A Done Deal?
Despite all their trades, the woeful Rangers look as if they'll miss the playoffs again
Last Friday, moments after his Rangers stunk up Madison Square Garden worse than the circus elephants recently working in the arena, New York coach Ron Low tried to explain how his high-powered roster, freshly revamped for a playoff run, had lost 5-2 to the Thrashers, the NHL's worst team. "I guess that's our fragile ego," Low said of his players, who had fallen behind 4-0 after two periods. "We backed up like we had a major fear of this team."
The Rangers' loss to an Atlanta club that dressed eight players with less than one season of NHL experience, including a 26-year-old goalie, Frederic Cassivi, making his first career start, showed that New York (31-34-4-4 and 10th in the East through Sunday) has shortcomings that even general manager Glen Sather's headline-grabbing deadline deals will be hard-pressed to overcome.
Fearing that New York would miss the postseason for the fifth straight year, Sather radically retooled the Rangers' roster in the two weeks before the March 19 trading deadline, acquiring winger Martin Rucinsky and center Roman Lyashenko from the Stars, defenseman Tom Pod and center Rem Murray from the Oilers and, most significantly, two-time Richard Trophy-winning winger Pavel Bure from the Panthers.
Though each new player had contributed—the five had combined for five goals and eight assists—the Rangers were 1-5-0-0 since the first arrivals, Rucinsky and Lyashenko, made their debuts with New York on March 13, and were three points behind the Canadiens (who also had a game in hand) for the conference's final playoff berth.
For all the firepower Sather obtained recently, he didn't get much help for the blue line, and the Rangers have devolved into one of the league's poorest defensive teams. They'd allowed 227 goals, better than only the Thrashers, and had killed off 79.9% of their penalties, worst in the league and usually a sign of poor coaching. Aside from Leetch and veteran Vladimir Malakhov, the New York defenders are among the least dependable in the league.
After a fast start (15 wins in their first 27 games), the Rangers had won just 16 of 46 and were rapidly spiraling out of contention. On the bright side, even if New York doesn't make the playoffs this season, Sather has collected an impressive array of veteran scorers and shown the willingness to once again crack open the corporate checkbook. Aside from Sather's willingness to spend, his win-now philosophy could entice prospective veteran free-agents-to-be such as Bill Guerin, Bobby Holik and Tony Amonte to sign with the Rangers this summer.
The compulsion to negotiate expensive deals is understandable, especially given ornery New York fans' desires to see their team return to the playoffs. But as parlous as playing in fear might be, trading out of it is worse.
Video Replay Flaps
Wanted: Changes In the System
In two games with playoff implications last week, deficiencies in the video replay review system came to the fore. On March 19 in Boston a shot by Coyotes center Michal Handzus crossed the goal line behind Bruins netminder Byron Dafoe but was ruled no score by referee Paul Devorski. (The goal light didn't go on.) Video replay judge Mark Messier attempted to phone the off-ice officials stationed at the timekeeper's bench, but the NHL doesn't know why the call went unanswered before play resumed—meaning Devorski's ruling couldn't be corrected.