A Done Deal?
Despite all their trades, the woeful Rangers look as if they'll
miss the playoffs again
Last Friday, moments after his Rangers stunk up Madison Square
Garden worse than the circus elephants recently working in the
arena, New York coach Ron Low tried to explain how his
high-powered roster, freshly revamped for a playoff run, had lost
5-2 to the Thrashers, the NHL's worst team. "I guess that's our
fragile ego," Low said of his players, who had fallen behind 4-0
after two periods. "We backed up like we had a major fear of this
The Rangers' loss to an Atlanta club that dressed eight players
with less than one season of NHL experience, including a
26-year-old goalie, Frederic Cassivi, making his first career
start, showed that New York (31-34-4-4 and 10th in the East
through Sunday) has shortcomings that even general manager Glen
Sather's headline-grabbing deadline deals will be hard-pressed to
Fearing that New York would miss the postseason for the fifth
straight year, Sather radically retooled the Rangers' roster in
the two weeks before the March 19 trading deadline, acquiring
winger Martin Rucinsky and center Roman Lyashenko from the Stars,
defenseman Tom Poti and center Rem Murray from the Oilers and,
most significantly, two-time Richard Trophy-winning winger Pavel
Bure from the Panthers.
Though each new player had contributed--the five had combined for
five goals and eight assists--the Rangers were 1-5-0-0 since the
first arrivals, Rucinsky and Lyashenko, made their debuts with
New York on March 13, and were three points behind the Canadiens
(who also had a game in hand) for the conference's final playoff
For all the firepower Sather obtained recently, he didn't get
much help for the blue line, and the Rangers have devolved into
one of the league's poorest defensive teams. They'd allowed 227
goals, better than only the Thrashers, and had killed off 79.9%
of their penalties, worst in the league and usually a sign of
poor coaching. Aside from Leetch and veteran Vladimir Malakhov,
the New York defenders are among the least dependable in the
After a fast start (15 wins in their first 27 games), the Rangers
had won just 16 of 46 and were rapidly spiraling out of
contention. On the bright side, even if New York doesn't make the
playoffs this season, Sather has collected an impressive array of
veteran scorers and shown the willingness to once again crack
open the corporate checkbook. Aside from Sather's willingness to
spend, his win-now philosophy could entice prospective veteran
free-agents-to-be such as Bill Guerin, Bobby Holik and Tony
Amonte to sign with the Rangers this summer.
The compulsion to negotiate expensive deals is understandable,
especially given ornery New York fans' desires to see their team
return to the playoffs. But as parlous as playing in fear might
be, trading out of it is worse.
Wanted: Changes In the System
Video Replay Flaps
In two games with playoff implications last week, deficiencies
in the video replay review system came to the fore. On March 19
in Boston a shot by Coyotes center Michal Handzus crossed the
goal line behind Bruins netminder Byron Dafoe but was ruled no
score by referee Paul Devorski. (The goal light didn't go on.)
Video replay judge Mark Messier attempted to phone the off-ice
officials stationed at the timekeeper's bench, but the NHL
doesn't know why the call went unanswered before play
resumed--meaning Devorski's ruling couldn't be corrected.
"He couldn't get through," Devorski said of Messier after the
game, which the Coyotes lost 4-2. "We have no idea what happened.
Messier said he dialed three times. Once the puck is dropped, we
can't [reverse the call]."
Two days later in Calgary, Flames center Marc Savard slipped the
puck between the pads of Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, and
defenseman Brad Stuart reached at least a foot beyond the goal
line to pull it out of the net with his hand. (The goal light
illuminated.) Stuart's sleight of hand was visible on an overhead
TV replay shown within five minutes, but that angle wasn't
available to the video judge. The goal, which would have tied the
game 1-1, wasn't counted. The Flames went on to lose 4-1.
The NHL has long been aware of the replay system's inadequacies,
and two modifications to the video review protocol were enacted
at the G.M.'s meetings last month. Beginning next season, all
arenas will not only be required to have a dedicated phone line
connecting the video judge to the off-ice officials, but will
also have it equipped with a light that will illuminate when the
That change would have remedied the problem in Boston, but fixing
errors like the one made in Calgary will require making every
television camera angle available to video judges--a solution
that's still some time away because of the vagaries of television
and video technology.
It's Wait 'Til Next Year
Nashville Playoff Guarantee
Since joining the NHL in 1998-99, the Predators have maintained
that they'd be a playoff team within five seasons. Nashville,
which stood at 26-34-11-0 and in 13th place in the West as of
Sunday, will soon be 0 for 4. Nonetheless, next season owner
Craig Leipold will be putting his money where his mouth is. For
the first time the Predators will be raising season-ticket prices
(6% across the board), but they will refund the increase if they
don't play in the postseason. Despite the guarantee, which could
cost Nashville $1 million if it falls short, the Predators' plan
of building with youth won't change. "It's a slow process,
sometimes painfully slow," says G.M. David Poile, "but we're not
looking for a quick fix. That philosophy has been explained to
and approved by ownership."
Poile showed his sincerity recently by trading center Cliff
Ronning, 36, Nashville's career scoring leader, to the Kings,
and winger Tom Fitzgerald, 33, the only captain the Predators
had ever had, to the Blackhawks. In return Nashville received
two 2003 draft picks and Los Angeles defenseman Jere Karalahti,
"Those guys helped get hockey started in Nashville," says Poile,
"but with all due respect, we weren't in the playoffs and they
only have a limited time left in the league because of their
age. We have created opportunities for our younger players to
COLOR PHOTO: J. MCISSAC/B. BENNETT STUDIOS Newcomer Bure has scored three goals in three games, but New York still needs help on defense.
COLOR PHOTO: J. MCISSAC/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
COLOR PHOTO: B. BENNETT/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
Whom Would You Rather Have?
The 1993 first-round draft pick had 29 goals through Sunday. In
seven NHL seasons the 6'3", 235-pounder had averaged .27 goals
and 1.57 penalty minutes per game.
The 1993 first-round draft pick had 26 goals through Sunday. In
eight NHL seasons the 6-foot 210-pounder had averaged .31 goals
and 1.48 penalty minutes per game.
THE VERDICT: Bertuzzi, whose point totals have increased in each
of the last four seasons, is improving, plus he's the harder
hitter of the two. That makes him our pick. --D.G.H.