Henrik Lundqvist 3

The 2006-07 OTG Awards – Vol. 1

For the fifth year, Outside the Garden is pleased to announce the OTG Awards. This season saw the Rangers turn their season around late in the year and make the playoffs once again. The team once again got standout performances from Henrik LundqvistJaromir Jagr and newcomer Sean Avery and the results of our polls reflect that.

There are few, if any surprises in this year’s selections, but if you’ve got a moment, then take your time and recap with us the best of the 2006-07 season as voted on by you, the readers of Outside the Garden.

Most Valuable Player – Henrik Lundqvist
Previous Winners: Matthew BarnabyMike DunhamJaromir JagrMike Richter
For the third time in the five years that we have been running this poll, a goaltender has walked away with the OTG MVP award. There’s little argument that Henrik Lundqvist once again proved his value to the team by backstopping an impressive second half of the season that saw him go 22-15-4 from January 2nd onwards.

Most importanly though, was Lundqvist play after the trading deadline through to the end of March, where he went 10-4-1 and allowed three or more goals just four times in the fourteen game stretch, which included three shutouts and six games where he allowed just one goal.

To top it all off, Lundqvist finished among the top three for Vezina trophy consideration for the second straight season. The Rangers managed to re-sign the star netminder to a one year contract this Summer, but expect to see a long term deal announced after January 1st.

Best Forward – Jaromir Jagr
Previous Winners: Jaromir Jagr (x2), Eric LindrosPetr Nedved
For the third straight year, Jaromir Jagr has been voted the Rangers’ best forward, although Michael Nylander also attracted a lot of votes with a career best performance.

Going into the season there were many questions over Jagr’s health and fitness level. Off-season surgery to a shoulder injury suffered in the playoff loss to New Jersey, meant that the Czech superstar was unable to train fully during the off-season.

The lack of training seemed to be apparent with Jagr less dominating than he was in the 2005-06 season, particularly on the goal scoring side of the equation. Still, as the season came down to the final weeks, #68 was able to step up his play and along with Henrik Lundqvist helped salvage what would have otherwise been a disappointing season.

Jagr will return for what may very well be his penultimate season with the Rangers and the NHL.

Best Defensive Forward – Blair Betts
Previous Winners: Jed Ortmeyer (x2), Bobby HolikMike York
Perhaps if Jed Ortmeyer hadn’t been diagnosed with a Pulmonary Embolism prior to the start of the season, then Betts may not have won this award, but as perhaps the sole defensive specialist amongst the Rangers forward corps, Betts had the inside track on the job.

Like many of the Rangers, Betts got off to a slow start to the season, and perhaps was never as reliable as when he first broke out with the Rangers at the beginning of the 2005-06 season. Once again he was moved around from line to line and with various linemates, before ultimately settling in as the fourth line center to finish the season.

A rare power play goal was almost a highlight too in a late season game with the Penguins (Rangers ended up collapsing in the third) for the man who likes to shoot first and ask questions later.

Best Defenseman – Michal Rozsival
Previous Winners: Brian Leetch (x3), Darius Kasparaitis
Asked before the season who Rangers fans would pick as the best defenseman on the team, few would have selected Michal Rozsival. But by season’s end (a career one in terms of offense), the former Penguins’ draft pick had established himself as the closest thing the Rangers have to a first pair defenseman. That’s not to say he’s in the same league as the Lidstroms and Niedermayers of the NHL, but it’s fair to say that Rozsival has come along way.

Signed as a UFA following the lockout and a serious injury that caused him to miss the entire 2003-04 season, Rozsival has quietly blossomed into a steady and dependable blueliner, who found a way to score some big goals in the latter stages of the season. Perhaps none were bigger than his OT winner against the Sabres in Game three of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals.

Rozsival has one more year to run on his contract and could be looking at a significant pay raise his form continues to improve.

Best Goalie – Henrik Lundqvist
Previous Winners: Mike DunhamHenrik LundqvistJussi Markkanen
In a unanimous vote, Henrik Lundqvist of course won his second straight title for the Rangers #1 goaltender. Not that there was much competition from the Swede in 2006-07…Lundqvist appeared in all but 12 of the Rangers’ games this season…including playoffs.

Biggest Surprise – Dan Girardi
Previous Winners: Matthew BarnabyJed OrtmeyerPetr Prucha
In the past two polls, OTGers have elected to chosen a rookie to award the “Biggest Surprise” title to. This season is no different, with undrafted free agent signing Dan Girardi picking up the honor. Signed to an AHL contract last season, Girardi quickly established himself as a star in that league winning AHL All-Star selection and ultimately an NHL contract with the Rangers.

He started this season again in the AHL, and once again won selection to the All-Star team, but was unable to attend after being called up to the Rangers. Girardi never did go back down and cemented a spot in the line-up for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. On the blueline, he showed a poise that was far in excess of his experience and quickly earned the respect of the fans.

Girardi will return for what is expected to be his first full season in the NHL.

Best Acquisition – Sean Avery
Previous Winners: Mike DunhamJaromir JagrMartin Straka
When the Rangers traded Jason Ward and a couple of prospects to Los Angeles in return for the firebrand forward, their season was going nowhere and the team lacked passion. Enter one Sean Avery, much maligned in the press and having worn out his welcome in LA after a lockerroom prank resulted in a season ending injury to one of his team mates.

In New York however, Avery would keep the passion to the ice where he immediately established himself as a fan favorite and a tormentor of opposing goalies. Perhaps this one change to the Rangers’ team psyche was all that was needed to turn the season around, because with Avery in the line-up the Rangers ran off a streak of 17-8-4 to end the season and to climb into the sixt spot of the playoffs.

The tension will continue with one of the league’s most hated pest this off-season. Avery filed for arbitration and as of today, the former Detroit Red Wing and LA King has leaked to the press some of the arguments that the Rangers have used with the arbitrator in what could well be an acrimonious hearing.

Best Trade – Sean Avery and John Seymour from LAK in exchange for Jason WardJan Marek and Marc-Andre Cliche
Previous Winners: Pavel BureMike DunhamAlexei KovalevPetr Sykora
In a season with few big name trades for the Rangers, there’s no doubt that the Avery trade was easily the best for the team. Avery’s addition was both timely and filled a need on the team for some additional edge. In actuality the team as a whole appeared to play with a little more grit after the exchange that finally took the team from being a soft play-making type team into one that was more of a balance of both what have been classically termed European and North American styles.

Best Rookie – Dan Girardi
Previous Winners: Dan BlackburnJamie LundmarkHenrik LundqvistFedor Tyutin
The title of Best Ranger Rookie as voted by the readers of OTG has been a bit of a mixed blessing in the past. Dan Blackburn retired early due to a shoulder injury and Jamie Lundmark recently signed a contract to play in Russia after failing to stick with four separate NHL teams.

At the other end of the spectrum have been the two most recent winners: Henrik Lundqvist and Fedor Tyutin. If one was to guess which group Girardi will end up in, it would appear to be the latter.

Best Effort Shown – Jed Ortmeyer
Previous Winners: Matthew Barnaby (x2), Ryan HollwegJed OrtmeyerMike York
Last Summer proved to be a difficult one for fan favorite Jed Ortmeyer. The Nebraska native was diagnosed with a heart disorder with just weeks to go to training camp and was forced to sit out the first half of the season. Unwilling to give up his NHL career, Ortmeyer heeded his doctor’s advice and took his medication, ultimately working his way back into the team late in the season.

His return appeared to be an additional spark for the season, and interestingly preceded the Rangers’ return to form only by a matter of a couple of weeks. Unfortunately for Ortmeyer and his Rangers fans, the club decided that he could be replaced and elected not to re-sign him. The former U of Michigan captain signed on with Nashville for the upcoming season.

Most Improved – Marcel Hossa
Previous Winners: Jaromir JagrEric LindrosSandy McCarthyPetr Nedved
You either love him or hate him. So it goes for Marcel Hossa‘s tenure with the Rangers, or so it seems. The brother of NHL star Marian Hossa, the younger sibling has been a bit of an enigma since joining the Blueshirts. Inconsistent on the offensive side of the ice, Hossa has steadily improved his game in other areas becoming a penalty killer amongst other things.

In 2006-07 his long awaited offense appeared to finally appear too, if only for a brief stretch ended by injury. In a series of 15 games from February into early March, Hossa recorded eight of his ten goals, and five of his nine assists. Certainly increased ice time and the opportunity to play with Jagr contributed to his success, but the question remains as to whether he can repeat.

Biggest Win – First Round Game3 vs Atlanta 7-0
Coming off a successful 2-0 road sweep of the Thrashers in their own building, the Rangers returned to MSG to see if they couldn’t cement the series lead. A loss would make the Rangers’ first playoff series win in almost ten years just that much more challenging to accomplish…a win would put them on the doorstep of a sweep.

In what was one of the biggest one-sided games in Rangers’ playoff history, the home team dominated all aspects of the game getting a hattrick from Michael Nylander, a brace of goals from rookie Ryan Callahan and additional markers from Brendan Shanahan and Marek MalikHenrik Lundqvist faced just 21 shots as he pitched his first NHL playoff shutout and his second 7-0 win of the season, a month after he posted his first.

Best Comeback – Jed Ortmeyer
Previous Winners: Jaromir JagrBrian Leetch
With his career on the line, there was not only a question whether he’d play in the NHL again, but that whether his condition was life threatening. Ortmeyer for his part focused on regaining his health and looking for a way to return.

Ortmeyer’s season highlights included of course his return to the team, but also a penalty shot goal late in the season after he was hauled down on the penalty kill.

Best Value – Henrik Lundqvist
Previous Winners: Jaromir Jagr
It will be much harder for Lundqvist to win this title in the future, now that his salary has increased by more than double. Still it’s hard to argue that the Rangers didn’t get great value from a goaltender who was still playing on his NHL entry-level contract, making about $1.8 million when you include bonuses.

His $4.5 million for next season, with an expected further increase after January 1st when the Rangers are expected to sign him to a long term deal, seem just rewards for two impressive seasons to start his career.

Next week…the negatives.

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