Wednesday, July 9, 2008

New York Rangers: Better or Worse?

Alot of talk among Ranger fans is about whether this team will be better or worse than last year's team, which is a subject talked about by every sports fan of every team every year. 
But for the New York Rangers, things are much different. Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka, the leaders of the Czech movement in NY since before the lockout are both gone. Marek Malik is gone and Brendan Shanahan seems to be on his way out. Sean Avery has left for Dallas. The Rangers brought back Michal Rozsival and Paul Mara to help keep the defense solid. They added bottom 6 players Patrick Rissmiller and Aaron Voros along with Markus Naslund, Dmitri Kalinin, and Wade Redden through free agency. The trade of Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman to Columbus brought in Dan Fritsche and Nikolai Zherdev. 
In a nut shell, the Rangers trade Jagr, Straka, Malik, Shanahan, Tyutin, Backman, and Avery for Rissmiller, Voros, Naslund, Kalinin, Redden, Zherdev, and Fritsche. 
A big difference between these 2 groups is average age. Taking into account what the age of these players would be at the start of next season, the first group's average age is 32 while the 2nd group's average age is 29. This team is going the younger route which it should have started doing earlier on a larger scale.
The biggest difference, however, is going to be the style of play that the Rangers will play starting next year. Tom Renney is no longer handcuffed to catering to Jagr and building the whole offense around him. The slow, european style of play that Jagr and Straka brought to this team worked only to a certain point. Team game plans were to shutdown Jagr which in turn made it harder for the Rangers to produce offense. 
But with Jagr gone, Tom Renney can really open things up and have this team play like it should. A North-South game that is centered around speed and hard work. Scott Gomez and Chris Drury were brought in to be the new core up front that the team would build around. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi lead the younger corps of defensemen that will be making their way into the Ranger blue line at some point while Henrik Lundqvist anchors the whole team in net. 
The reason Scott Gomez and Jaromir Jagr didn't work was because of their conflicting styles. Gomez uses speed to break into the zone while Jagr likes to slow the play down. But with players like Naslund and Zherdev, Gomez and Drury's styles of play will be much more catered to. Other players such as Brandon Dubinsky, Nigel Dawes, Ryan Callahan, and Petr Prucha will all benefit from a run and gun style offense after being in Jagr's system for so long. They will be able to open up and really start to use their assets for the team. 
With even strength improving, the powerplay will improve. The Ranger powerplay was horrible last season. But with the addition of Redden on the point and Jagr gone, things will change. The whole system was based on Jagr. Sitting at games, I can't count the number of times Jagr's back was to me as he stood along the wall with the puck. Everything went through him. But now this team will focus more on Redden's quarter backing abilities and tough players like Chris Drury who are not afraid to go to the front of the net.
Tom Renney is a defense oriented guy and with players who will come back on defense and a new look blueline, this team is ready to defend. Chris Drury and Blair Betts are both great defensive forwards for the Rangers. Players like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky are both hardworking defenders. The days of watching Jagr slowly trudge back to the defensive zone are over. 
On the blueline, Michal Rozsival will have to get back to his good defensive game that has made him a good blue liner. Having Wade Redden focus on the offensive defenseman position will certainly help him focus more on his defense rather than his offense. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are both very sound defensemen who among the best last year. Marc Staal will look to improve on his defense and offense to a small degree. Paul Mara is a guy who isn't afraid to use his body to defend. His good defensive instincts coupled with his physicality will allow him to be a good bottom pairing defenseman that will make it difficult for teams to have their way along the boards in the Rangers defensive zone. Dmitri Kalinin had some suspect times in Buffalo but he has played very good defense before and a change of scenery for him will go a long way in making him play a smart defensive game. 
Overall, without Jagr, this team will become much more unpredictable to the other team. This will make it harder for the opposition to defend the Rangers and will allow more offense to be produced. Along with a better defensive corps, Henrik Lundqvist will be able to avoid that midseason slump that he always seems to run into. Things are certainly looking up for the Rangers whose future also looks very bright. But then again, this is the New York Rangers we are talking about. Who knows what will happen. 

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