Analysis: Questions abound after Rangers shun Jagr, add Naslund

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So the 2008-09 New York Rangers; yea or nay?

The Blueshirts have experienced a huge roster upheaval in the past week and though “change is good” seems to be the team motto since the lockout, is it possible GM Glen Sather has tweaked a little too much?

Obviously the two biggest losses to the Rangers’ makeup are Jaromir Jagr and Sean Avery. Jagr was incredible for New York during the playoffs, tallying 15 points in 10 games and always making his ominous offensive presence known. He also lifted young pivot Brandon Dubinsky to new heights.

With Jagr taking a rocket to Russia, the role of right winger who played for Pittsburgh in the 1990s will be filled by ex-Canucks captain Markus Naslund, who hasn’t exactly lit it up in recent years. Now, perhaps Naslund will gel better with one of the team’s two star centers, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, than Jagr did (hence the Dubinsky ascension), but can we really expect the same point production from the Swede that his Czech counterpart managed?

As for Avery, you could cheekily prognosticate the Rangers will only win a quarter of their games next year, since he’ll be out of the lineup for at least 82 contests. The Blueshirts were always much better with Avery on the ice (33-24-10 with him in the lineup, 9-13-3 without him) and with the league’s most hated player set to throw sand at opponents in Dallas next year, that spark will have to be ignited by someone else.

Newly acquired right winger Nikolai Zherdev inspires a lot of venom, but it’s usually coming from his own coach and GM. Ryan Hollweg will have to go to Russia if he wants to continue his pitched battle with Chris Simon next season, but getting regular ice time amongst a glut of forwards (add Dan Fritsche, Aaron Voros and Patrick Rissmiller to that list) in New York will be his first priority.

On defense, New York jettisoned Christian Backman after an off year, then signed Dmitri Kalinin, who had an even worse year in Buffalo. Fedor Tyutin went to Columbus with Backman, but the Rangers lured Wade Redden over from Ottawa. So if anything, the blueline got more mobile right away and will get even better as Marc Staal and Dan Girardi continue to grow into their NHL roles.

In net, the status quo is a wonderful thing; Henrik Lundqvist returns after his third straight Vezina nomination, while Stephen Valiquette proved last year he could spell the starter for 15 games and not look out of place.

Questions still remain: Whither Brendan Shanahan? And with Jagr gone, is Martin Straka far behind?

Coming out of the lockout, the Rangers had their Czech philosophy (as in, you can never have too many…) but Jagr, Martin Rucinsky and likely Straka are all gone, while Petr Prucha has been buried on the depth chart.

The ethos then transformed into icing a more North American roster, headlined by the Drury and Gomez signings and bolstered by Shanahan and Avery, the latter two of whom are either gone or on their way out as well.

So who are these new Rangers? Naslund, Redden, Kalinin and Zherdev all share one painful trait; their old teams didn’t want them. Can Sather prove all four teams wrong? Next season may come down to that question.

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