in his career.
MORE FROM BURNSIDEBuzz Cut
Late in the offseason, it looked as though the Rangers were going to add another center in the form of veteran checking specialist Michael Peca, but he signed with Columbus. That's not to say the Rangers don't need a player of Peca's pedigree. They might. And given that the Jackets aren't going anywhere near the playoffs come trade-deadline time, it's not a stretch to suggest Peca still could end up in Gotham. Where Rangers Will Finish
The Rangers will finish first in the Atlantic Division and first in the Eastern Conference.
SPORTSNATIONWhere do you think the New York Rangers will finish this time around? Who will lead the Rangers in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench? Vote now!