With the Rangers' salary cap space almost down to none, it is time to stop looking at free agents and start looking at the players on the roster and what they can accomplish as a team in 2008-2009.
There is no doubt that this will be a transition year with all of the changes in personnel, but by no means does that mean that this year will be a "rebuilding" year.
There are going to be two major differences between this year's team and last year's team: leadership and philosophy.
The leadership of this team is going to change, as every player who had a letter on their jersey last year (Jaromir Jagr: "C" and Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka: "A") will not be back this year.
The safe bet is that the "C" will go to Chris Drury. Drury was the first player to get the "A" last year whenever Shanahan and Straka went down with an injury, and Drury has been a captain before in Buffalo. While his personality and his way of going about things is more like Jagr than Messier, expect Drury to stand up in the locker room this year when something is needed to be said, especially since he doesn't have Shanahan to defer to, like Jagr did.
With Drury wearing the "C", one of the two players wearing the "A" will be Scott Gomez. Gomez is arguably the most important offensive player on the team. Even with Drury as the captain, Gomez is the more dynamic of the two on the ice, with his speed and playmaking ability.
The two should make an excellent duo, just like with Jagr and Shanahan. Drury provides the leadership and the clutch goals, and Gomez has the speed and dynamic personality.
The other "A" should go to one of the Rangers two new arrivals, Markus Naslund or Wade Redden. Most people will say Naslund because he was the captain of the Canucks from the time Mark Messier left to come back to the Rangers, but Redden is also very knowledgeable and can provide leadership as well.
On the ice, the new players that the Rangers acquired should fit into a style of play that Tom Renney has wanted to play since the lockout. Renney likes to play an up-tempo style of play inside of a defense-first system, where he says defensively he likes to see "five men in the picture."
However, Renney and Jagr butted heads on the team philosophy and the Rangers were out of sync offensively until Jagr began to skate in all three zones and took his game to the level it was early in his career and in 2005-06.
With Jagr and Shanahan out of the picture now, and speedster Nikolai Zherdev in the picture and presumably on the No. 1 line with the speedy Gomez, Renney can finally execute his style of play with the Rangers.
Renney has been saying the last three years that in order to win in the "new" NHL, you need to have speed, you need to go to the net (the "blue paint"), and you need to play hard in all three zones. With these personnel changes, the Rangers might be able to do that.
How far will they go? Only time will tell...
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