As most of the major names have come off the board on the available UFA list with Alex Tanguay almost certain to sign in Florida (Walter is knocking on wood somewhere right now). We take a look at how our favorite teams, the Rangers and Panthers have done so far and what to expect from them this year. We will also take a look at our surrounding divisional opponents and see where exactly our beloved teams lie right now.
Smalls Take on the Rangers and the Atlantic Division:
It has been quite the off season roster overhaul in New York, with the retiring of Marcus Naslund, and the trade of Scott Gomez to Montreal for Chris Higgins and Change. The Rangers will have many new faces coming into the new season, as guys like Colton Orr, Blaire Betts, Freddy Sjostrom, Paul Mara, Lauri Korpikoski, and Nik Antropov have found new homes to make way for the additions of Donald Brashear, Brian Boyle, Marian Gaborik, Ales Kotalik, Enver Lisin, and Tyler Arnason. The new look Rangers will look to correct their one major flaw from last season, scoring.
The Scott Gomez project in New York is over and the Rangers have finally added a pure goal scorer in Marian Gaborik to take over and try to lead the team to the promised land. One large question that remains is who is going to center this guy, and find him in open ice to put the puck in the net? Much lies on the shoulders of young Brandon Dubinsky as he heads into his 3rd season with the Rangers, and tries to bring back that spark he had with Jaromir Jagr just a couple seasons ago.
The Next few days for the Rangers should also be interesting with the arbitration hearing for Nik Zherdev taking place. If his salaray is deemed low enough by the Rangers where it is worth keeping him, they should have some dynamic goal scorers in the line up to help out Lundqvist by giving him the support he so desperately deserved last season with the likes of Gaborik, Higgins, Drury, Callahan, Kotalik, Avery, and Zherdev all capable of putting up 20+ goal seasons. Dubinsky will be the offensive key to all of this as will the new guys coming up in Artem Anisimov and Evgeny Grachev, who is fresh off a 40 goal 40 assist season in Hartford of the AHL and is an electrifying talent that all Ranger fans should be excited about.
Next move is to acquire a veteran defenseman to play on the 3rd pairing with likely a rookie call up (Matt Gilroy, Michael Sauer, or Bobby Sanguinetti). I like Zubov as he has won a Stanley Cup with the Rangers and has the veteran leadership missing from the defensive corps. Another option would be to bring back Derek Morris who is already familiar with the Rangers system and was solid for them on defense last season. Lundqvist will be enough on his own to keep them in games and hopefully get them to the playoffs once again for the 5th straight year.
Personally I like the moves they have made, the offense has been anemic since Jagr left for Russia and an overhaul was necessary to spark this team and get the kind of guys that Tortorella feels can play under his system and give him 100% every night on every shift. No longer can they try to win games 2-1 and 1-0 as not only are these games boring and sickeningly nerve racking, but clearly that system doesnt work, as the Rangers were barely able to sneak into the playoffs last year claiming the 7th spot in the final days of the season. Tortorellas forechecking system shows a lot of promise and they have some hard working guys to get it done, I just hope the PK can be successful without the likes of Betts and Sjostrom, two of the best we as Ranger fans have ever seen go to work a man down. I am still campaigning for the resigning of Betts as his faceoff and PK skills are irreplacable but it is not for me to decide. Brian Boyle, I am looking at you to step in and fill those large shows, and with your 6'7 frame i think its something that you can come close to doing. It is a season where expectations are high and Glen Sathers acquisitions will be under the microscope as Ranger fans will be calling for his head if they do not perform once again. Gaborik staying healthy + a solid defensive unit + Lundqvist could be the formula needed to get the rangers where they want to be. If it doesnt pan out, i sure wouldn't want to be Slats next offseason.
The rest of the division looks interesting, as the Devils have lost much of their offensive fire power other than Parise and Zajac, and need Marty to stay healthy for them to be successful this year. The Islanders are still rebuilding while the flyers should be strong once again, though goal tending figures to be an issue for them (Emery and Boucher im looking at you). Also, I really dont understand signing Pronger to a 7 year deal, as it reminds me of the Hatcher experiment, Throwing a lot of money at a once prmionent player in his latter years to a long multi year deal. Lastly of course is Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup champs (how i hate saying that) who promises to be strong once again led by Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury in goal to keep them going. It should be a fun season and I am thoroughly looking forward to October 2nd when the Rangers and Pens face off in Pittsburgh to kick off their NHL seasons. Could this be our year Ranger fans? If the offense can come together and put up some goals, Lundqvist is the kind of guy you've got to feel confident leading you through the playoffs and the Rangers chances are as good as any to win it all this year. Henrik! Henrik! Henrik!
Walter's Take on the Panthers
You think you've had quite the overhaul....check out what's happened down here in Sunrise. The Panthers came thisclose to making the playoffs in '09 and finally ending their record-setting eight year drought. Finishing tied for 8th with 93 points (the most in quite some time) and losing out to Les Habitants was heartbreaking. In the wake of this, the offseason presented many questions, most pressing was what to do with Jay Bouwmeester? I, for one, will not and can not fault JM the GM for keeping him at the deadline. At the time, the Cats were in fourth place in the conference and looking good to snap the dry spell. Martin didnt want to mess with the chemistry and balance the team had built and there wasn't a deal that made it worth it, so he stuck it out with Jay even knowing he probably wouldn't be resigning come July 1. How were we to know that the JayBo post-deadline would play as abysmal as he finished the season?
On June 1st, many Panthers fans awoke to some wonderful news that Jacques Martin was abandoning the team to coach those darn Canadiens. No longer were we under the rule of an old-time defensive-minded regime that seemed to clash with rising star in the coaching ranks, Pete DeBoer. However, the Draft was coming soon and Bouwmeester was still on the team, leaving the Cats scrambling. Lacking a GM at this critical time was worrysome, but we were given Randy Sexton as the interim GM and had Islanders dynasty builder Bill Torrey conducting the GM search. It seemed things were finally turning around in Pantherland.
If you follow the NHL at all, you should know that Panthers are not the type of team that makes the big free agency signing. Instead, July 1st (the opening of FA) was waited upon in hopes that Sexton could work some magic and get any sort of return for Bouwmeester, who made it clear that he would walk and wouldn't be signing before July 1 no matter where he went, essentially killing any value he may have had on the market. Incredibly, Sexton managed to trade his rights to Calgary before the draft for a third round pick and Jordan Leopold, a solid defenseman. The draft turned out to be pretty successful, even without a GM. We were able to grab an unanimous top-10 defender in Dimitry Kulikov and rounded out the draft with 6 more forwards, something incredibly necessary for our farm system and the future. It was clear that the team wanted to address the offense, and they got some good players that will hopefully do so in the future.
At the start of FA, David Booth signed a six-year extension worth $26 million with Florida, thus solidifying his status as the "face of the franchise." The other major signing was replacing fan favorite Craig Anderson at back up goalie with Scott Clemmensen, who filled in so brilliantly for Martin Brodeur in New Jersey last year. Radek Dvorak was resigned and Ville Koistinen brought in to round out the blue line. Overall, it seemed like any other offseason in Sunrise. Other minor moves were made to fill out the AHL team and it seemed as if the Panthers would be relying on their young guys to fill in the defense spots and counting on big years from Horton and Frolik to bring the scoring up.
However, now there are reports that the team is close to signing LW Alex Tanguay. It's hard to believe, but he is a big-name, big-splash free agent signing that addresses the teams BIGGEST need: a scorer. I dont know that he makes the Panthers a Cup contender, but the goal is the playoffs and they become a lot more realistic with Tanguay on the team. He is the (arguably) best player left on the market and him signing with the Panthers should provide all their fans with hope and proof that the GM and management want to finally win!
There are only two things left to accomplish in the offseason: sign Tanguay and hire a GM committed to the aggressive, puck-moving play that DeBoer utilizes. With Tanguay on the team, October can't come soon enough. Without him, it looks like the schedule ends with the Lightning on April 11. Stay tuned, it's always interesting in Pantherland. And if you ask me, if Tanguay dons the Panthers sweater next year, it better be Randy Sexton watching down from the GM box.
1 year ago