As we work our way though to this week of Ranger review/preview, it is time for the part that is going to cause most of the arguments among Ranger fans what to do with several of the forwards. Some of the choices are simple and some are not just like it was with the blueline so without further ado.
We think it is best to start with those who are already under contract and are sure bets for the return starting with the newest member of Team USA Brandon Dubinsky (yes we are very proud of this). We start with him because we have to acknowledge our own bias due to our respect for his father but we believe all of our bias has been validated by the play of Brandon.
We told readers of the Blueshirt Bulletin that this was a player and Brandon more than delivered. We expect that he will break the 20 goal barrier next season and prove that it was more than being with Jagr that made him an NHL player.
Ryan Callahan worried us when he first got hurt and then lost his game along with his confidence during the early part of the season. Tom Renney made a huge mistake not sending Callahan to Hartford sooner as we believe had they sent Callahan down in December then it would have greatly helped both player and team.
In our eyes overall while Jagr scored the points no other Ranger forward played a better 2 way game in the playoffs than Callahan. In our eyes Callahan's shorthanded goal against the Devils set the tone for the Ranger series win. We think Callahan can become a solid 2 way player, a 20 goal scorer but also a playoff contributor ala Glen Anderson was for the Oilers and then Rangers.
We would like a tad more muscle on his frame during the offseason though.
Nigel Dawes fueled many a spat on the message boards but when all was said and done; Dawes proved that he belonged in the NHL and we expect much more from him next season. While people think Dawes is a goal scorer we have repeatedly held to the belief that Dawes is the Rangers best pure playmaker.
His passing skills are vastly underrated and next season the idea of Dawes with Drury and Callahan for a full season excites us a lot. The Rangers will need Dawes to double both his goals and assists next season, a challenge that we believe Dawes is more than up for.
We might as well also address the center of that line Chris Drury as we were disappointed with his lack of production in the playoffs and a bit disappointed that he dropped to 25 goals. For the Rangers to show forward progress next season Chris Drury needs score at least 30, a number we think is fair given how much the Rangers are paying him.
We believe having linemates for an entire season will help Drury by giving him a stability that he lacked because it seemed as if Drury was changing linemates on a daily basis. Drury also needs to step up as a team leader whether or not Jagr returns as the Rangers are not paying him star money they are paying him superstar pay and he needs to produce at that price.
Scott Gomez is in the same boat as Drury as while for most of the season Gomez was the Rangers best forward at the same time, Gomez too needs to step up his game mainly on the goal scoring end of it.
Yes 54 assists are nice but between Drury and Gomez, the Ranger fans have a right to expect that both score no less than 30 goals for what they are being paid. The highest paid players on the team should produce the highest goals and points as well.
Those were the easy ones and now we have to start making some tough calls so why not start with Blair Betts the checking center. We prefer to call him the checking center because this is another error by the Ranger coaching staff who repeatedly referred to the Betts line as the 4th line despite the players on that line being the more traditional checking line.
Because of that Betts took a lot of abuse that he did not deserve from Ranger fans who harped on his ice time and lack of scoring while forgetting that Bett's role was to stop the other team's best scorer. We think he did a solid job but at the same time the clock has now started on his Ranger career.
Betts needs to improve his offense this off-season or we believe by mid-season he will be pushed out of his job by Artem Anisimov who will need a place to start his NHL career. Betts is going to need to score at least 10 goals to keep his job as defensive specialist or else Anisimov will take his job if he does not score.
Speaking of scoring while we enjoyed the skating skills, the solid forechecking in the playoffs and how he rarely ever took a bad penalty; at the same time it almost led us to forget that Fredrik Sjostrom only scored 2 goals after being traded to the Rangers. As a RFA, we want the Rangers to renew Sjostrom for one season to see if he will finally live up to his original first round status.
We want no less than 10 goals next season and if not then he will find himself on the outside looking for another job. His linemate Colton Orr in many ways was one of the most improved Rangers this past season as the player who was waived by the Bruins because they did not think he would amount to much has shown that he is more than just a fighter.
Yes Orr led the team in PIMS with 159 and established himself as one of the NHL heavyweights but his play on the defensive end really was a nice surprise. Unlike his linemate Ryan Hollweg, rarely did we think that Orr took a dumb penalty so while we would like a couple of more goals from Orr, we are happy that the Rangers have a legit protector for the first time in years.
However now we need to do some cleaning and we start with Ryan Hollweg who for the last couple of seasons we waited to see if he would mature out of taking the dumb penalties but failed to do so in the clutch situations and we are sorry to say that he has to go.
We project that Dane Byers is ready for the NHL and will give the Rangers a bigger, smarter and equally energetic player but one with a more polished skills. We also know that as a defender that Byers has always been an excellent shut down artist. Byers is the only player we ever saw to hold former opponent Nigel Dawes without a shot when Dawes was in the WHL and scoring 50 goals.
Hollweg could be included in a package that also has Petr Prucha who while we have liked his "take no prisoners" attitude has seen a total decline in his goal scoring going from his rookie high of 30 to the disappointing 7 of this season. We know that some will argue that part of the problem was that Prucha no longer was a part of the power play at the same time, Prucha stopped scoring period.
Prucha is going to be passed on by as Lauri Korpikoski is going to get a longer look at training camp but we also think that Prucha who has always worried Tom Renney with his style of play may have found himself on the outside. We believe the Rangers will move him during the off-season perhaps as soon as the Entry Draft to help the Ranger recoup some of their missing draft picks.
It is also time for the Rangers to cut ties with Martin Straka who despite his friendship with Jagr has hinted that he might retire. We prefer that option as the proper way for Straka to leave the NHL instead of his skills declining.
It has become an almost annual event to see Straka (who has the heart of a warrior) wind up spending time on the injured reserve. His goal output dropped from 29 to 14 and again no offense to Straka but the Rangers need both the cap money and spot for one of the kids.
As with Straka, Brendan Shanahan we would like to encourage him to retire instead of trying to play another season. We are actually not very happy to learn after the fact that Shanahan played the second half with an assortment of injuries.
For some, it was a sign of a team leader but we saw it as someone who hurt the team by not sitting out and getting healthy. Yes Shanahan scored 23 goals at age 39 but he is not worth an overall 5.3 million when he can not stay healthy.
Because Shanahan was hurt, he was invisible in the playoffs when the Rangers needed him the most. If he wants to play then he can go elsewhere sorry to be blunt but 1 goal in 10 playoff games screams volumes about how Shanahan injured or not had nothing in the tank when the Rangers needed him the most.
That brings us to the 2 Rangers who we feel the Rangers need to re-sign. The first one in our eyes people will expect us to say in Jaromir Jagr the Ranger captain. Yes Jagr did not have the superstar regular season that one expects from the Ranger captain and at the same time we will neither try to explain or apologize for it.
Our rational for wanting Jagr to return starts with a belief that Jagr is a very proud man, that the kind of season he had was not what Jagr wanted to leave the NHL with. His poor (by his standards) cost Jagr possibly millions of dollars. At the same time one has to wonder how much Jagr really has lost?
His play down the stretch added to what Jagr did in the playoffs makes one wonder when one looks at possible replacements for not only Jagr but also Straka and Shanahan that the Rangers should consider re-signing Jagr.
Here is why we say the Rangers should: Start with the Cap expected to rise to 56-57 million a rise of 5-6 million along with Jagr being 35 then the Rangers could offer a incentive laden contract as they did with Shanahan with the recently concluded season.
For a base salary offer Jagr what his cap number was last season then fill it with incentives that could be put on the 2009-2010 cap which could let Jagr earn what he did this past season. Jagr keeps saying he wants 2 more seasons so if Jagr returns to form then it would be well worth the money.
The other reason is in all honesty when one looks at the free agent market there is only Marian Hossa who is even close to being the kind of scorer that Jagr is. The Rangers either bring back Jagr, bring back Shanahan or try to sign Hossa. We like the option of Jagr even better when we look at all the options.
The other player who is a must sign is of course Sean Avery. This we realize is a total change of view for us but give Avery the credit for earning that change. Sean Avery's play against the Devils in our eyes was deal maker to give him his contract.
It was more than his Avery shuffle, more than getting under the skin of Martin Brodeur and even more than his 4 goals. What convinced us to offer Avery a 3 year 3 million a season contract was his willingness to play under control, to put the team ahead of his own self interests.
Sean Avery in the playoffs in our eyes finally matured as a hockey player, not just a pest and the Rangers need hockey players more than they do as pests. However this support also comes with a catch.
Avery will now have to produce as a player, to become a top 6 forward, to become a team leader and to produce as such. We have called Avery the "master of self-promotion but we also know that Avery has to realize that no other franchise is made for him or him for any other franchise.
Avery is not going to be working for Vogue if he plays for a team like Columbus, Avery has burnt a lot of bridges with his mouth and no other town will allow Avery to be what Avery wants to be. Other than Los Angeles which town has the kind of nightlife where Avery can date the A-list?
Exactly but Avery also had best realize that if he gets his contract and he does not produce then that love affair that Avery has with the Garden Fans will end in a hurry.
Now as for those on the farm who we believe are ready to make the jump.
Greg Moore was the "Yo-Yo" who bounced up and down from Hartford to the Rangers. Despite being that player though, Moore got in several practices in addition to those 6 games which can not be measured.
Moore was a Hobey Baker finalist when he was with Maine, he had a 26-40-66 season with Hartford but what stands out is that Moore's goals were broken down as 7 PPG, 5 SHG and 4 GWGs. Moore is a strong 2 way player who we believe fit in as a scorer or a defender depending on where he is needed the most.
We believe that Moore can eventually play the Martin Straka role of solid 2 way performer.
Lauri Korpikoski is going have a lot of people expecting him to finally live up to his 2004 1st round draft status. Once upon a time the whispers were that even the Rangers thought the selection of Korpikoski was a huge mistake and then Korpikoski had his "I get it" season with the Hartford (23-27-50)
Even better was that nobody (and we mean nobody) expected Korpikoski to show up for Game 5 of the Penguin series and have the kind of game he did. No sign of rookie jitters, just going out and playing to his own strengths as Korpikoski basically jumpstarted the Ranger back into a game they were not in.
We think Korpikoski knows this is his best chance to make the leap to the NHL and think that given the lack of quality of free agents out there then the Rangers are going to need Korpikoski to replace Martin Straka or Brendan Shanahan
Dane Byers we have already mentioned is our choice to replace Ryan Hollweg on the checking line. As we already mentioned, Byers is bigger, more poised and offers better offensive skills.
Now people are going to wonder about Artem Anisimov and how come we are not ready to bring him in but we think Anisimov was starting to get it during the second half of his Hartford season. Anisimov in our eyes is still filling out his frame so some more seasoning in Hartford will have him ready by middle of the 08-09 season.
We also believe that Anisimov would be better aided by playing 20 minutes a night in Hartford than 8-10 or press box time with the Rangers. Do not get us wrong we know that Anisimov is a major part of the Ranger future which is why we agree with the belief that a prospect should dominate at one level before moving up to the next.
Of course we will not cry either if Anisimov has the kind of off-season workouts that allows him to force his way onto the roster next training camp.
Tomorrow we talk goalies and who we believe the Rangers should target in the free agent market.
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