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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Morning Musings: Evaluating the Broadway Blueshirts

(Note: Each morning as part of my Morning Musings, I write a small piece about questions/issues in the NHL. If you are just looking for the morning papers links, scroll down to the bottom of this entry, where they can be found every morning.)

It is hard not to garner attention when you sign two of the top unrestricted free agents available in early July. With the signings of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to long-term contracts in New York City, not only did the Rangers become a better team but, almost equally as important, they significantly worsened the chances of the Sabres and Devils, two teams they compete with in the Eastern Conference on an annual basis. Going into the 2007/08 season the Rangers go from being dark horse contenders to amongst the top three favorites in a very competitive conference.

Here are five questions people have about the 2007/08 version of the New York Rangers:

Is the team a shoe-in to win the Atlantic Division?

Absolutely not. In fact, it says here that the Rangers are the second best team in their own division behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have more forward depth through all four of their lines, are younger and, therefore, are more likely to be able sustain a high quality of play for the entire season. Whereas, the Rangers will most likely take some nights off in order for their veteran forwards to preserve themselves for the more important playoffs.

The Rangers signed all these free agents late in the 90's and it didn't do them any good, what reason do we have to think this time is different?

The primary difference between this summer's signings of Drury and Gomez as compared to past signings is not management, as Sather has been around for a while now, but rather the fact that Gomez and Drury are 27 and 31 respectively. In the past, players that the Rangers signed were at least 31 years of age because that was the minimum age for unrestricted free agency under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement. One of the perks the Players Association received for accepting a hard salary cap was the benefit of unrestricted free agency at a younger age. The Rangers have taken advantage of this new rule and have made themselves better without making their core significantly older.

Is Jaromir Jagr the most important player on the team?

With the copious amounts of offensive talent this team now possesses in Jagr, Straka, Gomez, Drury and Shanahan, Jagr is no longer the most important player on the team. Rather, that title goes to former Gold Medal Olympian Henrik Lundqvist. In my opinion, Lundqvist is the fourth best goaltender in the National Hockey League behind Luongo, Brodeur and Kiprusoff. His play this season will determine how far the Rangers can advance in the playoffs.

Is the team's defense good enough?

The Rangers leave much to be desired on the back end, however, the addition of youngster Marc Staal will help add speed, smarts and a good first pass to the Rangers' defense. If Michael Roszival can continue his stellar, and largely unheralded, play from a season ago, the team's defense will be a little bit better than people think. Toss in Mara, Malik, Tyutin and whomever wins the sixth starting spot and the Rangers, while not strong on defense, won't be as weak as they have been in the past few seasons.

Can the Rangers win the Cup?

After some premature talk of a Cup run last season, the Rangers are better equipped for a Stanley Cup run this year. They possess more team toughness, better penalty killers and overall skill than a season ago. So long as there are no consistent chemistry/leadership issues that cause the team to struggle, the Rangers should be able to contend for Lord Stanley's Cup in 2008. Considering that Jagr getting up there in age, and is entering the final year of his contract, this may be the team's best chance for a while.

On to the morning papers:

Ballhype: hype it up!

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