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Caught between being a legitimate playoff team and a rebuilding team with enough resources to ice a homegrown team a la the San Jose Sharks, the Rangers ended up bringing in free agents other teams didn't particularly want, such as Martin Rucinsky, 34, whose career is in decline, and talented but brittle Martin Straka, who has averaged only 32 games a season for the past four campaigns. They also surprised many by keeping Darius Kasparaitis and his $3.4 million contract.
Offense: What little good news there is comes in the form of a guy named Jaromir Jagr, who already has anointed the Rangers a playoff team. OK. Still, on any given night, Jagr might still be the best player in the game. How many of those nights the mercurial Czech decides to bestow on the Rangers will dictate how close the Rangers get to their first postseason berth in eight years. Look for Jagr to line up with Straka and Michael Nylander, who signed on with the Rangers before the lockout.
Defense: In terms of youth, the Rangers' expectations are high for defensive gem Fedor Tyutin. It will be up to coach Tom Renney to make sure he and others don't follow in the footsteps of many Ranger prospects and become burned out before their potential is realized.
Goaltending: The duties will be up to Kevin Weekes, who is used to playing in front of bad teams, and Swedish prospect Henrik Lundqvist, whose stock has risen considerably in the past couple of years.
|New York Rangers|
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|Comings & Goings|
D Jason Strudwick; C Michael Nylander; G Kevin Weekes; C Martin Straka; D Marek Malik; LW Martin Rucinsky; LW Ville Nieminen; RW Jason Ward; C Steve Rucchin; D Michal Rozsival.
C Bobby Holik; C Eric Lindros; LW Josh Green; D Joel Bouchard; G Jason Labarbera; G Jamie McLennan; D Jason Marshall; G Mike Dunham; D Chris McAllister; C Mark Messier; LW Jan Hlavac; LW Dan LaCouture; RW Sandy McCarthy; D Boris Mironov.
|When we last saw them|
Jagr led the Rangers with 31 goals and 43 assists in 2003-04.
Recently departed Dunham took the brunt of the load in 2003-04, posting a 16-30-6 record and a dismal 3.03 goals-against average.
“I don't think I will be the captain. Because you have to speak to the fans, in my opinion, it's a lot easier for a North American guy who speaks fluently in English. I wouldn't mind if the New York Rangers were in Czech [Republic].”
— Jaromir Jagr