(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:
- Dave Shoalts of the Globe & Mail details all the questions surrounding the Maple Leafs heading into the season.
- The best hockey writer on the planet, Eric Duhatschek, writes about Mike Keenan and the expectations that go with playing for Iron Mike. (Writer's note: To say it is going to be an entertaining year in Calgary would be an understatement)
- While Kevin Allen of the USA tells us about Blues' rookie defenseman Erik Johnson and the ups and downs that come with playing defense in the NHL as a teenager.
- Ray Emery was on the ice yesterday for the Sens, and is hoping to play in two or three exhibition games before the real games begin.
- If Christoph Schubert moves back to defense as expected, there is an open spot up for grabs with the Sens' forwards and Nick Foligno thinks that spot can be his. If he makes the team out of camp, his grit would provide some necessary jam to the team's forward corps.
- The Flyers' Mike Rathje unexpectedly showed up at training camp and if he were to make the team, he would put the Flyers over the cap. The team already has Denis Gauthier, Randy Jones and Alex Picard fighting for the last spot available on the team's defense. Never mind the training camp invite given to former Canuck Rory Fitzpatrick. Expect this Rathje situation to be ironed out soon rather than later.
- The Coyotes have signed Dave Spina to an AHL contract and he is hoping to become the first ever player from Arizona to make the NHL.
- Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News has the story of a nervous Logan Couture arriving at San Jose's training camp and lining up alongside players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Looks like the Sharks have a keeper in Couture.
- Dustin Jeffrey impressed Penguins' management so much in the rookie tournament that he was given an invite to the team's main camp in order to give management a longer look at him writes Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Brad Richards is trying his best to forget his 2006/07 season and the Bolts have him lining up with Jan Hlavac (Writer's note: Oh boy. Hlavac=40 goal speed, 15 goal hands) and Michel Ouellet in order to improve on last season's poor output.
- Damien Cox tells us what Doug Gilmour will be doing this season, and it appears there isn't as much dressing and undressing as there was when he was a player.
- Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun breaks down the Leafs by position in order to determine who will be fighting for work this training camp and who already has a job.
- Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun has an interesting piece this morning on the parallels in the careers of Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph.
- In other news, the Leafs have signed defenseman Bryan Muir. (Writer's note: If he cracks the Leafs' starting defense, then some Leaf fans will be resorting to crack use).
- The Canucks' best prospect in a number of years just happens to play the same position as the best player to lace up skates in Vancouver, arguably ever. Nonetheless, Cory Schneider has a positive attitude going into training camp with his eye on the an NHL job.
- The Manitoba Moose's top forward from a year ago, Jason Jaffray, will be at Canucks' camp competing for a job and is hoping to make a lasting impression on the Canucks' coaches. Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun has the story.
- Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province reports that off-season acquisition Aaron Miller will only be out of the team's lineup for two weeks after undergoing abdominal surgery.
- Karl Alzner is attending Capitals' training camp and management is not closing the door on the possibility he will make the team out of camp. If the youngster plays as well as he did at the Super Series it will be hard to keep him off the NHL roster.
- Randy Youngman of the Orange County Register has a nice piece on Todd Marchant and his path to the NHL.
- The Thrashers will be naming a captain in the next few days and Craig Custance of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is convinced Bobby Holik will get the patch.
- If Marian Hossa tells the Thrashers he wants to sign contract, all signs (no pun intended) point to a three to four year deal in the $28-30 million range.
- Kevin Paul Dupont informs us of Patrice Bergeron's off-season workout plan and his expectations for an improved 2007/08.
- Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald has a realistic article on what the Bruins need to happen in order to make the post-season.
- Tim Graham of the Buffalo News writes about the Sabres' new uniforms. (Writer's note: Has this become an annual event in Buffalo?)
- After an impressive Super Series, Leland Irving is arriving at Flames' camp with high expectations. In the period he did play at Flames' camp, Mike Keenan was impressed by his play.
- The Blue Jackets' rookies failed to win the rookie tournament for the third consecutive year. Aaron Portzline has the story.
- Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News details the struggles of Stars' rookies in the prospects tournament.
- The Red Wings are looking to improve their offense from within the organization writes George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press.
- Rob Blake is looking forward to 2007/08 after the Kings impressed him with their off-season moves.
- Toronto Sun writer Mike Zeisberger does his best to rub it in the faces of Habs' fans that they didn't sign Daniel Briere this off-season.
- After all that has gone on in Nashville, the team has announced an increase in ticket prices. (Writer's note: Damn the NHL is smooth)
- Just because there are not a lot of job openings, doesn't mean there is a lack of competition at Habs' training camp writes Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette.