by Steven Zeltser
Twenty-One games left in the season, five points out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, arguably one of the best
players in the league Jaromir Jagr is your captain, Henrik Lundqvist is your goaltender, playing as well as you can ask your goaltender to play,
Marcel Hossa is scoring, Petr Prucha is picking it up, Hollweg, Orr, Avery are all doing their jobs. The lines are balanced. The scoring is
starting to come from players other than the big 3 of Jagr, Straka and Nylander. Even without Brendan Shanahan the Rangers donít seem hungry for
offense. So the question lies, what is this team missing?
Those at the garden last night, for the final game of the Rangers/Devils season series may have heard a small
group of fans cheering for the return of possibly one of the greatest offensive defenseman to ever wear a blueshirts sweater. I too get
nostalgic about the Brian Leetch era in Rangers Blue, except I canít help but disagree. I greatly admire him and Iím certainly in agreement that
his # 2 should in the garden, just not on the ice. Hang that sweater in the rafters and get to the business of replacing what was lost when he
was traded to the Maple Leafs.
Leetch brought many great things to the blueline with his play. He was a dynamic passer. He could single handedly
carry the puck to the opposing net. While his shot wasnít blazing, he was never afraid to use it. He wasnít overly physical, but he wasnít
afraid to throw the body when it was necessary. His defensive zone coverage was average at best. He wasnít perfect, so what was it that made him
an amazing player to watch? The answer: determination. You canít teach it. When the game is on the line Leetch was the guy who wanted the puck.
He could take it from his own net and make something happen. He skated with the confidence that he could overcome any obstacle. He was almost
like a superhero. He was the leader on the blueline. That is what this current Rangers team is missing.
Take a closer look at the current blueline. Marek Malik, Michal Rozsival, Karl Rachunek, Fedor Tyutin, Daniel
Girardi, Aaron Ward, Thomas Pock. Where is the leader? Where is the guy you want carrying the puck our of your own end? Where is the determined
defenseman who is going to light the flame when the team needs a lift? Heís not there. He may not even be in the system. Marc Staal is highly
touted around the league but heís not that player. Itís fairly obvious that Thomas Pock isnít that player. Michael Sauer and Ivan Baranka do not
fit the profile. If Bobby Sanguinetti is, thatís still 2-3 years away. Who is going to teach him when he is ready? Aaron Ward? While Iím sure
his experience on cup winning teams makes him a valuable asset to players like Fedor Tyutinís defensive play, it will not make him into the next
blueline leader for this team.
I could sit here and speculate about who is available and who I think the answer to this problem, but it would
all be a waste of everyoneís time. What I know for sure is the immediate answer is not here. If I knew the answer I would be the general manager
of the Rangers. One thing I know for sure is Brian Leetch is not the answer..