For the second time Outside The Garden has
turned to you the fans to assess the good and the bad of the Rangers in
the past season. Like last year there were some players who were
well liked while others were the dubious victors in several categories.
So here for your amusement are the 2002-03
OTG Award winners.
Most Valuable Player: Mike Dunham
Going into the 2002-03 season the Rangers were looking forward to the
return of Mike Richter from a concussion and the further development of
their young backup, Dan Blackburn. Things started off badly when
Blackburn injured a thumb during warm-ups for his first scheduled
start. They got worse against on November 5th, when Richter suffered
his second concussion on a seemingly harmless collision with Edmonton
forward, Todd Marchant.
To his credit, Blackburn did his best when
pressed into duty, but by mid-December it was apparent that the Rangers
would need to do something if they wanted to have any chance at the post
season. On the 12th of December, Glen Sather did just that, sending
three players to Nashville in exchange for goaltender Mike Dunham.
Dunham was impressive in his tenure with
the Rangers, turning around a sluggish start with the Predators to go
19-17-5, while registering 5 shut outs and a 2.29 goal against
average. It's fair to say that Dunham was the difference on many
nights, and was perhaps the only reason that the Rangers had a shot at the
post season in the first place.
A late season injury ended the run, but
going into 2003-04 all eyes will once again be on Dunham and the hope that
he can somehow carry this team to the playoffs.
Best Forward: Petr Nedved
Last year Nedved was perhaps the most vilified player on the Ranger
roster, but instead of folding under the pressure as many of his
predecessors have done, he returned with one of his best seasons as a
An odd man out in the early going, Nedved
was consigned to left wing, while others took the more coveted center ice
position. The combination of his solid play, injuries and
indifferent play from others, eventually earned him the right to return to
his natural position. Along the way Nedved easily lead the team in
goal scoring (27) and points (58). Neither totals were particularly
impressive in and of themselves, but when you take into account that he
was often passed over for premium ice time and the first unit power play,
you get a better sense of his achievements this season.
Throughout all the upheaval and favoritism,
Nedved has remained the consummate professional and once again earned the
support of the Rangers faithful. He will no doubt face similar
obstacles in the upcoming season, but if he can continue his form of
2002-03 he'll be much harder to overlook.
Best Defensive Forward: Bobby Holik
The fact that Holik won this category is probably more a testament to
the lack of commitment the Rangers forwards have to defense than a
celebration of his accomplishments in 2002-03. Holik started the
year by coming to camp out of shape, something that caused the Rangers
staff a degree of annoyance. Whether or not this contributed to his
hip injury in the early part of the season is unknown, but to say
that Holik was ineffective in his first stint with the Rangers was an
After an eighteen game layoff, Holik
returned to the ice and briefly centered a line with Lindros and Barnaby
on the wings. The line had some early success, but when the team
once again began to struggle, Holik resumed his normal two-way role.
Holik's 35 points ranked him 6th on the team and his -1 plus/minus rating
was a fair indication of his ability on many nights to defend the
opposition's best lines.
It is hoped that in the upcoming season
that Holik will be used more effectively and that next year's award will
be more justified.
Best Defenseman: Brian Leetch
A deep foot bruise after he blocked a shot, kept Leetch out of 31
games and the All-star during the season. The Rangers struggled in
his absence, but with Leetch's return came a return to form for both the
Blueshirts and their All-star defenseman.
Leetch turned back the clock with some
vintage performances down the stretch run and along with Dunham, kept the
Rangers in the race. His goals against the Islanders late in the
year were individual efforts that can only be described as vintage Leetch.
One wonders whether the long layoff enabled
the future hall of fame defenseman to up his intensity in the waning
months, or whether perhaps the change of coach was responsible.
Whatever the reason, Leetch fans will be anxiously watching this
off-season to see whether he'll be back for his 17th season as a New York
Best Goalie: Mike Dunham
There's no doubt that this was perhaps one of the easiest categories
to pick this past season. Dunham played the most games (43), had the
most wins (17) and easily lead both goals against (2.29) and save
percentage (.924) categories.
His goals against average was the best by a
Ranger goalie since 1971-72* when Gilles Villemure registered a 2.09 mark
behind one of the best Rangers teams of all time, while his .924 save
percentage is the best since the statistic was introduced in the early
Finally his 5 shut outs in just 43 games
was the highest since Eddie Giacomin's 8 in 1970-71 and was the best ratio
of shutouts to games played since Gilles Villemure's 4 in 34 games in the
same 1970-71 season.
* In seasons where a goalie has appeared in
more than one game
Biggest Surprise: Matthew Barnaby
There wasn't much in the way of expectations this season for Matthew
Barnaby. Acquired last year for the less than popular Zdeno Ciger,
Barnaby was in the middle of a substantial slump.
His move to the Rangers seemed to stir him
from his slumber however, and with his team lacking quality left wingers,
the rugged forward stepped up to the plate. Barnaby finished the
season 5th in scoring and registering 14 goals, his highest total since
1996-97 with the Buffalo Sabres. Barnaby had his best run when
paired with Holik and Lindros, capped off by an impressive individual goal
against the Islanders which showed that he was more than just an agitator.
Barnaby kept his anger in check and did a
better job of staying in the game in recent years. He appeared to
fall out of favor later in the season under Sather, but there's no denying
that overall his season was an unmitigated success.
Best Acquisition: Mike Dunham
On December 12th the Rangers GM made the deal that almost allowed the
team to accomplish something they haven't been able to do in the past five
years, make the playoffs. It's fair to say that the acquisition of
Dunham was anything but a sure thing at the time, Dunham had a slow start
with the Predators and was perhaps considered a little prone to injury.
His not insubstantial contract also raised
concerns, but Dunham quickly took control of his opportunity and gave the
Rangers a fighting chance. Dunham deservedly won several of the
2002-03 awards and there are now many fewer doubters than when the trade
Best Trade: Dunham for Tomas Kloucek, Rem Murray and Marek Zidlicky
It was a situation where it appeared that the Rangers were overpaying
for a veteran player. Murray had started the season strongly for the
Rangers, but never seemed to fit on any one line, Kloucek by contrast had
struggled through camp yet still held hope for the future, while Zidlicky
was often compared to Brian Rafalski although his future participation in
the NHL remained in doubt.
In return the Rangers took on a veteran
player with a substantial contract and a questionable groin. At the
time it seemed like a high risk proposal...
Fast forward a month and Dunham had already
established himself as a valuable addition to the Rangers. By
contrast Kloucek managed just a cameo appearance with the Predators,
before suffering a concussion at the AHL level, while Zidlicky once again
remained in Europe with continuing concerns as to whether he'll ever come
to North America.
After five months the Rangers seem to have
gained the most value for the team, although it's fair to say that the
Predators have a longer term look on things.
Best Rookie: Jamie Lundmark
Lundmark had little competition for this award with the Rangers
continuing reliance on veteran players. The young forward was
blazing hot during the preseason and finally earned his first NHL
berth. But with games actually counting towards the standings,
Lundmark was quickly reined in whenever a mistake was made.
Eventually the rookie was sent down to
Hartford with just a solitary assist to his credit, but it wouldn't be for
long. Lundmark returned later in the year for his second term with
the Rangers and quickly made an impression. Finishing the season
with 8 goals and 11 assists in 55 games, he established himself as a
viable left winger with potential to improve.
One of the few forwards that showed
positional awareness in the defensive aspect of the game, it's fair to say
that Lundmark still lacks the strength and decision making that will
ultimately gain him NHL success. He did however demonstrate that he
can improve and his ability to play with several centermen, his deceptive
shot and his accurate passing promise much for the future.
Best Effort Shown: Matthew Barnaby
It seemed almost every night that Matthew Barnaby found a way to
involve himself in a game. Whether it was scoring a goal, making a
nice setup or simply agitating and standing up for his team mates, "Barnie"
The offensive upside to his game has
certainly increased his value, and when Ottawa came calling the Rangers
decided to hold on to their rugged winger, a decision that no doubt made
Barnaby himself happy.
Most Improved: Petr Nedved
It has already been mentioned that Petr Nedved was one of the least
liked Ranger members last season. His every touch of the puck
towards the end of the 2001-02 season were accompanied by boos from the
Rangers faithful. At the time Nedved took the catcalls as a true
representation of his performance, and unlike others within the Rangers
organization, didn't look for excuses but sought a way to silence his
critics with actions on the ice.
Despite getting less opportunity, Nedved
turned around his game by working hard and accepting the roles he was
given. His defense improved and his overall effort was seldom
lacking. It is probably fair to say that Nedved was easily the most
consistent forward throughout the season and this was certainly reflected
by his statistics.
Biggest Win: 1/21/2003 v Islanders 5-0
It turned out to be the last win in the coaching tenure of rookie
Bryan Trottier and perhaps the irony is that it was in the stadium and
against the team where he set most of his career marks as a player.
It was a classic match-up between the two
New York rivals that turned the Rangers way on the back of two goals by
Matthew Barnaby. The highlight of the game however, had to be
Barnaby's second goal. Breaking through center ice, Barnaby took an
Eric Lindros pass on his backhand, flipped it over to his forehand to beat
the defense and then broke in alone before deking Chris Osgood in what was
best described as a goal scorer's goal.
Boris Mironov's first goal as a Ranger and
goals by Joel Bouchard and Jamie Lundmark rounded out the scoring for a
game that prompted one Islander fan to take out a full page ad asking why
the Islanders had been so embarrassing on the ice that night.
Least Valuable Player: Eric Lindros
His first year with the Rangers was satisfactory in many fans eyes,
but perhaps that was more to do with the expectations than the way he
played. After coming off almost 18 months layoff, Lindros joined the
Rangers and lead the team in scoring in and up and down season.
This year the season was more down than
up. Lindros struggled through a career high fifteen game goal
scoring drought and managed just two goals (both on two man advantages)
through his first nineteen games.
Some dubious penalties early in the season
under the league's new obstruction crackdown seemed to set the stage for a
disappointing season and one filled with frustration.
By the time the year was up, Lindros had
his lowest point and goal scoring totals of his career and many questioned
whether he would even return for the 2003-04 season with New York.
Worst Forward: Eric Lindros
They tried him at center and finally right wing, but except for a
brief run with Barnaby and Holik, Lindros failed to find the magic from
the end of the previous season. Whether it was the fact that Bure
too was in a slump and suffered injuries, or perhaps the questionable
obstruction calls, it was apparent that Lindros was a player who had lost
his confidence and drifted away from the things that made his game
Lindros developed into a perimeter forward
who seemed out of position more often than not. His shots went wide
and his passes were not as crisp as in previous seasons, and his inability
to get to the net only exaggerated his poor season.
Lindros did exercise his player option for
the upcoming season and it's expected that he will be in Ranger blue in
2003-04. Whether he can turn it around or not and stay beyond that
seems unlikely at this point.
Worst Defenseman: Dave Karpa
Dave Karpa's signing was never popular with a large percentage of the
Rangers fan base and perhaps that is the reason why he has earned this
dubious distinction despite playing just 19 games with the Rangers in
After missing the start of the season with
an infected hand (suffered during the preseason), Karpa was shipped down
to Hartford. With the Rangers struggling through numerous injuries
on the blueline he was brought back into the line up for a handful of
games at a time. His best performance came as a 4th line winger for
one game, but the fact that he couldn't crack a weakened defensive corps
that saw the likes of Joel Bouchard and Cory Cross leapfrog him in the
depth chart, highlighted just how far he had dropped in the estimation of
the coaching staff.
Karpa's contract is up on July 1st, and
there's no expectation that the veteran defenseman will be back with the
Rangers for next season.
Biggest Disappointment: Eric Lindros
Not enough can be said about the expectations for Lindros, Bure and
the Rangers going into last season. Some fans went so far as to
suggest that Lindros would manage 100 points, a total that he struggled to
even reach half of.
Sent to the sidelines in just his second
game of the year for what appeared to many as incidental conduct.
Lindros was forced to sit out a game as an additional punishment.
Numerous calls in the early going that were either ill-timed or simply
incorrect, appeared to drain the centerman of his confidence.
Public rapprochement from Sather and a
benching from Trottier were the lowlights of an otherwise low year.
Topping things off, Lindros perhaps became the first player in the NHL to
be booed consistently in three different arenas; Montreal, where he
refused to sign with the Quebec Nordiques in his draft year, Philadelphia,
the city that failed to win the cup in his tenure, and New York, his home
Worst Acquisition: Krzysztof Oliwa
It was a mystifying move for many Ranger fans, the Rangers took
Oliwa's bloated contract off of the Penguins for basically nothing more
than a handshake, and then negotiated it down a little for the upcoming
Brought into be an enforcer, Oliwa was
willing though not effective in the preseason and early in the year.
After just nine games spread out through much of the first half of the
season, he was finally sent down to Hartford and ultimately dealt away to
the Boston Bruins.
Worst Trade: Krzysztof Oliwa for Future Considerations
It's not often a trade that costs nothing would be considered the
worst trade for a team, but considering the general success that the
Rangers had with their trades and the failure which Oliwa demonstrated in
trying to secure a spot on the Rangers roster it is perhaps not so
At worst Oliwa took a roster spot from a
younger player in the early going, but beyond that it appeared to be a
move that had little chance for success for the Rangers.
Least Effort Shown: Eric Lindros
By the time the year wound down it was obvious that Lindros was lost
on the ice. Floating around in center ice or in the high slot, the
formerly physical forward appeared more intent on getting through the game
than working hard.
It's fair to say that many factors outside
his control contributed to his poor season, but it's also fair to say that
the way Lindros went about trying to overcome those obstacles simply magnified,
rather than mitigated the results.
Worst Loss: 3/26/2003 v Penguins 1-3
The Rangers on the back of Dunham had fought their way back into
contention for the eighth and final playoff berth, when they turned in a
stinker against a team that had not won in sixteen games. A roster
of no names took advantage of a shaky and little played Blackburn with a
less than impressive 3-1 victory.
The Rangers only narrowly avoided what
would have been an even more embarrassing shutout when Leetch converted
some good work by 4th liners Ted Donato and Dan Lacouture.
In the end the loss was just one of thirty
six on the season, but it was that loss that perhaps more than any other,
cost the Rangers when they needed the win the most, on the final stretch
to the playoffs.