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14 New York Rangers Another off-season spending spree, but this time they bought the right stuff

Bobby Holik is no dummy. In nine seasons with New Jersey the
6'4", 235-pound center developed a reputation as a deep thinker
who led teammates on outings to such places as the National Air
and Space Museum and the Texas School Book Depository. Surely, a
bright man such as Holik must have noticed that while his Devils
were winning two Stanley Cups, in 1995 and 2000, the Rangers were
proving that record spending doesn't buy titles. In fact, New
York has missed the playoffs in five straight seasons, despite a
payroll that approaches an NHL alltime high of $80 million.
Having signed a five-year, $45 million free-agent contract in
July, Holik is responsible for $9 million of that total. Money
aside, though, he's certain the move across the Hudson River was
a smart one. "Call me an optimist," Holik says. "I believe in the
guys in this locker room. There's no way this team doesn't have
the ability to move up."

The Rangers added a second high-priced free agent in pugnacious
defenseman Darius Kasparaitis (six years, $25.5 million). While
Holik made his name as a two-way threat who can lock up top-line
centers, the 5'11", 205-pound Kasparaitis is a feared--and
sometimes loathed--hitter. "There are players you hate playing
against, but you love them when they're on your team," says new
coach Bryan Trottier. "Those two guys fall into that category."

Both bring grit and toughness to a team that already had plenty
of glitz; the trouble was, most of the glamour boys are either
injury-prone or getting too old. With a team-leading 73 points,
center Eric Lindros, 29, made a largely successful return to the
NHL after sitting out 2000-01 because of the effects of
postconcussion syndrome and a contract dispute with the Flyers.

Three players who helped the Rangers win the Cup in 1994--center
Mark Messier, 41; goalie Mike Richter, 36; and defenseman Brian
Leetch, 34--are showing their age. Right wing Pavel Bure, who was
acquired in a trade with the Panthers last March, is questionable
for the start of the season after arthroscopic surgery to repair
torn cartilage in his right knee, the same knee in which the ACL
has been replaced twice. "The organization has provided enough
talent, skill and depth," says Holik. "It's up to the guys in
this locker room to make the difference." --P.M.


Since February 1999, the Rangers have had only two shutouts
(both by Mike Richter), fewer than any other NHL team over that



OFFENSE 10 Bure, Lindros should click; rookie Lundmark may
DEFENSE 14 Kasparaitis brings needed crunch to back line
GOALTENDING 22 Richter must stay healthy; Blackburn not ready to
be No. 1
SPECIAL TEAMS 13 Coaching change will boost PK, ranked 30th last
MANAGEMENT 17 G.M. Sather on hot seat; expect strong job by