2004 OTG Awards

Each of the past three seasons we’ve asked you the Outside The Garden readers to vote for the best and worst of the Rangers from the past season.  In the past there have been a couple of surprises here and there, but with such turmoil and change this season, pe

Most Valuable Player: Matthew Barnaby
Whenever Ranger fans are putting together their list of free agents they would like to bring in for the 2004-05 season, one name appears more often than not, Matthew Barnaby.  It’s a testament to his perseverance and attitude on and off the ice, that the one time Tampa Bay Lightning cast-off has resurrected his career with the Rangers and become once again a crowd favorite.  The gritty winger was as we all know sent to Colorado as part of the March 9th deadline purge, but his impression continues to linger into the off-season.

Perhaps best known for his willingness to take on anyone, Barnaby particularly established himself and demonstrated his competitiveness most proudly in the often bitter Ranger-Islander match-ups.  Whether it was taunting the opposition, or scoring an important goal, Matt will be missed.

Best Forward: Jaromir Jagr
It may have taken a couple of extra years, but Jaromir Jagr finally ended up on Broadway in January of this year.  Unfortunately for the Czech superstar his Ranger debut was less than forgettable as the team around him collapsed, losing 9-1 to the Ottawa Senators on the road, and yet it was obvious what a talent he was.  Finishing the season with 29 points in 31 games, the gifted winger was one of only a few bright spots in a season that was racked with disappointment.

Where so few stars and superstars before him had lived up to the hype, Jagr delivered and you the fans were paying close attention.  The question remains, can Jagr continue to contribute and stay focused through what appears to be a rebuilding phase in New York, or will the sometimes moody Jagr become discontent and drive yet another team to move what appears to be an impossible contract.

Best Defensive Forward: Jed Ortmeyer
He’ll never be considered amongst the elite players in the league, but those who follow the Rangers have already marked their appreciation of one Jed Ortmeyer.  Signed out of Michigan as an undrafted free agent, Ortmeyer had a strong camp and earned an early promotion to the NHL where he cemented a spot as a hard-working defensive forward and penalty killer.  The native Nebraskan was award the Steven J MacDonald Extra Effort Award by the Rangers fans and was part of the Hartford Wolf Pack team that went to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

Ortmeyer finished the season with just 2 goals and 4 assists in 58 games, but will be back in 2004-05 to continue where he left off

Best Defenseman: Brian Leetch
For fans of Brian Leetch, this will go down as the worst season in memory.  2003-04 marked the year that the franchise defenseman, drafted by the New York Rangers, donned a jersey other than that of the Broadway Blueshirts.  The March 3rd trade that sent the well-liked defenseman to Toronto came as a shock to the player and fans alike, and sparked a bitter debate amongst the Rangers faithful over the state of the team and those running it.

While Leetch’s season was not particularly memorable, his selection as the best defenseman on the Ranger roster is difficult to counter.  His 13 goals with the Rangers was good enough for 6th on the Rangers and was three better than the next best blueliner.

There is no doubt that conversations about Leetch will continue into next season and beyond when he again becomes a free agent, but the 2004-05 season will mark the first time that he will not be considered for this award, and indeed the first time he will not have won it.

Best Goalie: Jussi Markkanen
Considered a useful addition to the team in the off-season, Markkanen quickly showed how useful he could be when called upon to start.  With Dunham hurt early in the season, Markkanen took on the added responsibility and arguably finished with the best statistics of the five goaltenders used.  Traded back to the Oilers at the deadline, Markkanen perhaps never gained the respect from management that the fans showed for the young Finnish netminder.

Biggest Surprise: Jed Ortmeyer
For those who had seen Ortmeyer play at Michigan, there might not have been as much to be surprised about, but there’s no doubt that plenty of people in the league had overlooked the gutsy wingman.  His name perhaps first came to prominence when he was united with Dominic Moore and Garth Murray in training camp to form an energy line that drew some appreciative reviews and an extended stay in the pre-season.  And yet still there was probably not much expectation that Ortmeyer would be able to work his way onto a veteran laden roster such as the Rangers.  Ironically a knee injury to Jamie Lundmark perhaps cemented his position and for the remainder of the season Ortmeyer was a fixture in the line-up.

One thing seems certain, Ortmeyer won’t be a surprise next season.

Best Acquisition: Jaromir Jagr
With Pavel Bure out of action and the likes of Lindros and Kovalev struggling to find their goal-scoring touch, Jagr was a last ditch effort at fixing the disjointed offence and getting the Rangers into the much sought after playoffs.  While the gambit did not pay off, the addition of the Czech super star looks in the eyes of many Rangers fans to be the right move, even now. 

Best Trade: Jozef Balej with 2004 2nd Round Pick for Alexei Kovalev
By the time Alexei Kovalev was traded away from the Rangers for a second time, many cynical Rangers fans believed that a pick might be all that could be returned on the once great winger.  With unrestricted free agency pending, a hefty contract and poor performance overall in the 2003-04, it was a pleasant surprise when the Russian netted a return of a 2nd round pick and probably the best offensive prospect added during the March purge.

While Balej is certainly no Kovalev, he does appear to have a goalscorer’s touch which is something the Rangers desperately need.  Only time will tell whether he becomes anything more than a minor league goal scorer, but the impending loss of Kovalev to free agency means the Rangers gained opportunity where there was little to be gained.

Best Rookie: Fedor Tyutin
A record 16 rookies played for or made their debuts with the Rangers in the 2003-04 including 5 Ranger draft picks, but none perhaps impressed in the same way that Fedor Tyutin did. After suffering a knee injury that postponed his debut until after the All-star break, Tyutin was inserted into the line-up and demonstrated the kind of poise that had observers talking from the first game.  He opened up his NHL scoring account with an impressive 3 on 5 short-handed goal where he broke in, set up and deked Roberto Luongo, and backed up his offensive ability with some solid defensive coverage for such a young player.

The future looks bright for the Russian blueliner, and we hope this will be just the first of many awards in his career with the Rangers.

Best Effort Shown: Jed Ortmeyer
What more is there to say about Ortmeyer, other than this is obviously the kind of award that might one day wear his name.

Most Improved: Eric Lindros
Perhaps Petr Nedved set a precedent last year when he went from one of the most reviled to one of the most appreciated players on the Rangers roster?  Following in his footsteps is none other than Eric Lindros, who this time last year was considered amongst the prime offenders in another playoff-less season.  While again his season (and most likely his career with the Rangers) was cut short by yet another concussion, there was no doubt that Lindros had regained his focus and was playing some of the best hockey since the days of the ‘FLY’ line.

Unfortunately for those who appreciated his efforts, it appears that #88 will have a different address come next season.

Biggest Win: 2/26/2004 v NYI 6-3
Wins over the Islanders featured prominently amongst the picks for the best win in 2003-04.  With the fewest number of games to choose for since we instituted the award, the OTG faithful were left to consider a record 6 wins over their most hated rivals out of a possible 27 games.  In the end the one that stood out most for you the fans was the game that sealed the clean sweep of their Island neighbors, a 6-3 victory at Nassau Coliseum back in February.

After taking a quick two goal lead in the first five minutes of the game, the Rangers extended their 3-0 first period score to 6-0 by the time the 27 minute mark of the game had arrived.  The Islanders added three consolation goals, but the Rangers came through on a three point night by Jaromir Jagr (2G,1A) and two goals by rugged left winger Chris Simon.

Best Comeback: Brian Leetch
It was the worst possible scenario for Brian Leetch and the Rangers.  After suffering a deep bone bruise in the 2002-03 season that limited his playing time and effectiveness, Leetch was once again struck on the foot by a Bobby Holik slapshot during a pre-training camp practice session.  The injury kept the veteran blueliner out of the entire pre-season and through the first nine regular season games.

Although he started off slowly, Leetch did manage to put together some performances that reminded the fans of years past.

Least Valuable Player: Alexei Kovalev
Brought in to produce the offense the Rangers sorely needed, Kovalev’s second tour of duty on Broadway was again a disappointment.  Once again Kovalev was a defensive liability and found it difficult to get the puck into the net, perhaps feeling the pressure to perform in one of the toughest cities to play a professional support.

The only solace that Ranger fans found in Kovalev’s year was the trade at the deadline that sent him to Montreal in exchange for Jozef Balej and a 2nd round pick.

Worst Forward: Alexei Kovalev
With Pavel Bure out with what appeared to be a career-ending knee injury, New York turned to the right wing duo of Anson Carter and Alexei Kovalev.  Neither player produced and both were sent packing by the time the trade deadline dust had settled.  Neither player appeared to be comfortable in New York, but it was Kovalev in particular who drew must of the criticism from the Rangers faithful.

Worst Defenseman: Tom Poti
Poti had a strike against him before he had even played a game for the Rangers.  As the player who came to New York in the trade that sent fan favorite Mike York to Edmonton, Poti had to overcome discontent from the start.  A high salary arbitration award was then compounded by his unwillingness to use his size on the blueline and an injury marred season that saw his offensive production drop.  Poti will have his work cut-out for him if he hopes to ingratiate himself in the eyes of the front office and those of the Rangers faithful… 

Biggest Disappointment: Alexei Kovalev
With just 13 goals and 42 points in 66 games with the Rangers, to say that Kovalev missed the expectations would be an understatement.  The Russian winger failed in particular to take advantage of his opportunities on the power play and though he is not alone on a team of disappointing performances, there is no doubt he deserves this award.

Worst Acquisition: Jan Hlavac
Memories of Hlavac lighting up the lamp on a line with Nedved and Dvorak probably were the biggest reason that Glen Sather brought Hlavac back to New York, his ability to play on the problematic Left Wing also no doubt figured prominently in the decision making process.  With only offense to contribute and indifferent performances since leaving New York, Hlavac had plenty to prove and unfortunately for the young Czech winger and the Rangers, he failed to live up to even modest expectations.

Hlavac finished with just 5 goals on the season and perhaps would have had fewer than his 26 points if not for a late season assignment on the left of Jaromir Jagr’s line. 

Worst Trade: Chad Wiseman for Nils Ekman
After almost considered as a throw-in in the trade that sent Tim Taylor to Tampa Bay a couple  of years back, Ekman came over to North America and put together a solid season with the Wolf Pack.  It wasn’t enough to get the attention of the Rangers however, who shipped the Swedish winger to San Jose for minor league prospect Chad Wiseman.  While Wiseman managed just a handful of games for the Rangers, Ekman went on to the Western Conference finals and was amongst the highest scorers for the Sharks.

Least Effort Shown: Alexei Kovalev
Perhaps he wasn’t the worst in this category, but the fact he won this award is testament to the disappointment that the fans had with his performance this year. 

Worst Loss: 1/24/2004 v OTT 1-9
It was Jaromir Jagr’s long awaited debut with the Rangers and it turned into their worst defeat in some time.  The Rangers were never in the game despite a solid game from their new star, though the score was definitely a reflection of the effort that many of the Rangers veterans exhibited in the game..

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