Around Town: Devils Hold Ground as Rangers & Isles Improve
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
NEW YORK RANGERS
One of the few NHL playoff teams that actually managed to improve during the summer, the Rangers are in excellent shape as the 2006–07 season dawns. They have very few weaknesses, and every offseason departure was outweighed by a superior acquisition.
OFFENSE Jaromir Jagr finished second in league scoring (and second in Hart Trophy voting) last season, and he should enjoy another fine season. Now with Brendan Shanahan riding shotgun, the Blueshirts’ offense will be even better.
DEFENSE Last year, the Rangers lacked grit on their blue line. They made up for it with the signing of Aaron Ward, a hard-hitting shot blocker who should make life much easier for Henrik Lundqvist. Look for Tyutin to enjoy a strong season, emerging as a fixture on the Rangers’ defense, and for newcomer Karel Rachunek to be an excellent addition.
GOALTENDING Lundqvist broke out with a spectacular rookie season, earning him a spot as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. His hip injury is fully healed, and he has his migraine headaches under control as well. Look for Lundqvist to enjoy a stellar sophomore season, with Kevin Weekes serving as the backup until Alvaro Montoya is ready to make the jump to the NHL.
SPECIAL TEAMS The Rangers significantly upgraded their power play with the addition of sniper Brendan Shanahan, whose laser-like shot and goal-scorer’s instincts will make him the perfect bookend for Jaromir Jagr. The incredibly versatile Matt Cullen will be utilized both on the power play (perhaps playing the point) and as a penalty-killing forward.
BREAKOUT PLAYER Last year, Petr Prucha burst from relative anonymity to score 30 goals. This season, the fearless forward will demonstrate that he’s got staying power. Prucha’s goal scoring totals will probably drop now that he’s fallen behind Shanahan on the depth chart, but if he can avoid injury, the versatile forward will be an essential Ranger for many seasons to come.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Islanders were the punchline for nearly every hockey joke this summer, and perhaps deservedly so. They promoted their backup goalie to GM and bestowed a 15-year contract on their unproven starting netminder. But with Ted Nolan now behind the bench, the hard-working Isles should be one of the NHL’s most pleasant surprises.
OFFENSE Miroslav Satan’s first season on Long Island wasn’t bad; he led the team with 35 goals and 66 points and should build upon those totals this season. Jason Blake, one of the hardest-working athletes in the business, put together a career-best 57-point season. Look for Blake to top the 30-goal mark for the first time this season.
DEFENSE The Isles’ porous defense was their biggest weakness in 2005–06 and upgrading it was the top off-season priority. Enter hardhitting blueliner Brendan Witt. Though he won’t be mistaken for Denis Potvin when he carries the puck, Witt provides the Isles with a nasty edge they’ve sorely lacked in recent years, and he’ll make life a lot less pleasant for opposing forwards entering the Islanders’ zone.
GOALTENDING Rick DiPietro’s 15-year contract will probably be a source of stress initially, but he’ll settle down by the 20-game mark and put together his best season thus far. Of course, a much-improved Isles defense will also be a huge help, as will the presence of new backup Mike Dunham, a very dependable safety net.
SPECIAL TEAMS The Isles’ special teams were amongst the NHL’s worst last season (20th in power play, 26th in penalty killing), and that’ll need to improve if they’re to contend for a playoff spot. A huge key will be newcomer Tom Poti, who will be a man on a mission quarterbacking the power play. In addition to trying to win over the Isles’ fans, Poti will look to prove the MSG boo-birds wrong.
BREAKOUT PLAYER Expectations are at an all-time low for Alexei Yashin, but look for the big Russian to bounce back with a huge season. Nolan will tolerate no less than a full effort from the enigmatic forward, and if he gets through to Yashin, it’ll have a hugely positive impact on the Isles’ fortunes.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
The Devils inked leading scorer Brian Gionta to a three-year, $12 million deal yesterday, ensuring that their talented core will remain intact. And once GM Lou Lamoriello got Gionta under contract, he completed subsequent deals with defensemen Paul Martin and David Hale, forward Eric Rasmussen, and goaltender Scott Clemmensen.
OFFENSE The top line of Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, and Gionta is one of the best in hockey. But because of a lack of scoring depth, they’ve had to be broken up in order to diversify the offense. Sophomore Zach Parise should improve this season, and rookies Travis Zajac and Nicklas Bergfors could also emerge as key contributors.
DEFENSE Brian Rafalski is still one of the NHL’s best outlet passers, and Martin is gradually developing into a very solid all-around blueliner. Hale is expected to make an impact this season, while Dan McGillis will play in Lowell (AHL) so that his $2.2 million salary doesn’t apply toward the cap.
GOALTENDING Martin Brodeur remains one of the NHL’s finest netminders, and at 34 years old, he should have plenty left in the tank. But after averaging 70+ games a season over the past decade, the Devils would be wise to lessen his workload. Unfortunately, backup Clemmensen is a far inferior option.
SPECIAL TEAMS With Elias, Gomez, Rafalski, and Gionta, the Devils’ power play should once again be quite dangerous. The penaltykilling tandem of John Madden and Jay Pandolfo is one of the NHL’s finest.
BREAKOUT PLAYER Zach Parise showed flashes of brilliance during his rookie season, but finished with only 32 points in 81 games. Look for him to tally 55–60 points and emerge as a key offensive contributor this year.