The (Next) Face of the New York Rangers?
Depending on who you believe, Mats Sundin is thisclose to becoming a New York Ranger.
The Toronto Star reported earlier that Sundin is expected to make a decision as early as tomorrow as to where he'll be suiting up for the remainder of the season, and supposedly it's down to the up-against-the-cap Rangers and the please-take-our-money Canucks.
Ah, it's just like 1994 all over again, except this time the prize isn't Lord Stanley's Cup...it's a 37-year old center.
Is this Sundin nonsense a distraction for either team? Not likely. Sure, the Rangers were bombed against the Devils a few nights ago, but, with Sundin in attendance, they won their eighth shootout of the season against Carolina the next day and held onto their share of first place.
Would Sundin really help the Rangers?
Considering how much money Sather threw at Gomez and Drury in planning the transition from the European-style the team had been playing, bringing in Sundin is tantamount to admitting he made a mistake.
For all the talk of Drury's leadership, and Gomez' abilities while playing for the offensively-challenged Devils, the simple fact of the matter is that they are not the game-breaking superstars their salaries reflect.
Sundin, in his prime, was.
As constructed right now, there are four centers on the roster: Drury, Gomez, Dubinsky, and Betts. You can swing Drury around to wing, but the fact is none of these guys is a true, legit, number one center (neither, for that matter, was Michael Nylander, but he sure put up some decent numbers....when paired with Jagr).
In the immediate aftermath of the lockout, there were rumors the Rangers planned to sign current winger Markus Naslund and Peter Forsberg for some added firepower, perhaps to re-create the Swedish 1-2 punch of Nilsson and Hedberg from the late 1970s. It was never more than a rumor, apparently, and it was probably a bad idea anyway.
Sundin would most likely be a better fit with Naslund than either Gomez or Drury. That much is obvious.
But do you really want to pin the hopes of the franchise on a 37-year old center? Have we learned nothing from the second Mark Messier era?
Signing Sundin to a one or two year deal is probably not a bad idea. It would certainly spell the end of Petr Prucha's career on Broadway, as his salary is the one most likely to be dumped to make room.
And really, the kid needs a change of scenery at this stage of his career, though I don't think he'll ever become the prolific scorer some thought he was when he potted 30 goals in his rookie season (again, thank Jagr for making him look better than he was. Dave Semenko hit double digits in goals playing with Gretzky once upon a time, nobody thought he would overtake Mike Bossy). There are continual rumors the horribly overpaid Michal Roszival would be dealt to clear space, but who's going to pick up that contract?
What else would have to happen? Lauri Korpikoski would almost certainly be sent back to the minors to add additional space, though Sundin has supposedly stated money will not be the deciding factor. If that's the case, it sounds like the Rangers or bust. And if they did manage to dump Prucha, Roszival and relegate Korpikoski back to the AHL, you've tied all your hopes to Sundin and taken yourself out of the running around the trade deadline (unless you become sellers).
So then, what would the impact be on the team?
Certainly without Sean Avery, there's no prima donna mentalities in the locker room that would be upset by his signing. Losing Prucha would certainly upset Jagr, but he's in the KHL, and I don't think Gomez will be huffing at his departure.
Drury would move to the wing without complaint. Dubinsky might possibly see his ice time cut as Sundin would become the go-to center in key spots, but again, this isn't going to fester into something ugly.
The issue here isn't personality; rather, it's the needs of the short term against what's best in the long term. Bringing in Sundin would essentially say that Gomez and Drury weren't quite the right direction for the team to take, simply because neither one is capable of carrying the offensive load. Pairing up Sundin with Naslund, for this year and possibly next, makes that clear.
This team has not been built as a high-scoring machine. It's been fashioned (heaven help us) as a model of the Devils, winning tight games, and getting into trouble with the run and gun (see: 8-5 loss to the self-same Devils, who have even less firepower).
The one true offensive threat on this team is Zherdev, and the division lead, while important over the long haul, is misleading when you consider how many more games they've played. And it's even scarier when you think of where they'd be without the shootout.
Let's not forget, you need to outscore the opponent in the playoffs without a shootout, and that's something the current top two centers aren't really very good at.
The question here isn't really Do the Rangers need Mats Sundin; the real issue is whether the Rangers over-committed their team to the wrong people, and for way too much money.
And I think the answer to that one is a resounding yes.
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