Mike Richter 2

1st Annual OTG Awards – The Good

1st Annual OTG Awards – The Good

Just days after the NHL announced their annual awards, we too have decided to release the results of our first annual vote to select the best and the worst of the past Rangers season.  Technical difficulties have prevented us from being able to make an award for the “Best Comeback”, but we have tallied the votes and are pleased to announce the following awards for the 2001-02 season.

The Good

Richter leaves the ice after suffering his season-ending injury

Most Valuable Player – Mike Richter 
Before the season started there were probably more questions surrounding goaltending than any other position on the Rangers roster.  Richter was coming off his second straight serious knee injury and his backup was an untested 18 year old rookie who’d never played a professional game in his career.  But with an outstanding November, Richter helped lead the Rangers to first place in the Eastern Conference and regained the confidence of many Rangers fans.

Richter also helped lead the USA Olympic team to the silver medal and had his best season since 1998-99 and would probably have surpassed that if not for a late season injury that forced him to miss the last nine games.

Lindros lead the Rangers in Goals, Points, +/- and Power Play Goals

Best Forward – Eric Lindros
This time last year Lindros had just finished sitting out the entire season after sustaining his sixth concussion and was locked in a bitter dispute with Flyers GM, Bob Clarke.

But then came the trade that shook the world of almost every Ranger fan…the hated Lindros was coming to New York at the expense of three young players and a draft pick.  Sather’s rebuilding rhetoric had finally been exposed as nothing more than that as the Rangers shifted gears to a win-now mentality.

To his credit though, Lindros didn’t let the controversy get to him and in the process won many of the diehard Ranger fans over to his cause.  A season in which he played 72 games, made it through his seventh concussion and lead the team in goals and scoring have made most fans forget about the possibility of a career ending injury and focus more on his day to day play.  Lindros may not have gotten the Rangers into the playoffs, but he did get the Rangers in contention.

A late season trade saw fan favorite, Mike York depart the Big Apple.

Best Defensive Forward – Mike York 
Things always seemed to be stacked against Mike York in his tenure on Broadway.  His size in particular worked against him, but in the 2001-02 season York proved once again how wrong the critics were.  His first All-star appearance and then selection to the USA Olympic team were highlights of a year in which he had his best offensive output of his career.

But it was his work at the other end of the ice earned him the Outside The Garden award for best defensive forward.  York was the two way player on the “FLY” line that helped lead the Rangers to the top of the standings back in November.  He was often the first forward back and teamed up with first Fleury and then Lindros to kill off penalties.

For all his perceived lack of size, Mike York made up for his physical restrictions by being a smart hockey player and used his brain rather than his strength to help keep the puck out of the net.

Brian Leetch once again lead the Rangers defensemen

Best Defenseman – Brian Leetch
Many will argue that no one deserved this award in which the Rangers were ranked 29th in goals against and dead last in the penalty kill department.

But if you have to choose someone, there’s probably no better choice than Brian Leetch.  The perennial all-star didn’t perhaps have his best season, but did lead the team in assists and was fourth overall in points for the Rangers.  His +/- rating of +14 was also the best he had since the 1996-97 season and was largely a reflection of the success he had with his playing partner Vladimir Malakhov.

Leetch will be an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season and the Rangers could do worse than retain his services for the rest of his NHL career. 

The 18 year old goalie turned a lot of heads in his first pro season

Best Rookie – Dan Blackburn 
No surprise here, the Rangers #1 draft pick in 2001 was easily the best rookie on a team that for the most part lacked first timers.

That’s not to take anything away from Blackburn, who was superb in goal for the Rangers and provided credibility at the back-up goalie position for the first time in the past few seasons.

Most telling perhaps was his play in the last nine games of the season when he went 5-4-0 with Richter sidelined with an injury.  To cap it off, Blackburn turned in probably his best performance in the final game of the year keeping the Philadelphia Flyers to a 2-1 victory, while facing 45 shots.

Barnaby agitated the opposition and excited the Rangers fans

Best Effort – Mike York and Matthew Barnaby
Effort is always something that Rangers fans appreciate, especially when times are bad and the team isn’t winning.  So there should be no surprise that two fan favorites will share the first award given out for Best Effort shown by a Ranger in the 2001-02 season.

Mike York has exemplified what it means to work hard since breaking into the NHL.  He has accepted whatever task was assigned to him and done so without question.  Unfortunately for the Ranger faithful his reward was to be traded to Edmonton, a trade that many still regret.

Matt Barnaby’s story is a little different.  Coming over in a mid-season trade for the much maligned Zdeno Ciger, Barnaby took his opportunity to revive his career by being a contributor.  After a slow start, Matt seemed to rebound to his best form, capping it all off with a strong performance against Boston late in the season when he had two goals.  His willingness to go the extra yard with the fans has already won many over to his cause. 

The Sandman stepped up when the rest of the Rangers seemed to be sleepwalking

Most Improved – Sandy McCarthy 
Coming off his best season offensively, it seems unlikely that Sandy McCarthy could get better in his second year with the Rangers.  But after a slow start that’s exactly what he did.

McCarthy turned up when the Rangers needed him most and was one of the leading contributors in the second half of the season as the rest of the Rangers line-up lost their momentum.  Late goals in consecutive games against Pittsburgh and Montreal helped salvage 3 of the 4 points on offer and kept the Rangers playoff hopes alive.

Often criticized for his unwillingness to drop the glove, McCarthy nevertheless has become a broader contributor and was elected team MVP by the Rangers writers.

Leetch helped lead the Rangers back into the game.

Biggest Win – 6-2 at New York Islanders 11/8/2001
The Rangers were facing a big test early in the season, going up against the upstart Islanders in their own building.  Things didn’t start well for the Blueshirts as they found themselves down a goal barely two minutes into the game.

The Rangers didn’t need to wait long however for the game to turn to their favor.  Theo Fleury picked up the puck off of a Mike Richter save and carried it the length of the ice before beating Osgood to tie the game.  38 seconds later and Leetch picked off an errant Kvasha pass in his own zone and put the Rangers ahead for good with a shot from deep in the slot.  McCarthy capped off the first period flurry with a hard working goal just 27 seconds later and the Rangers had marched to an improbable 3-1 lead after the first. 

Goals by Dvorak, Messier and Lindros capped off a memorable night for the Rangers and their fans and helped the Rangers go on to a six game winning streak and a month of November record of 9-3-1-1 and first place in the Eastern Conference.

Bure immediately made himself at home with the Rangers

Best Trade – Filip Novak, Igor Ulanov and Picks for Pavel Bure 
There were still a few doubters about whether Bure would fit with the Rangers, but 12 goals goals and 8 assists in the final 12 games of the season had the Rangers faithful smiling and looking forward to next year.

In what looks like a steal for the Rangers, New York acquired the league’s best sniper for an unwanted defenseman, an unproven prospect and a couple of picks in a weak draft.

Bure could well break the Rangers scoring record next season if he manages to stay healthy and continues to play with Eric Lindros. 

And that wraps up the first installment of the Outside The Garden Awards.  Be sure to watch for the final piece as we look at who was most disappointing in the eyes of you the fans.

The Bad

Least Valuable Player – Petr Nedved 
Nedved has always had a love-hate relationship with the New York Rangers, but after the Rangers failed to remain competitive in the second half of the season many fans turned on #93.

After five straight seasons of 50 points or more, Nedved’s production slipped below that mark despite playing in all but four games.  A streak of 35 games where he only managed three goals was the catalyst for the Rangers faithful and the sound of boos every time he touched the puck made playing at MSG difficult for the Ranger centerman.

With his Rangers future in doubt, Nedved will have to wonder whether he’ll be back with New York next season.  The Blueshirts for their part will no doubt be tempted to look at impending free agent, Bobby Holik to perhaps assume Nedved’s duties on the second line.

The pressure off him as a number one center, Nedved failed to capitalize

Worst Forward – Petr Nedved
Not surprisingly, Petr Nedved was voted the worst forward for this past season.  His well known wrist shot was sadly lacking in 2001-02 and the call of “Nedved misses the net with the wrister” was repeated on many a Rangers forum.

Nedved became the scapegoat for a Rangers team who missed the post-season for a fifth straight season, but contributed with lack of scoring and seeming lack of emotion.

In his defense, Nedved did not have a reliable left wing for much of the season and was perhaps also affected by Dvorak’s own sub-par season.  Whatever the excuses, Nedved will need to step up next season if he hopes to win the fans back.

It didn’t take long for the Rangers faithful to let their opinions known

Worst Defenseman – Igor Ulanov 
Rangers fans were expecting Ulanov to come in and finally provide some help in clearing an often crowded goal crease, but it became apparent very early that he wasn’t going to be much help.

Lazy passes through center ice which lead to turnovers, missed checks, inconsistent hitting and an early season suspension began to turn the fans against him.  When the Rangers defense and penalty kill struggled, Ulanov became the poster child for everything that was wrong.

Reported comments about coming to New York for the money and relaxation only further fanned the already raging flames of discontent.  Ulanov was eventually relegated to the AHL before being moved in the Bure trade late in the season.

46 points was all Nedved could muster

Most Disappointing Performance – Petr Nedved
It’s hard to think of new things to say about Nedved’s disappointing season.  Nedved has always been a lightning rod for many Rangers fans.  Despite a 6’3″ frame, Nedved has tended to avoid physical play and his game suffers when his linemates don’t create space.

This was no less evident last season when #93 was often forced to take shots from the perimeter.  His penchant for carrying the puck across the blueline was easily defended by other teams and turnovers were created.

Relegation to the second power play unit and second line ice time only further detracted from his ability to score and thus his contribution to the team was greatly reduced.  Can Petr adapt to playing second fiddle to the newly constructed Ranger first line?  You could say so far…not so good. 

Brought in to strengthen the Rangers defense, he did anything but

Worst Acquisition – Igor Ulanov 
It cost the Rangers nothing but money to acquire Igor Ulanov, but it did perhaps prevent the ice time going to someone more deserving.  Many nights found Kloucek sitting on the bench or in the sky box, while Ulanov continued to play to the frustration of many fans.

There was perhaps no aspect of Ulanov’s game that went unchallenged by Ranger fans.  His discipline, decision making and overall hockey ability were constantly called into question during his short tenure as a Ranger.

As the only NHLer in the Pavel Bure deal, some would argue that Ulanov finally did show some value to the New York Rangers…but at what cost?

Fan favorite Mike York was sent to Edmonton at the trade deadline

Worst Trade – Mike York and Pick for Rem Murray and Tom Poti
It takes an iron stomach to trade a fan favorite and unfortunately for many fans, Rangers GM Glen Sather has a digestive system constructed entirely of stainless steel.

As one of a handful of original Rangers in a line-up of rentals and mercenaries, York was a beacon for Ranger fans who longed for some home-grown talent.  

Rangers fans will continue to look at this trade as wrong in the short term, and only time will tell whether trading a heart and soul player like Mike York was really worth it to get the Rangers back to credibility in the long term.

Nedved failed to step up when the Rangers needed him most

Least Effort Shown – Petr Nedved 
Once again perhaps Nedved was seen as a scapegoat for the many failures of the team.  As perhaps the biggest offensive failure on a team that was often unable to score when it really needed to, Nedved was seen as unable to step up to the challenge and provide that desperately needed second scoring line.

Given every opportunity after Messier was sidelined with injury, Nedved appeared tentative and unable to get the job done.  It’s difficult to tell whether a lack of effort was the cause of his poor season, but there were enough of you the readers of Outside The Garden who felt it was so.

Richter left with a fractured skull in what may be his last game on Broadway

Worst Loss – 2-5 v Atlanta Thrashers 3/22/2002
The Playoffs were on the line and the Rangers were coming off an encouraging road win against the Ottawa Senators.  It looked to be a regulation win against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, but from the start New York looked listless and tired.

The Rangers were stunned early in the game when Richter was felled by a Chris Tamer slap shot from outside the blue line.  Richter left the ice with what was later to be diagnosed as a fracture of the skull in what could well be his last game as a Blueshirt.

From their things just went from bad to worse.  The Thrashers goalie put on a goaltending clinic that belied the fact that it was only his second NHL game, while the group of young Atlanta forwards took hold of the game at the other end of the ice.  For the Rangers only a brief respite early in the third period spurred by Lindros and Bure proved that there was any life in the team…

A final score of 5-2 against was perhaps the nail in the Rangers playoff hopes, a fact that was confirmed some six or so games later.

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