Can you stand it? Does anything else today and over the weekend matter?
One more day until our season opens in Buffalo, so that means it's that time of year when our contributing writers of DARK pick apart and answer ten questions about the New York Rangers. J Undisputed, Tony V (Graying Mantis) and TDR do our best to answer some of the questions you emailed us during the off-season. Let's get started.
1. What do you think of the New Blueshirts?
J: The first step toward a good stride. After so many years of hemming and hawing... and tip toeing around the idea of scrapping and then building a young team, it seems like we finally hit the bottom. Falling out of the money tree and hitting every branch on the way down in terms of veterans that were priced too high and well past their prime has taken its toll on us and hasn't come without consequences. At least now we've exhausted all those other options and will start building like we should have. Taking a cue from all the teams that have become the darlings of the league and joined uncle Gary's collection of Skidmark Sid, Ovie the knee-capper and the other untouchables... This can be that year for us... a mix of kids brought along by a key veteran or two... a knuckle-dragging deterrent... this could be the first step of our 2 -3 season running start toward a cup.
TV: I am much more excited about this team than last year's version for sure. I like the infusion of youth and management's efforts to get rid of the overpaid/underperforming players. I am not sold on Tortorella yet and I worry that he will not develop the youngsters properly or exercise patience. Still, I did like his candor during the preseason discussing players and even pouring out some compliments. He was spot on with his observations about players and what they need to do after last season.
TDR: Maybe I am naive, but I am beginning to see a bit of a power shift in terms of management. I agree with Tony V above that most of last season's garbage has been either traded or waived (Redden), but I take a different approach on the state of Tortorella. Torts has had a bigger influence in sculpting the team than former coach Tom Renney ever had in years past, something Glen Sather would never have allowed in any previous seasons -- perhaps Slats acknowledges the sins of his past. The two-way Torts system worked for the first 1/4 of last season and burnt out, when most of the players were not physically able to keep up with what was demanded of them. This year, the message was loud and clear. Skate or Die! (or go to Hartford in other words). All in all, I like this team especially if they win. If they don't win, then I don't like the new Blueshirts. How's that for committed?
2. What will the fans most like?
J: Depending on how tight the reigns are held. The Boogeyman has potential to be a fan favorite. Avery's antics sprinkled loosely for some flavor. It will be a nice to watch Stepan get progressively better over time and carve out his niche. By far, I think the crowd will love Gabby on the power play. He's on fire so far.
TV: The overall development of the youngsters -- DelZotto, Gilroy, Stepan, etc. I think fans will come to appreciate the effort (even the mistakes) and the overall rise in athleticism and speed on the team. I don't think this team will be mistaken (offensively or defensively) for Renney's Rangers.
TDR: Aside from dirty hot dogs & stale Garden beer? I'd have to go with 'J' on this one and call it like I see it. Derek Boogaard. The Boogeyman will rock The Garden. Unfortunately we'll all have to wait for a week from today at the home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs (as of today undefeated.....go Leafs! Ha!) when John Tortorella puts The Boogeyman in the starting lineup, right next to former NYR enforcer Colton Orr and let's the fists flying. THAT, will win over the Garden. THAT, is what the fans most like.
3. What can we expect Saturday night vs. Buffalo
J: I'd look for wobbly legs as the season starts and the rosters and finalized for most teams. Lindy Ruff and the team isn't void of talent, and it isn't about giving a free pass to our youngsters without mucking it up a little bit. I'd day next Friday is where the magic starts for the team. Being announced in front of the garden crowd for the first home game and being anointed by the Ranger faithful, should bring some butterflies and some nerve to the new guys.
TV: Ruff always seems to have a way to mess up whatever momentum the Rangers build up. Here, the Rangers did not look good on defense during preseason and they may be susceptible to the steady forecheck tactics that Ruff likes to employ. This may be a good game to see how much more tightening the defense needs. You cannot complain about a matchup between Henrik & Ryan Miller for opening night.
TDR: Nothing like opening our season against AMERICA'S Home-Grown Goalie Hero, Ryan Miller! I agree with Tony V, this bout is a battle of two elite goalies and the true test is how well we hold up on defense. I do think it will be an extremely physical game, as the Rangers want to prove to themselves and the fans that they won't take it anymore -- not altogether different than when we played the Devils in Newark, I think every stoppage of play will be an opportunity to get physical. Both teams have to overcome their pasts, and after our beating Buffalo 4-2 tomorrow night (my prediction) I think the Blueshirts will build a confidence within themselves and attempt to improve during these early games.
|Is Kasparitus the Chosen One? NOT.|
J: Aside from Gaborik, I'm going to say Fedotenko. He has multiple purposes on this team, lined up with Avery, he serves as a calming influence, he can be pretty defensive on the back check too, in addition to chipping in a goal or two. Bringing up the rear and I can't believe I'm saying this... I'll go with Boyle. He'll have his share of streaks here and there and then Torts will try to move him up and that will kill the momentum.
TV: Frolov -- he has to be more consistent and better than Prospal who disappeared during the last several weeks of the season.
TDR: Gaborik simply. Aside from his expected output, I think the key player this season will be Michael Del Zotto in his second year. This is his year. Our once rookie D-man had a great first year, with the exception of his +/- , but I believe Torts is firming up his defense and will be the key to our hopefully much improved power play unit.
5. Concerned with the number of goals scored on both Lundqvist and Biron during pre-season?
J: It was the preseason, half those kids that scored on us could be on their way back to the farm for whatever reason. Granted, who knows what will happen without Wade to protect our goalie, clear the crease and break up those odd man rushes.... but i think we'll manage to come together. Our defensive troubles this season will stem more from the growing pains. Enough that the Roszival gaffes will seem minimal. I'm still not all that high on Girardi though.
TV: Wow, after watching Biron, I wanted Auld back and fast. I hate to think that not resigning him may be something that ends up hurting the team. I am worried about Henrik. He has spent a lot of time in net the past few seasons. Roszival looks like he has finally healed from his hip problems. There will be many growing pains on the back line but as the season progresses, I think we will be pleasantly surprised. I expect Del Zotto, Gilroy, Staal and Girardi to show significant improvement simply because defensemen tend to improve later.
TDR: I am concerned about both of their performances. But I'll shrug the pre-season off because it doesn't count. But if the pre-season was any foreshadowing of what's ahead....then it's over. Our defensive lines are still missing a stud and overwhelmingly overcompensated by THE KING Lundqvist in goal over the last two seasons. Though Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have grown over the years, they still don't have the menacing presence of a Pronger or Chara on the blueline. Though, with Redden out of the lineup, we do have those fresh new faces protecting our greatest goalie asset -- and hopefully they'll shine.
6. Impressed with the rookies?
J: - Stepan has been the most impressive so far.
- I like Valenchenko's attitude but I worry about him in deep water, so some time on the farm wouldn't hurt.
- Sauer hasn't impressed me all that much (UPDATE...released to Hartford), he had a good couple of games but it doesn't seem like anything hes been working up to. He stepped up this year and that great but how long it will last is anyone's guess.
- Changaev didn't really look solid enough on his skates to stand out.
TV: Stepan was indeed impressive. Valenchecko also looked good. No one else really stood out in my mind.
TDR: I agree with everyone above. Stepan played with confidence and adjusted to wherever the hell Tortorella placed him. He's adaptable, but is he dependable? I think so.
|One of my favorite moments in hockey. This gesture created his own NHL rule. Sean Avery's lesson on how to build a legacy|
J: I think that depends on the rest of the team. The thing with Avery is he seemed to be a catalyst for the team in the beginning and then for a short while when he came back. Its a well we've gone to too many times. Avery being Avery when he was in Detroit was rather fruitful, because they had a coach that could deal with it and team to back it up. The other members played hockey and Avery did his job as a distraction. Bowman put Avery in a separate room down the hall from the other players in the lockeroom. In NY its a different story. Leave it up to the team and its the Avery attitude with no scoring back up.. all flash and no cash. Leave it up to Torts and Avery is muted while everyone else tries to remember what game their playing. Avery is a player that will irritate you on the ice and draw your attention from your duty of covering his teammates. Its when players try to ignore him and pay no attention, that he can sneak in that goal scoring.
TV: As last season progressed, the refs finally took all their eyes off Sean and he became more of a presence until another season-ending injury appeared. That's what I worry about most. He did come into camp in terrific shape so that is a plus. I hope he understands that producing offensively is necessary because the team needs scoring from all over to succeed. He also surprises you with some of his skating and especially passing skills. He needs to be a more complete player to avoid Tortorella's wrath and maximize minutes. I think he is headed in that direction this season.
TDR: For two seasons in a row during camp, Sean Avery has been one of the most hard-working, fastest skating guys out there. During the season, he tends to become invisible and then occasionally surprises us. His pre-season was impressive, but what always remains is the fact that John Tortorella doesn't like the guy. Sean's antics don't fit into the Torts system. Sean has a talent. He has the ability to get underneath everyone else's skin at any moment - this is why the fans love him. He also happens to be a good hockey player. But in order for Sean Avery to be effective, he needs to be both good hockey player and agitator and I'm afraid Torts wants him to only be one of those things. This is not Sean Avery's year.
|The Hartford Whale. That's Wade Redden inside that costume pretending to be "business as usual"|
J: Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I'm not falling for the smoke and mirrors anymore. Impressive would have been not to screw up in the first place. Already Souray's name was mentioned now that he was placed on waivers. That would be recreating the whole situation all over again. even half of top dollar for a big d-man that can't defend and has had a major concussion is too much to pay for a booming shot from the point.
TV: Let's hope they resist the temptation for picking up players like Souray. Management did a good job in getting rid of the chaff like Brashear and Redden. They were savvy in getting Frolov and Fedotenko. Both appear to be hungry and in good shape. If they can maintain a high level of play, they will help remove the lingering stench of the Gomez disaster.
TDR: Torts is ACTION JACKSON and is putting forth this 'play well or be benched' mentality. This led to Redden moving north. As inevitable as it was, I am actually surprised that MSG was willing to bury $23 million in the minors, perhaps thinking he would refuse to show up which would have made the contract null and void. So there you have it, the Six Million Dollar Man playing in the AHL. Unfortunately, we are going to see many, many more inflated bloated contracts throughout the NHL being buried into the minors over the next couple of seasons for the same reasons. Though, what happens when Whale management want to take Redden out of their lineup? Just askin...
|Welcome To Rangers Fight Camp, folks!|
J: It remains to be seen how much he's allowed to do his job. While he's looked like a penalty machine and all the refs have painted a target on him the minute he put on the blue jersey, much of it is all political bull that's further watering down the game. Not that I am advocating it (especially to any young readers that might be following) but the hack to Chris Niel's nether regions fit the bill. Its an ugly side of the game and it happens, especially when you cross check a defensemen we spent the whole summer trying to sign after he's scored a goal. Boogey needs to have the support of his coach and his team if he's to be an effective deterrent to guys like Carcillo, Niel, Rutuu, etc. I'd watch this guy for an injury though. Call it a feeling/hunch.
TV: I think keeping Shelley would have been better. Boogaard will be a necessary deterrent and sometimes the team will just have to kill the penalties he incurs. This is our version of Dave Schultz and he was an important cog on the Flyers for those of us lucky enough to watch the original (Broad Street) Bullies. But the team has more of an edge with Boogey and Prust and Avery on skates. What would be nice is to have a banger on defense.
TDR: John Tortorella is on crack if he thinks Derek Boogaard at 6'8" and 270 lbs will be able to keep up with his system. It's just not going to happen. He will play the same number of minutes that he did for six years in Minnesota (Wild), which is 6-7 minutes a game and The Garden will love him for it. This acquisition was made first by Marian Gaborik's request and secondly a demand for a tougher looking team. Yeah, we overpaid for the guy. That being said, he is a monster...or Bull for that matter.
|Note that this was not last year...Ah, the good 'ole days.|
J: I think we will, whether or not we'll go far is another story. it depends on how steep the learning curve is for the kiddies we have aboard this year.
TV: I think the team will sneak in at 8th or 7th. Depending on the team's overall health at playoff time (i.e., Gaborik and Henrik still be sharp and overall ok), it is difficult to expect them to succeed but last year's playoff upsets do give one hope.
TDR: Look for a Rozzy trade after the New Year, along with a couple of the Hartford prospects in a deal similar to what Philadelphia did to get Chris Pronger. I have a feeling that Sather is throwing the proverbial kitchen trading sink this year and will use his Sith-Gomez-expunging powers to find that stud on the blueline. The Rangers will definitely make the playoffs as the 6th seed in the East, #3 in the Atlantic Division. Let's Go Rangers!!!!
Let us know what you think....
Until then, see you tomorrow night.
J_Undisputed, Graying Mantis & The Dark Ranger