On the eve of the start of the 2006-07 prospect camp, and the rest of the 2006-07 season, we take a moment to look back
at the best and the worst of last season, as voted by you, the readers of Outside the Garden. There are probably not a lot of surprises in this
year's votes, and certainly the team's failure in their first playoff appearance since 1996-97 may have affected some of the voting for the worst of
last season, but without further delay we present to you the 2005-06 OTG Awards.
Most Valuable Player: Jaromir Jagr
It's hard to argue with selecting a guy who broke so many Rangers offensive records last season being the team MVP. Only Alexander
Ovechkin featured in more offense for his team than Jagr, who set Ranger records for goals in a season (54), points in a season (123), power play
goals (24) and shots on goal (368). He also tied the franchise record with 9 game winners.
While not named captain of the team, it was quickly apparent that he was the leader, and that the Rangers were doing everything possible to keep their
star forward happy...bringing in a host of his country men to support him in his quest to bring the Rangers back to the playoffs. Jagr was not a
factor in the playoffs however, as the team failed to stop New Jersey on the power play and ultimately saw their leader injure himself late in the
game as he killed off yet another penalty.
Best Forward: Jaromir Jagr
Michael Nylander had a career year, and Martin Straka returned to form after several injury plagued season. The Rangers power play
also returned to prominence, including an impressive 16 goals from rookie Petr Prucha. All three forwards, and the Rangers as a whole need to
credit Jaromir Jagr in large part to their performances. The Czech super star was the key offensive player on the Rangers, directing traffic and
controlling the play both at even strength and on the man advantage. Many games saw the unofficial captain of New York simply take over the play
almost single handedly, including in the opening night when he helped the team come back from a two goal deficit to win 5-3..
Best Defensive Forward: Jed Ortmeyer
It is not surprising that fan favorite Jed Ortmeyer once again wins this award in just his second NHL season. Jed may not have the
talent of the likes of many of his higher paid team mates, but his fearless commitment to hustle and blocking shots has earned him a spot on the
Rangers team. Ortmeyer finished the season with just seven points, but was a +2 and was part of a much improved penalty kill. While his
future is uncertain with the Rangers this coming season, there is no doubt that the OTG readers appreciate what he has done for the team.
Best Defenseman: Darius Kasparaitis
This could almost have been called the "Brian Leetch" award, but with Leetch playing in Boston the OTG readers were forced to select someone
else. In a blueline corps of relative no-names, it is perhaps not overly surprising that the biggest name of the bunch was given this award.
After speculation he may get bought out as part of a Rangers restructure, Kasparaitis proved his value on and off the ice through his work ethic and
mentoring, earning a reprieve and another three seasons on Broadway. Although he missed 15 games, Kasparaitis did finish with a respectable +7
on the season and was part of an overachieving defensive corps that had the Rangers ranked near the top of the league in goals against average.
Like Jagr, Kasparaitis finished the season under an injury cloud, but the tough Lithuanian born defender is expected to be 100% for the opening of
training camp in a couple of weeks.
Best Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist
After achieving all that he could in the Swedish Elite League, Henrik Lundqvist made the decision to move to North America and play in the NHL.
Rangers fans couldn't have been happier, as they quickly adopted him as a fan favorite. Starting the year as the backup to Kevin Weekes,
Lundqvist quickly established his credentials and ultimately won the job and nominations for the Vezina and Calder trophies. He picked up the
Olympic Gold Medal with Team Sweden in Torino and the rest is history. Only an injury late in the season could slow Lundqvist down, and there's
no doubt he'll be looking to prove that last year was no fluke.
Biggest Surprise: Petr Prucha
Since the day he was drafted, there have been questions about Prucha's size and his ability to play in the NHL. A poor offensive year
in 2004-05 which saw him forced to fourth line duty for Pardubice as locked-out NHL players claimed the spots on the top lines, belied what he was
capable of. Even still, the most optimistic amongst us probably did not expect the young Czech to make such an impact, picking up the most goals
as a Rookie for the Rangers since Tony Granato in the 80s and ending up with his own cheesy song being played whenever he scored a goal late in the
season. The only down side for Prucha was a knee injury suffered just days before he was set to depart for Torino and ultimately cost him some
time in the NHL.
Best Acquisition: Martin Straka
When the Rangers signed free agent Martin Straka at the beginning of last season, there were some questions as to whether he would even last
into the second half of the season. The 33 year old forward had missed significant time in recent years due to injury, and had not played 82
games since the 2000-01 season. There was no need to worry however, as he proved to be just one of four Rangers to appear in every regular
season game and assembled his best offensive season since that very same 2000-01 outing with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Best Trade: Petr Sykora and 4th round pick for Maxim Kondratiev
To be honest there were not a lot of significant trades in the 2005-06 season, but the one that the OTG readers considered to be the best
was the trade that brought Petr Sykora to New York. Before the trade the Czech winger had made little secret of his desire to play for the
Rangers and with his compatriots. On January 8th of 2006, his wish came true when the Rangers sent 22 year old defenseman Maxim Kondratiev to
the Mighty Ducks in exchange for Sykora and the 4th round pick that they had traded along with Trevor Gillies for Steve Rucchin.
As it turned out Sykora's stay was not wholly successful. After a solid start, the 29 year old wing fell into a moderate scoring slump that
coincided with the Rangers team slump at the end of the season.
Best Rookie: Henrik Lundqvist
The Rangers had several promising rookies who might have warranted attention in previous seasons, not least of all Petr Prucha. But
New York has always loved their goaltenders, and Lundqvist was no exception. His 30 wins set a new franchise record for wins by a rookie
netminder, and he did it in just 53 games as he posted a 30-12-9 record. The young Swede was also considered for league awards for both the
Calder (rookie) and Vezina (goaltending), but lost out in both to some stiff competition.
Best Effort Shown: Ryan Hollweg
Just three years ago no one was sure that Ryan Hollweg would have a pro career, let alone play in the NHL. A severe head injury wiped
out his season, and caused the Rangers to pass up the opportunity to sign their former draft pick. After a successful overage year in the
WHL, the Rangers decided to give a chance and signed him to play in Hartford during the lockout. His performances in Hartford (where he
quickly became one of the most despised players by the opposition) and a strong camp ultimately lead to his inclusion in the Rangers line-up
early in the season.
Most Improved: Jaromir Jagr
Jagr's offensive totals were quite impressive last season. He improved his goals from 32 in the 2003-04 season to a team record 54
last year. His point totals also saw significant increases, going from 74 to another franchise record of 123 points.
Biggest Win: 10/5/2005 v PHI 5-3
You'd probably be hard pressed to find another opening night in the last 25 years that meant as much to the Rangers as this past one.
Heavy underdogs, the Rangers traveled to Philadelphia to play the highly touted Flyers lead by Peter Forsberg. Down 3-1 at the mid-point of the
game, it looked as if the Rangers were going to justify everyone's low expectations and finish on the wrong side of a one-sided loss. But an
opportunistic goal by Jamie Lundmark (his only one for the Rangers before being traded early into the season), followed by two power play goals in the
third by Jaromir Jagr, put the Rangers in the lead. Marcel Hossa capped the comeback with an insurance goal just 33 seconds after Jagr's second
of the night and Kevin Weekes stopped all six of the shots he faced in the final period to secure the win. It was the start of what would be a
surprising season for the Rangers.
Best Comeback: Jaromir Jagr
There were many who thought that Jagr's career was decidedly on the downside. After almost three tumultuous seasons in Washington, he
was traded to the Rangers along with half of his salary for Anson Carter. Even a sub-standard Jagr was worth the price of that deal. The
Czech winger played last season in the Czech Republic, and in Russia and there was even some speculation that he might not join the Rangers at the
beginning of the year.
But as we all know, Jagr did indeed join the Rangers and immediately said that he saw no reason why the team could not make the playoffs. In
fact he expected them to. While the media and most of the rest of us quietly dismissed his comments as nothing more than "company line", Jagr
set about to establish what can only be described as a renaissance season. Jagr played in all 82 contests in the season, and set several
franchise records, as he improved his point total by 49 points, and registered his first 50 goal season since he scored 52 in the 2000-01 season.
Best Value for Money: Jaromir Jagr
You could almost make the argument that Jagr would have been worth the full 8.5 million a year that he was originally scheduled to make.
But when you factor in a roll-back brought on by the lockout, and a significant portion of his salary being picked up by his former team the
Washington Capitals, you can understand where his value lies.
Least Valuable Player: Sandis Ozolinsh
In hindsight it's not hard to see why Sandis Ozolinsh quickly became the most disliked players on the Rangers' roster. A defenseman
who has questionable defense is always going to draw the ire of the Rangers faithful, and when that player is added at the same time the team's season
starts to falter, it's a recipe for disaster. Despite only playing 19 regular season games and a further three in the playoffs, it quickly
became apparent that the form Latvian All-star was going to be a high risk/high reward type player. After several defensive breakdowns, Ozolinsh
was ultimately a healthy scratch and though he returned, he did finish the season watching from the skybox as New York got swept by the Devils.
Although he had numerous challenges on the blueline, he probably is best remembered for poking the puck in his own net as he tried to retrieve it from
Worst Forward: Fedor Fedorov
The younger brother of Sergei Fedorov was acquired early in the season in exchange for Slovak right winger Jozef Balej. Three games
into his stint with New York, and it became quickly apparent that he had a ways to go before he could be relied upon to play a regular shift.
After being sent down to Hartford, Fedorov ultimately ended up becoming a regular healthy scratch before being sent to the Syracuse Crunch in a trade
that unofficially ended his brief tenure with the Rangers.
Worst Defenseman: Sandis Ozolinsh
It's quite an achievement when you consider it only took Sandis Ozolinsh 19 games in which to unseat the previous perennial winner of this
award, Tom Poti. While Poti was looking forward to his future career outside the glare of the New York media, Ozolinsh was busy making mistake
after mistake in his own zone, quickly outweighing his value as an offensive addition to the blueline.
Biggest Disappointment: Sandis Ozolinsh
It was clear at the deadline that the Rangers needed to do something about their blueline. Ranked in the bottom five in terms of
offensive from their defensemen, the Rangers sought out and found Sandis Ozolinsh to be available and relatively cheap in terms of what they needed to
give up (a 3rd round pick). The move seemed to clearly indicate that New York was looking to the playoffs, and attempting to address one of the
biggest holes on the team.
After a strong start offensively though, it quickly became apparent why his price was so low. With 2.75 million owed to him in 2006-07, he was
both expensive in terms of dollars and the contribution he made to the defensive side of the game for the Rangers. New York ultimately finished
the season on a nine game losing streak, and Ozolinsh was attributed a good share of the blame.
Worst Acquisition: Sandis Ozolinsh
The Rangers revamped much of their team for the 2005-06 season, starting with fully 12 ndividuals making their debut on opening night.
The team quickly gelled however, and were a surprising leader of the Atlantic division coming out of the Olympic break. An unbeaten month of
February though was quickly overshadowed by a slow start to March, with Sandis Ozolinsh joining the team on a three game losing streak (they'd go on
to lose three more before ending the streak). New York would finish 8-13-3 after the acquisition of Ozolinsh, including four straight losses to
the Devils in the playoffs.
Worst Trade: Sandis Ozolinsh acquired for 3rd round pick
The Rangers made two moves at the trade deadline, sending Ville Nieminen to San Jose in exchange for a third round pick that was ultimately
used to acquire Sandis Ozolinsh from the Mighty Ducks. While Nieminen quickly rose in the estimation of the Blueshirt faithful, Ozolinsh's stock
quickly plummeted to a point where he became enemy #1 for many fans.
Least Effort Shown: Sandis Ozolinsh
Perhaps it's a little unfair that Ozolinsh should receive this title, especially when there were others that perhaps also could have been
considered. But lack of success (and poor decision making) is often associated with lack of effort, and there's no doubt that Ozolinsh
struggled on many occasions.
Worst Loss: 4/22/2006 v NJD - Game 1 - 1-6
The Rangers were back in the playoffs for the first time in almost nine years. Despite a five game losing streak to end the season,
that saw New York drop out of first place in the Atlantic (and home ice advantage), the mood was still relatively upbeat. That mood
changed quickly however as the Rangers let in five power play goals, and a sixth goal (to Ken Klee) that was just after a penalty had expired.
It was Lundqvist's worst defeat of the year, and he clearly felt hampered by the hip injury he had suffered late in the season. To make
matters worse, Jaromir Jagr suffered a serious shoulder injury as he attempted to take out his frustrations on Scott Gomez while needlessly out
on the penalty kill late in the third.
Worst Value for Money: Sandis Ozolinsh
Perhaps the only thing the Rangers can be grateful for is that they didn't have to pay Ozolinsh the full $2.75 million he was owed.