Two Up, Two Down. Next?

June 30th just before midnight. Glen Sather is in his last meeting with Coach Trottier and key members on staff. They are discussing targets for the upcoming free agency. A defining moment of clarity for the group as they are all on the same page. The bell rings and we fast forward to a mere 4 days later.

Independence Day, July 4th where we honor our country and realize the Rangers have honored their fans. Finally, after 5 years of torment, and 5 years of wondering if any wise moves would be made. Free agency has been a nightmare for the Rangers. Around the league they say "NY, where players go to retire". 5 years that saying has held true, as players who were signed were soft and some out of hockey for a year or others who played in Europe after being exiled from the NHL. So what is different?

The crop. A bounty the likes of which the NHL has not ever seen. The staff is all on the same page. Names fly around the rumor boards and dirt is kicked up to throw everyone off. Then it hits, "Bobby Holik is the newest member of the New York Rangers". Dead center bull's-eye! A strong physical presence at center and much needed defensive help from a forward position. Bobby Holik, a player that will crash the net and setup camp. Admittedly the cost was high but money spent wisely on a player who was not just wanted but needed.

One day later amid speculation another name surfaced. Darius Kasparaitis. Could it be after all those times he crushed our morale he would be in Blue? Sure enough a defender who takes the body and brings one of the biggest pests to our midst since the days of Esa Tikannen. Another player who helps our porous defense and a possible steady partner to Brian Leetch which is a novel idea and brings us back to the Jeff Beukeboom era.

2 up, 2 down, and the market is still wide open as plenty of players are available. So what direction is next now that the 2 players we so desperately sought are in the fold? Well next on the list is goalie. Sather has played the market and played it well this off-season. He knew all along that he had to go hard and heavy at Holik and Kasper and bagged them both. Sather also knew the market for a goalie was slim. Detroit and Toronto seemed the only bidders on a goalie so why not wait it out and still have 2 goalies to choose from. Sather has claimed that Mikey has always been in the plans but truth is with Dafoe still out there he will take whoever comes cheaper and for the terms Sather sets. With the changes in motion for the team look for Mikey back in the next couple days. He has to be pumped to come in and not see the customary 30-40 shots per game and he is the perfect mentor for the Rangers young stud goaltender Daniel Blackburn. Another issue that lends credence to this school of thought is that Richter will not be asked to shoulder the load as he was in the past and Blackburn will get more starts to keep Richter healthy and sharp come playoff time.

Last on the list is a left wing to play up front. Rucinsky had top billing last year and played pretty well. Of course playing with Lindros and Bure didn't hurt. Many fans think he is the answer when truth is he may be the problem. For many years the Rangers landed the soft Europeans in free agency and time after time got burned. Why is Fata not given the chance to play on this top line? He is young, hungry from missed chances and this places him on a line that will succeed. Many fans clamor for an enforcing winger to play left wing on this line. Was Rucinsky that player last year? No, and there is no need for that type of player this year. Kasper now patrols the ice to lay the smackdown on anyone who thinks about taking liberties against Lindros or Bure. Playing a young winger on the top line will not only boost confidence but also change the trend of how the Rangers develop their prospects. So the first line is set. Rumor has Holik playing on what is termed the third line and a true checking line that chips in some serious chaos up front and lands him between McCarthy and Barnaby. Of course Messier would have to agree to fourth line duty but details are worked out later once the chips are set.

That leaves the second line. Nedved is the center for now and Dvorak is out with an injury for the first part of the season. Right wing on the line goes to Lundmark. Another strong statement of confidence in our youth by giving him second line duty. Great, now who plays on the left of Nedved to complete the line? Outside help is needed and the pickings are slim. The budget has been expanded and there is only so far it will grow. Nils Ekman was signed this week and could be the dark horse but he is not the answer. Look for another splash to be made and a big signing of Scott Young or Tony Amonte. Young would come cheaper, but he is 35, yet still versatile, and is only 2 years removed from a 40 goal season. Amonte likes what he sees from the Rangers this off-season and money makes players forget how they were treated in the past. Amonte is said to be bitter towards the Ranger organization, but that was a different crop of management who sent him packing. This time around his eyes are only focused on a Cup run. Both have experience playing the left side and neither will turn down the opportunity if the terms are right.

Sather has free reign to get the Rangers back into the playoffs and beyond, as revenue at Madison Square Garden during those summer months is key to the financial stability of Cablevision. Many have thought Sather to be done spending when in reality he is just beginning and will assemble the perfect machine after 5 years of futile efforts. Money spent wisely a new thought indeed.

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