Mike York

Mid Term Report Card

by Jim Samuels

Give Glen Sather seventeen months and this is what you get. After four consecutive playoff misses the Rangers general manager has overhauled not only this floundering franchise, but the entire organization. Sather has found a way to add both talent and depth, two things sorely lacking on Broadway during their four year playoff hiatus, while ridding the team of malcontent mercenaries that had become an albatross around the throat of this once proud franchise. The Blueshirts, who reached the halfway mark against the Kings in Los Angeles on Saturday, have transformed from a laughingstock to a hardworking, hard hitting team that actually comes to play each and every night.

Kudos to Ron Low who is finally finding a way to coach some defense out of a team loaded with offensive minded players. The head coach has responded quite well in the face of adversity, mixing and matching lines and finding niche’s for role players who have filled in quite nicely when the injury bug has bitten.

This squad is still a work in progress and the Rangers are by no means a great team. What they are is a resilient, mentally tough bunch that on most nights won’t beat themselves. The Blueshirts have become a more cohesive unit that seems to be gaining confidence with each victory. They’re getting contributions from role players, something that has lacked on Broadway since the days of Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan. In this NHL that makes you a playoff team.

It’s actually quite remarkable, the strides this years edition has been able to make in just half a season. Last years team stood at 16-22-2-1 at the halfway mark, compared to this season’s eastern conference leading 22-14-3-2 record over the same 41 matches. That’s an improvement of 14 points from a year ago, no small task when you consider the past four disastrous seasons.

Will the Blueshirts be atop the eastern conference or even the Atlantic Division for that matter when the regular season comes to a close in April? Probably not, but thanks to Sather, this team has what it takes to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the 1996-97 season, the health of Mike Richter and Eric Lindros not withstanding.

Given the current landscape in the eastern conference, qualifying for the postseason should be just as difficult as advancing far into the NHL’s two month playoff marathon. If the Blueshirts continue to receive the type of goaltending they’ve benefited from early on this season, the Rangers will be a tough out come playoff time.

Lets take a look at some individual performances over the first half of the season.

MATTHEW BARNABY- Grade- INC. Pesky forward was acquired from Tampa Bay in exchange for free agent bust Zdeno Ciger in what could turn out to be yet another coup for GM Glen Sather. Barnaby adds size and toughness to a group of forwards that was sorely in need of such an infusion. A willing fighter, Barnaby stood up for linemate Petr Nedved taking on pugilist Kelly Buchberger in Los Angeles.  He was averaging less than six minutes of ice time a night in Tampa and seems to thrive with increased responsibility.  Needs to be more responsible in his own zone as Barnaby has lost his check several times resulting in goals in his short tenure on Broadway. Has gone 0-3-3 and is a -3 in 8 matches with the Blueshirts.

BRYAN BERARD- Grade- C. Comeback kid has finally started to find his game. After struggling mightily at both ends of the ice over the first 25-30 games, Berard has vastly improvement over the past 10 matches. His improved defensive zone coverage and new found ability to jump into the play have coincided with Berard switching sides upon being paired with Sylvain Lefebvre which has done wonders for Berard’s confidence. Has become more dependable in his own zone and has enjoyed a mild increase in ice time over the past 10 games.  Still misses the net way too often and is searching for that elusive first goal.  Recorded 11 assists and posted a +9 rating while playing in all 41 matches during first half.

DAN BLACKBURN- Grade- B. Rangers first round draft pick has been sensational during his first season as a pro. A forgone conclusion to be returned to juniors in the preseason, Blackburn had an outstanding camp and outplayed veteran Peter Skudra to earn the right to back up incumbent Mike Richter. Has struggled handling the puck at times and needs to work on controlling rebounds. Had two tough outings vs Washington but bounced back nicely winning his next start both times. Has posted a 6-6 record in 13 appearances.

RADEK DVORAK- Grade D. Speedy winger has been a huge disappointment over the first half of the season. After recording 31 goals last season, Dvorak has managed just 7 in 39 games this season. Seems to be fighting the puck and is always looking to make a pass when a good scoring opportunity presents itself. Creates opportunities but his shots seem to hit the goaltender in the chest all too often. Must produce in the second half for Blueshirts to challenge for Atlantic Division title. Has gone 7-14-21 along with disappointing -1 rating over first 39 matches.

THEOREN FLEURY- Grade A. Diminutive winger has come back from his well documented personal problems to play some of the best hockey of his distinguished career. Has teamed with Mike York and Eric Lindros to form the team’s top line. Has been able to finish more consistently than in past seasons on Broadway having already equaled his goal total for entire 1999-2000 season with 15 in the first half. Has a whopping 141 PIM at the halfway mark, Theo must play with more discipline and stay out of the penalty box more in the second half. Is third on the team in scoring going 15-24-39 and is +18 over first 41 matches.

ANDREAS JOHANSSON- Grade B. Waiver pickup has been more than Ranger brass could’ve hoped for. Defensive specialist has found a way to chip in offensively, recording 11 goals during the first half. Has incentive clauses in his contract that kick in if he scores 20 goals, is a plus player and if the Blueshirts qualify for the postseason. All three seem quite attainable. Year in Switzerland seems to have done wonders for AJ’s confidence, has become an important role player for eastern conference leading Rangers. Went 11-1-18 and posted +10 rating over first 40 matches.

DAVE KARPA- Grade C+. Tough, rugged, stay at home defensemen has been pretty much as advertised during his first half season on Broadway. Not flashy but dependable blueliner has been a steadying influence for this defensively challenged bunch. Usually makes the easy play and has knack for completing the first pass out of the Rangers defensive zone. A willing fighter, Karpa has added toughness to a primarily puck moving Rangers defensive corps. Has gone 0-5-5 and is a -3 over first 36 matches.

TOMAS KLOUCEK- Grade C. Hard hitting defensemen has struggled at times in attempting to return from off season re-constructive knee surgery. Kloucek started off strong but seemed to lose the edge to his physical game and was subsequently sat down by the coaching staff. Should figure to see increased role in second half. Appeared in 26 games while recording one assist.

BRIAN LEETCH- Grade B+. Former captain is once again a Norris Trophy candidate. Has been superb early on, teaming with Vladimir Malakhov to form Rangers top defensive pair. Hasn’t been jumping into the play as often as in past years but has been excellent in his own zone while still chipping in offensively. Leads all defensemen in scoring with 31 points and is rated highly in +/- with a +20 rating. Has benefited from the return of #11, seems to play better without the weight of the “C”. Has gone 7-24-31 over first 41 matches.

SYLVAIN LEFEBVRE- Grade INC. Member of ill fated summer of ’99 free agent spending spree. Was a major disappointment during his first two seasons on Broadway but has bounced back nicely sliding into head coach Ron Low’s defensive rotation alongside Bryan Berard. Sather may still deal the overpaid 4th or 5th defensemen, but no doubt Lefebvre’s stock has risen since his return from exile in Hartford.

ERIC LINDROS- Grade A. Eric has been so much more than anyone in the Rangers organization had a right to expect, yet with one hit it’s easy to see that any success enjoyed by #88 is a house of cards at best. After steamrolling through the first half of the season Lindros was forced to sit out two games on the Blueshirts current road trip due to feeling woozy from what the Rangers say was Eric getting “his bell rung” against the Sharks in San Jose. The teams offensive leader went 19-20-39 while posting a +19 rating over the seasons first half. Any degree of success the Blueshirts hope to enjoy this season will be predicated on the health of #88, he is the single most player on a team that hasn’t qualified for the postseason in four years. At least this time, if there will be any errors made in the handling of Lindros’ medical situation, they will be made on the side of caution.

VLADIMIR MALAKHOV- Grade A. Of all the comeback stories surrounding this team, probably the most impressive and the one that receives the least amount of fanfare is that of Vladimir Malakhov. The oft-injured Russian has been outstanding following reconstructive knee surgery that forced him to miss all but three games last season. Has been much more physical than in years past constantly finishing his checks and clearing the front of the net. Malakhov, who has teamed with Brian Leetch to form the teams top defensive pairing, has appeared in all 41 games going 6-13-19 and leads the NHL in +/- with a +23.

MANNY MALHOTRA- Grade C-. The former first round draft pick may be getting his last best chance to prove he should stay on Broadway. Malhotra has gotten sporadic ice time over the half of the season, and was even a healthy scratch on several occasions. But due to a recent rash of injuries Manny has gotten a chance to play and has capitalized on that opportunity, recording goals in back to back games on the Rangers current roadtrip while finally getting more involved physically. The 21 year-old must play a more physical game and show the coaching staff he can sustain intense play at both ends of the ice if he wishes to land an increased role with the team. Malhotra has gone 2-3-5 and is a +5 in 31 matches.

SANDY MCCARTHY- Grade D. The Sandman has been a mild disappointment thus far, after a career year last season which saw him set career highs in every offensive category going 11-10-21 while playing in 81 games last year. This season hasn’t gotten off the start McCarthy had hoped as the Rangers enforcer has gone 3-5-8 and is last on the team in +/- with a whopping -12 while piling up 109 PIM. Granted McCarthy has played a much lesser role this season but his reluctance to drop the gloves early in the season coupled with the emergence of Steve McKenna has cut into Sandy’s ice time. With several divisional games coming up on the schedule you can look for McCarthy to play a more prominent role in the second half.

STEVE McKENNA- Grade C. Off-season free agent pickup was recalled in early November after spending a month in Hartford. McKenna has helped lift the burden off of an aging Sandy McCarthy and has taken on all comers in his first year on Broadway. Is great in the dressing room and will always come to the aid of teammates. Went 1-1-2 over first half and compiled 100 PIM in 26 matches.

MARK MESSIER- Grade B. The Rangers leader both on and off the ice has been slowed by injuries early in the season missing seven games due to a myriad of bumps and bruises. The Captain has accepted a lesser role, centering the third line between checking wingers Mikael Samuelsson and Andreas Johansson but has still managed to chip in offensively going 7-15-22 in 35 matches. Mess still gets plenty of time on the power play and is a regular on the penalty killing unit. The decrease in icetime should benefit the soon to be 41 year old Messier down the stretch, the Rangers will need #11’s leadership come playoff time.

PETR NEDVED- Grade B. The annual slow starter once again stumbled out of the blocks struggling through the first 20 games, but the Rangers offensive leader the past 3 seasons has picked it up of late. Nedved has begun to benefit from being kept away from the other teams top centerman and put up respectable numbers in the first half going 13-12-25 over the first 38 games. Missed the first two weeks of training camp due to a contract holdout and then was sidelined for 4 games with a concussion. Offensive production has been hurt by the struggles of countrymen Radek Dvorak. Is a key piece to the puzzle if the Blueshirts hope to qualify and advance in the postseason. Has impressed the coaching staff recently playing a more physical style.

DALE PURINTON- Grade INC. Rangers pugilist seems to have lost a bit of his edge following seven game ban for high sticking handed down by disciplinary czar Colin Campbell early in the season. Has been a victim of the numbers game as the Blueshirts are carrying an abundance of defensemen and has been a healthy scratch for 5 of the last six matches. Has gone 0-2-2 and piled up 52 PIM in 22 games.

MIKE RICHTER- Grade A. Where would the Rangers be without the play of #35? Mike Richter has been more than anyone could’ve asked and has stolen points for the Blueshirts at least half a dozen times this season. Richter has gone 16-11-3 posting an impressive .917 SP and a 2.76 GAA. The Rangers MVP has also benefited from the play of rookie sensation Dan Blackburn who has afforded Richter an occasional night off which should aid Richter down the stretch.

JEFF TOMS- Grade C+. Career AHL’er has been given an opportunity to show what he can do at this level and has impressed the Ranger brass to the point that he has earned himself a spot in the everyday lineup. Has earned the nickname “putty” in that he has filled several holes created by injuries thus far this season. Is a big centerman who can be used as a checking center and can be thrust into an offensive position when needed. Has been a pleasant surprise and conjures up memories of Mike Eastwood who has forged a successful career in St Louis as their fourth line center.

IGOR ULANOV- Grade D-. Off-season free agent signee has been a colossal bust in his first year with the Rangers. Seems slow in his own end and is constantly losing one on one battles in the defensive zone. Often takes himself out of the play trying to deliver a big hit that more times than not doesn’t materialize. Could very well find himself elsewhere if GM Glen Sather can find a taker.  Has gone 0-5-5 and is a +1 in 31 matches.

MIKE YORK- Grade A- Has fit in wonderfully on top line with Lindros and Fleury. Tireless worker has already surpassed last year numbers in leading the Rangers in scoring going 15-25-40 during first half. Has found a much needed scoring touch of late and remains one the teams top penalty killers. Was named to US Olympic team and is tied for third on team in +/- posting a +19 rating. Rarely has an off night and seems primed to top his previous best 26 goal output reached in his rookie season of 1999-00.

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