The popular mindset during this offseason is to be skeptical of the moves, or lackthereof, made by Glen Sather and the New York Rangers. The Rangers were a solid team that had made the playoffs for three straight years while maintaining a core of veteran players. When Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka and Brendan Shanahan did not re-sign with the club for the fourth post-lockout season, it seemed to many that the Rangers had lost the heart and soul of their team and that there would be nobody to carry them deep into the playoffs. If you add sparkplug Sean Avery to the list of departing key players, the offseason losses seem too much to handle. What people who do not intensively follow the Rangers seem to miss is that in the 2007-2008, while the four players certainly played big roles, they were not relied on as heavily as in previous years.
Jagr exploded during the late season and the first round of the playoffs, but during the first 60 games, he was more a liability than an asset. When a player gets around 35 goals and 100 points, it is easy to disregard his shortcomings. however, the aging Jagr not only had one of the worst seasons of his career, but also hurt the chemistry and success of the Rangers. Putting aside his poor defensive play and his inconsistant effort, Jagr did not allow Scott Gomez and Chris Drury to fill the one-two center positions as fans, management and talent level suggested. Instead, the finicky Jagr could only fit with rookie center Brandon Dubinsky who is certainly a talented player, but is not yet on the level of the newly acquired centers. By simply analyzing the top line center of playoff teams, it is clear that Dubinsky was the least productive in the regular season. Though there are no doubts to his skill and potential, it is tough for such a player to line up against a Crosby or Zetterberg with the season on the line. With Jagr now gone, the team has a better chance of "clicking." Drury and Gomez can lead the team at center while Dubinsky can give great depth to a 3rd line, and not vice versa.
Martin Straka and Brendan Shanahan were first and foremost the leaders of the team. They both had slow years and also seemed to feel the effects of age. With Straka leaving the NHL and Shanahan likely to hang up the skates, it is clear that there careers were at their low points. Like Jagr, they did contribute to the team but were not heavily relied upon like they had been in prior seasons. This is just a tribute to the progress the Rangers organization has made since the lockout when they initially were carried by one or two players but eventually grew and many others contributed to carry the load. Petr Prucha, Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal are just a few of the new faces who have stepped up to help carry the team and, now that Straka and Shanahan are gone, are capable of playing more important roles.
If any loss will be felt the most, it is the departure of Sean Avery. A feud between Avery and Sather that most likely took root during Avery's very public arbitration did no good in helping the two parties come to a contract agreement. Not only does the Rangers' record "with Avery" versus "without Avery" portray his importance, but his oft overlooked offensive ability combined with his agitating effectiveness was clearly a big factor in the past 1 1/2 seasons. However, Avery also brought baggage to the table. His competitive style of play had a downside and he often straddled the line of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. No doubt he will be missed sorely but his loss also solves some problems as well.
The replacements of the four offenseman are questionable as well. Markus Naslund has been inconsistant and is on the downside of his career, Nikolai Zherdev has not yet reached the level that is expected of him and Wade Redden seems to fluctuate between an all star and a basket case. However, with Gomez and Drury now at the helm of the offense and the young core expected to step up even more this season, it is very likely that the new three will have solid seasons. Even in the worst case scenario, it is difficult to imagine that the offense will be as pitiful as it was last season when the team were the one of bottom feeders in goals scored. So yes, they are different than they were last year. But diffenrent is not always bad. They are much younger - only Redden, Naslund and Drury are over 30 - and if the team is not successful this year, they will be together for many years to come. The already solid defense has improved even more and many needs, such as power play quarterback, have been filled. This was not an offseason of signing Drury and Gomez and losing almost nobody. It was an offseason of tweaking and transitioning. Needs were filled, aging players were replaced with younger ones and all in all, the Rangers completed a process of young to old that costs most teams more time and competitive abilty than it did in this instance.
The core of the New York Rangers has not been replaced. What was replaced was the core of yesterday, and what has been added to today's core of is the core of the tomorrow.
Coming up soon: Welcome to New York- A breakdown of each new Broadway Blueshirt.