How many Defenseman does it take to change a light bulb, or should that be “keep the puck out of the Rangers net”?
At last count it’s around twelve, at least if you look at the number of defensemen New York now has, that have had NHL experience. The recent claim of Darren Van Impe from Boston, has further added to what was seemingly an already crowded Blueline.
So who are the players? Brian Leetch seems assured of his position, with his no-trade clause and what he brings to the team you’d expect him to be there opening night. Beyond that, it’s almost anyone’s guess as to who’ll suit up come October 5th.
Free Agent signee, Igor Ulanov seems to be a likely candidate for starting honors and he wouldn’t necessarily look out of place with his hard hitting style, not common among Russian defenseman. Fellow Free Agent, David Karpa may not have it as easy, but with his $1.6 million salary he will probably be given every opportunity to win a spot in camp.
A healthy Malakhov should also return this season, his salary combined with his recent injury history will no doubt reduce any likelihood of a late off-season trade. Barring an injury in the pre-season, expect #23 to be back on Broadway.
Kim Johnsson and Mike Mottau have been mentioned in many off-season rumors. Both are victims of a surplus of offensive defenseman within the organization and are therefore viewed by many as “expendable”. Johnsson is coming off an impressive campaign with the Swedish National team but still remains one of the least physical D-men on the team. Mike Mottau’s name has been tied more to his hometown Boston as various high profile Bruins players have attracted trade speculation. If neither is traded before the deadline expect the Swede to start with the NHL club and Mottau to play in Hartford.
One of the few remaining from the 1999 Free Agent spend-a-thon, Sylvain Lefebvre is not expected to return to the ice for New York. It has yet to be determined how he will depart the Big Apple, but it appears almost certain he will.
Dale Purinton, who was the self-designated enforcer last season will no doubt return in that role. Expect him to be sitting on the bench as the seventh d-man for most games unless injuries once again claim the starters.
The recent addition of Van Impe may mean minor league for Peter Smrek. Along with Mottau, Smrek is eligible to go to the minors without clearing waivers. Van Impe for his part has filed for arbitration and something will need to be worked out before he agrees to play for New York.
The other off-season additions of Gagnon, Freadrich, Gosselin and St Croix all seem to be long shots to make the team and perhaps Hartford is not a certainty for the latter pair.
With such a logjam in front of them, there will likely be no place for Novak and Tjutin to stay with the Rangers. Expect both to play in Canadian Juniors this coming season with only a late season call-up a possibility.
An opening night roster of Leetch, Malakhov, Johnsson, Ulanov, Karpa, Van Impe is not out of the question for this team. A disappointment to many fans who had hoped that the youngsters would finally get their dues.