Everyone’s favorite roto-league GM, New York Rangers boss Glen Sather, now has his hands tied due in part to the salary cap in the new CBA. I sense that many of the league’s other team owners are quite happy about this, as the Rangers have been notorious for overspending for every player they signed, indirectly driving up the cost of salaries league wide. Sather is not the only person to blame for this, as his predecessors were equally guilty. Tom Renney will be the new team’s coach, and his presence on the players has already been felt. His training camp regimen included highly unorthodox, military style team-building exercises, including pulling a Humvee a quarter mile up hill, rappelling mountains, crossing through swamps, and carrying 400 pound boats over another quarter mile stretch. Renney’s objective of instilling a solid work ethic may be just what this team will need to stay competitive over the next 9 months.
This season’s Rangers squad has had a significant face lift to it. Gone is their captain, Mark Messier, stalwart defenseman Brian Leetch, and forwards Eric Lindros, Alexei Kovalev, Bobby Holik, as well as many other players. This group will be led by star right winger Jaromir Jagr, who still remains one of the top 3 talented forwards in the NHL. Whether Jagr will be motivated enough to play at his top level is the Rangers biggest question to start this season. His likely centreman will be Michael Nylander, a good 2-way player, and oft-injured left winger Martin Straka, a former line mate of Jagr’s from their stay in Pittsburgh. Steve Rucchin, another good two way player will centre the second line, and expects to be flanked by veteran winger Martin Rucinsky and possibly former Hab Marcel Hossa. The 3rd and 4th lines are a little difficult to predict, but it’s possible they will consist of Blair Betts centering Jed Ortmeyer and Petr Prucha, followed by Jamie Lundmark, Jason Ward and Ryan Hollweg or Dominic Moore, respectively. Look for offensively oriented Prucha to challenge for a top 2 line position should Hossa falter. Younger players such as Lundmark and Ward will also be chomping at the bit for extended ice time should the opportunity arise.
Defenseman Tom Poti will be the go to guy, possibly logging 25 minutes or more each game. His partner will be hulking veteran Marek Malik. The second pairing is likely to include small but dirty Darius Kasparatis, along with fellow Russian Fedor Tyutin. The third defensive pair will include Michal Rozsival and either Jason Strudwick or rookie Maxim Kondratiev. Enforcer defenseman Dale Purinton will start the season with a 10 game suspension, due to an eye gouging incident against the Bruins.
The Rangers starting goalie will be Kevin Weekes, a much underrated net minder. His backup will be Henrik Lundqvist, a Swedish prospect the Rangers have waited five years to see; they drafted him back in 2000.
This team has its work cut out for them given their injury prone players and lack of offensive production beyond the first line. Sather & Renney have to keep Jagr happy yet hungry for the team to succeed. The team includes a fair number of fellow Czechs (Straka, Rucinsky, Rozsival, and Prucha) to keep Jaromir from becoming homesick. If they can approach each game with a high level of effort from every member, then they may be able to contend for the last playoff position in the eastern conference. Otherwise, it will seem like a long season, while the New York media use the term “rebuilding” very liberally.
Probable Forward Lines [LW-C-RW]:
Straka – Nylander – Jagr
Rucinsky – Rucchin – Hossa
Ortmeyer – Betts – Prucha
Hollweg/Moore – Lundmark – Ward
Probabe Defensive Pairings:
Poti – Malik
Kasparaitis – Tyutin
Rozsival – Strudwick/Kondratiev
Probable Starting Goalie:
Scratches: Ville Nieminen [injury], Dale Purinton [10 game suspension], Henrik Lundqvist [G]
The Canadiens started off the season with a narrow 2-1 win over the Bruins; Michael Ryder scored the game winner with only 12 seconds left to play….Richard Zednick had to leave the game early with a groin injury; Tomas Plekanec was the benefactor of his absence, being bumped up to the top line and not looking out of place…..The Rangers also won their first game, scoring an impressive 4 unanswered goals, to finish with a 5-3 final; Jagr lead the way with 2 goals and an assist, and former Hab Marcel Hossa also potted a goal.