So much emphasis was put on the free agent extravaganza over the summer, when the Rangers seemingly signed two players that would put them over the top. Scott Gomez had tormented the team from across the Hudson with the New Jersey Devils and of course Chris Drury who squashed Rangers Stanley Cup hopes with a last second goal in last year's playoff series against the Buffalo Sabres. It was predicted immediately after the signing, Gomez would get Jaromir Jagr back to 50 goal prominence and Drury would center a strong second line with Brendan Shanahan on his flank.
Questions arose about whether Jagr could play with Gomez the way he played with countryman Michael Nylander. The 34 year old former line mate bolted for Washington, leaving Jagr to find new chemistry. Gomez is faster, younger, stronger, has won more and is entering his prime years while Nylander is entering the twilight of his career. The move was a no brainer right? As long as Jagr can play with Gomez and they can rule the league together, everything would be awesome in Ranger land. As the first game of the new season approaches, we learn that Gomez might be lifted from the first line and placed on the second with Shanahan and Sean Avery and Drury will center a line with Jagr and Martin Straka on his wings.
Even before the Rangers take the ice for the first time in the regular season; this can be viewed as a failed experiment. Gomez's sole purpose for coming to the Rangers was to secure the first line center position for at least the next five seasons and for the immediate future, play with Jagr and lead this team to a Stanley Cup. Are we to believe that suddenly the chemistry that didn't develop with Gomez and Jagr during training camp can immediately be developed with Drury?
The Rangers have been less than impressive during the preseason. Maybe they finished strong, but what fans have anticipated all summer hasn't happened, at least not right away. From a coaching perspective this would be an excellent move by Tom Renney. Obviously he saw something that wasn't right with Gomez and Jagr and might not feel comfortable starting the season with the two players on the same line. Renney knows that if both Gomez and Jagr get off to a slow start, the pressure on the two of them might cause them both to press and make mistakes. Instead Renney can go with the steady hand. Drury doesn't make too many mistakes and will let Jagr control the momentum of the top line. While this is not the result he wanted, Renney is looking out for the team's success and confidence first. Since Shanahan can play with just about anyone, Gomez can get off to a quicker start playing with the veteran instead of continuing to struggle with Jagr.
Still, if Gomez does not play with Jagr this year and Nylander goes on to record 50 assists with Alexander Ovechkin reaching a career high in goals; critics will question the move to bring in Gomez, when they had a combo that worked so well. Jagr and Nylander might not have been the best of friends off the ice, word is they never really took to each other in the locker room, but on the ice there was a chemistry that can take other players years to create. Whether it's paintballing with West Point cadets or a night out on the town, Gomez has to find a way to get the big guy to feel good about playing with him. After all, this is Jagr's team, if you can't play with him you won't be here for long. Just ask Aaron Ward.
Marc Staal has made the team's roster. Look for the rookie to start with veteran Paul Mara. This should be a strong pairing even though Mara will be switching sides to keep Staal comfortable. Staal gives the Rangers added strength and consistency that you won't get from Thomas Pock. Jason Strudwick also made the team due in part to his strong play with Staal in training camp. Renney likes the way Staal and Strudwick play together, if the Rangers decided to dump salary and trade Mara during the season, look for that pairing to be reunited.