Chris Drury and Scott Gomez will be appearing on the Boomer Esiason show tonight. The fans have the opportunity to submit questions to the Rangers' stars. Click here for a link to MSG's Game On! and post your questions in the comments section.
Did you ever try to set someone up on a date? You have this buddy that's single and your wife or girlfriend has a friend that's also single and you think that they'd be perfect for each other. You know the drill, you have your wife/girlfriend call her friend while you call your buddy. You tell your buddy how perfect this girl is for him and your wife/girlfriend does the same on her end. Everyone's all excited, your friends agree to exchange numbers and ultimately they go out on their date. Nine out of ten times it just doesn't work! Maybe their expectations were too high after getting hyped up about the "perfect" date. Maybe there's a bit too much pressure knowing that all of their friends will be waiting to hear about how things went. Maybe the atmosphere is just too artificial and too planned. Maybe it's all of the above!
Then there's this scenario: You've got a buddy that's single. Your wife/girlfriend has a friend that's also single. Once again, you think that they'd be perfect for each other. So you plan a night out with a bunch of your friends. You invite a bunch of friends including your single friend and your wife/girlfriend's single friend. You might make casual reference to your single friends that there's going to be someone there that you'd like them to meet. Or maybe you don't say anything at all. You get the two of them together in a nice relaxed atmosphere with no preconceived notions or expectations. They're each just part of a larger group that's gone out for a night of fun. At some point in the night, they talk to each other. No pressure, no expectations, just some conversation. Maybe sparks fly, maybe they don't. The bottom line is that you just let the chips fall where they may. Even if sparks don't fly right off the bat, if they've made a pleasant impression on each other there's nothing stopping you from suggesting that they go out at some later date. They've already met, they've already gotten to know each other a bit and all of a sudden it's not a "blind date" anymore. Not surprisingly, this second scenario has a much higher success rate! We probably all know of someone who has met their significant other on a group outing.
By now you're probably wondering what the heck I'm talking about?!?! Isn't it somewhat obvious? I'm talking about the Rangers' line combinations! Conventional wisdom says that Gomez will start with Jagr and Drury will start with Avery and Shanny. Up until today, I've agreed with those combinations. But over lunch today it hit me: you can't hurry love!
Here's my proposal: Let's not force Jagr and Gomez into a relationship! Moreover, let's not even allow them to "date"right away! Instead, let's start the season playing Jagr with some of his old running mates. Here's what I propose:
Hossa- Straka- Jagr
Avery- Gomez- Shanny
Prucha- Drury- Callahan
We know from past experience that Jagr will be able to function with Straka and Hossa. That line may not be as effective as the Jagr-Nylander combo was, but it will be functional. More importantly, there will be no unnecessary pressure on the first line to try to manufacture instant chemistry.
Starting Gomez on the second line will allow him to be the puck carrier and play maker he has always been. More importantly, lining Gomez with Shanny and Avery will create much less pressure on Gomez to immediately manufacture chemistry. He won't have the pressure and the expectations of having to immediately mesh with #68. The guy will have enough on his plate early on as he adjusts to life in the Big Apple.
Drury with Prucha and Callahan could be a blessing in disguise. On the one hand, you'd like to try to keep your top players on the top two lines in order to maximize each players ice time. On the other hand, Drury's high energy and high intensity game might blend very well with young, hungry, gritty and skilled players (especially Prucha).
By setting the lines this way, Renney would be taking a lot of the pressure off of his players to deliver instant success. Ultimately, the best thing for the team would be for either Gomez or Drury to click with Jagr. However, with so many early season adjustments in store for this team, is it really necessary to hurry things? There will be plenty of opportunities as the season progresses to get Gomez and Jagr together. Perhaps they can start their "relationship" on the power play. Inevitably, the Rangers will have to juggle lines during the course of a game. Maybe Drury and Straka will be exhausted after long penalty kills necessitating a quick shift for Jagr and Gomez. Perhaps a player will go down with an injury and Jagr and Gomez will have to hit the ice together. Eventually, they'll have a good shift together and progress as a line in a more natural and less forced manner.
The regular season is a funny thing. On the one hand it sometimes seems unnecessarily long. On the other hand it can get late very early with a bad start. The line combinations that I propose minimize the "getting to know you" stage as much as possible. The worst thing that can happen to this club would be for it to stumble badly out of the gate. The Rangers have nothing to loose by bringing Jagr and Gomez together slowly. On the other hand, a forced relationship that gets off to a rocky start could have more long lasting and disastrous consequences.
Make no mistake, this is not a reaction to the embarrassing Philly loss. It's certainly not a case of pushing the "panic button". It's simply a recognition that you can't hurry love! Let me know how you'd like to see Renney line 'em up.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to watch the Rangers' first two pre-season games as they fell out at the very beginning and the very end of one of Judaism's holiest days of the year: Yom Kippur. From what I've read, however, it doesn't seem as though I missed much. Especially not in the second game against Philly!
Not surprisingly, whatever chemistry Gomez and Jagr seemed to develop at the practice rink didn't translate onto the ice during their exhibition match versus Philly. Obviously it's extremely early in the season and their is absolutely no cause for concern...yet! Expecting instant game chemistry between offensive minded skilled forwards is unrealistic. That's especially true in the pre-season when players are still working through their off-season rust.
That being said, there's also no denying that it may take some time for the Rangers' to develop chemistry and the all important team identity. The Rangers' underwent a major overhaul this summer. That's a lot for any team to adjust to. How much more so for a team like the Rangers that is first learning how to win again after nearly a decade in the abyss.
That's why Lundqvist may very well be the most important player heading into the season: If he plays well he'll keep the team in most games as they struggle to adjust to one another and their own individual roles. With the amount of individual talent this team has, they'll be able to score some opportunistic goals here and there in order to win some games that they should have lost based on their play. If Lundqvist plays well he can help "steal" some of these games for his teammates as they struggle through their adjustment phase. Those "stolen" points will prove crucial down the stretch.
On the other hand, if Lundqvist starts slowly (as he did last season) the Rangers' may very well need to start playing playoff hockey in February just to qualify for the postseason.
Goaltending has long been considered the most important position in hockey. For this years Rangers that may surely hold true. Many people have felt that Lundqvist would have to stand on his head to mask the team's porous defense. That's probably true. Now, however, Lundqvist may have to stand on his head for another reason as well: to give his teammates some breathing room as they adjust to their new roles.
Perhaps management was wise in not spending what little extra money the team has on Michael Peca. Perhaps Slats & Co. should consider spending that money on a quality back-up to give Hank a little break here and there. Let's not even talk about having an insurance policy in case of a .....(gulp!) injury to Lundqvist!
So Darius Kasparitis shows up at camp some 20 pounds lighter and ready to blaze a comeback trail to New York. That would be great news if it weren't for that little thing called the salary cap! With almost no room left under the all important cap the Rangers can ill afford to retain Kaspar and his nearly $3 million annual salary. So what's a team to do? Trade him? Send him to Hartford?
OPTION #1: TRADE HIM:
The easiest thing for Slats to do would be to trade Kaspar. Move him for whatever the team could get. However, this option is probably unlikely: Kaspar missed all of last season. He reportedly came to camp out of shape which apparently had something to do with personal issues he was dealing with at the time. Given his age and his salary, it's unlikely an NHL club would be willing to take a risk on him. In today's day and age, $3m is too much money to spend on an old d-man who missed a season due to personal problems.
OPTION #2: SEND HIM TO HARTFORD:
Many observers are predicting that this scenario is likely to materialize. I'm not so sure! After struggling to read through the relevant parts of the C.B.A. (which is no easy task!) it appears as though section 50.9(g)(ii) sets forth that if a player like Kaspar is sent to the minors he must first clear waivers. Any NHL club may then claim him off of waivers. The claiming club would only be responsible for 1/2 of his salary while the Rangers would be responsible for the other 1/2 (and, of course, the 1/2 that the Rangers would be responsible for would count against the teams cap charge this season).
At almost $3m per season, Kaspar's probably not worth the risk to many NHL clubs. However, at just under $1.5m per season, Kaspar may very well be worth it. Let's not forget that Kaspar is in the final year of his contract. Therefore, a claiming club would only be taking a short term and relatively "cheap" risk.
Then there's the Oiler$ factor: Krazy Kevin Lowe targeted Dustin Penner in Anaheim in part because he knew the Ducks had cap issues. If the Ducks matched the offer sheet, Lowe would have successfully financially handcuffed one of his rivals. If the Ducks failed to match (which is what actually happened) the Oiler$ would have successfully obtained their desired player. A no lose situation for The Krazy One. Guess what folks, the Rangers have cap issues of their own. They passed on Peca because they felt that the $1-1.5m he would have cost was not worth the risk. Would anyone be shocked to see a rival club like the Icelanders claim Kaspar just to stick it to the Rangers? How about the Devils who are surely still feeling the sting from the Scott Gomez defection. A rival GM with cap room could certainly see the Kaspar situation as a no lose situation: if Kaspar rebounds he's well worth the $1.5m for just one season, if he doesn't rebound...well....it was just $1.5m for one season a worthwhile investment considering that it contributed to the hated Ranger$' cap concerns.
Surely, Slats & Co. are aware of this possibility. That's why it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Malik or Mara get traded if Kaspar looks ready to rejoin the big club.
**UPDATE** Thanks to dimanyr for pointing out that the 50% cap charge would only apply if a team claimed Kaspar off of re-entry waivers (i.e. if the Rangers tried recalling kaspar from Hartford to the big club). I e-mailed John Dellapina to ask him to clarify this point and, as usual, John kindly responded almost immediately. According to John, the Rangers would only be on the hook for 1/2 of Kaspar's salary if he was claimed off of re-entry waivers. Sorry for the confusion and thanks to dimanyr and John Dellapina (Rangers' beat writer for the NY Daily News. Check out the link to John's blog in my blogroll!).