Jaromir Jagr 2

Ranger Danger

by Eric Vecchione

When Glen Slather unloaded many of the Ranger’s oldest and highest salaried players last spring, many fans thought they had seen the end of the longstanding ineffective strategy of importing and overpaying old players past their primes.  However, many of Sather’s moves in the new NHL are raising eyebrows and making Ranger fans nervous that the old bygone days of bad personnel moves may not yet be over.

By throwing in the towel last spring and going with young players such as Josef Balej, Fedor Tyutin and Dominic Moore (among others), the Rangers seemed to be finally moving forward in a sustainable manner, albeit a decade later than when the transformation should have occurred.  Fans were now expecting young, exciting prospects, smart personnel moves in regards to salaries and age, and some hope for the future.  Supposedly gone were the Kamenskys, the Quintals, and the Fleurys, and arriving were the players who would be the faces of the Rangers for years to come.

While certain steps have been taken over the past year towards realizing this vision, Sather’s maneuvering in the off-season has raised a few red flags. Some of his more questionable moves include:

Not buying out Darius Kasparaitis
On the books for $3.34 million over the next three years, the Rangers are overpaying for a defenseman who has been at best ineffectual, and at worst unwatchable in his time with the Rangers so far.  When you consider that Kasparaitis will be turning 33 a week into the season and that the Rangers have a fair amount of defensive prospects who should play regularly this upcoming season, it becomes hard to understand why Kasparaitis is using up a bit less than 10 percent of the Rangers’ cap room.  If Sather wanted a veteran presence on the blue line, maybe he should have sought the services of one of the few remaining true Rangers, who probably would have taken a hometown discount to play for them instead of the Bruins.

Signing Martin Rucinsky and Martin Straka
Age 34 and 33 respectively, the two wingers were brought in after impressing Ranger scouts (and Sather himself) at the World Championship when playing on a line with Jaromir Jagr.  OK.  While one can see at least some motivation behind these moves, the fact remains that the Rangers never won when bringing in over-the-hill players, and they’re not in a position to win now with a predominantly younger roster, so why make these moves?  Rangers fans don’t need to see one line of aging former stars to come to the Garden.  They want youth.  They want excitement.  They want a plan, and more importantly, they want a commitment to that plan.  On a positive note, Straka and Rucinsky have one year, $3 million deals.  Hopefully Sather can resist the urge to sign them to long term, $5 Million/per year deals, though it wouldn’t be surprising if he did.  Isn’t that sad?

Steve Rucchin
Steve Rucchin??? This one really gets this writer’s goat. After failing to sign Chris Gratton, (yes, you read that correctly) Sather had to get his fix for a mediocre center and the Mighty Ducks were more than happy to oblige and divest themselves of the $2.26 million Rucchin is owed this year.  There are a few concerns regarding this development.  First, Sather was courting Chris Gratton. (does that scare anyone else?) second, he traded for Steve Rucchin and third, the addition of Rucchin clogs up the depth chart at center, with Nylander and Straka occupying the two front line spots.  This leaves only the fourth line center spot open for Prucha, Moore, Lundmark, Wiseman, and Murray, among others. While a few of these players may move to or continue to play on the wing, it’s still hard to justify how bringing in a 34 year-old third line center makes sense for a supposedly rebuilding team.

The Ranger fan’s best bet for now is to sit back and hope the storm has passed, for while there have been some questionable moves made inconsistent with a youth movement, the organization’s prospects for the future are the brightest since the early 1990’s. Hopefully Sather will be able to quell his appetite for uninspired overpaid players and the storied Ranger franchise can return to prominence once more.

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