Rangers Rumors & News
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There was a lot to love and a lot to hate for Ranger fans at this year’s trade deadline. In that way, maybe it mirrored the team itself. Don’t get me wrong, Ranger fans aren’t complaining after seven dark and dismal years without a sniff of the postseason. Nevertheless, it would be naive to think that all of the organization’s problems have been solved.

Despite that the NHL lockout was engineered to save small market clubs, few teams in the league benefitted more from the work stoppage than the Rangers, who were finally presented with the impetus to tear down their crusty core of overpaid veterans and rebuild with youth – a trend that continued this week as the team chose to hold onto its rookies and prospects rather than deal them for a rental player such as Marian Hossa or Brian Campbell.

But despite the team’s prudent restraint, GM Glen Sather doesn’t get a “Get Out of Jail Free” card anymore than the Knicks’ Isiah Thomas would were his team to turn its fortunes around. In reality, Madison Square Garden is a muddled and mismanaged conglomerate run by an inept, guitar-strumming brat, and it’s fair to argue that the Blueshirts are simply a shining example that it’s better to be lucky than good.

Perhaps there isn’t a better example of this principle than the team’s current crop of young, home-grown players: Henrik Lundqvist (Year: 2000 Round: 7 Pick: 205), Fedor Tyutin (Year: 2001 Round: 2 Pick: 40), Daniel Girardi (undrafted), Marc Staal (Year: 2005 Round: 1 Pick: 12), Petr Prucha (Year: 2002 Round: 8 Pick: 240), Ryan Hollweg (Year: 2001 Round: 8 Pick: 238), Ryan Callahan (Year: 2004 Round: 4 Pick: 127), Nigel Dawes (Year: 2003 Round: 5 Pick: 149), and Brandon Dubinsky (Year: 2004 Round: 2 Pick: 60).

Of the above group, only Staal – considered a can’t-miss prospect at the time due to his pedigree – was selected in the first round. In 2003, the team wasted its first-round, 12th overall selection on Darien, CT native Hugh Jessiman, despite the fact that many draft boards didn’t even have Jessiman ranked in the top-30. Just a few of the players selected after Jessiman that year: Robert Nilsson, Steve Bernier, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Mark Stuart, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, and Jeff Tambellini.

In 2004 the team’s brain trust struck again, selecting Al Montoya with the 6th overall selection. Though the pick was considered a reach by most analysts, it at least filled a position of need for the Blueshirts as the career of top-goaltending prospect Dan Blackburn had been scuttled by injuries. While Henrik Lundqvist was already in the organization, he had spent his entire professional career honing his skills in Sweden, which, while it may have aided the young goalie’s development, inhibited the organization’s ability to evaluate him. Naturally, had they known their future franchise goaltender was already safely in the fold, they never would have selected Montoya in the first place.

More curious than Montoya’s selection in 2004 (after all, we’re willing to give Sather a pass there) is the organization’s subsequent reluctance to deal the top prospect once King Henrik emerged as a premier netminder in 2005. Indeed, you have to wonder if Montoya himself questioned why he was toiling in an organization where his route to the NHL was so clearly blocked. Few observers felt Montoya would last through the ’06-’07 season, and yet he did. Perhaps, Sather wished to hold onto the goalie as insurance had they been unable to sign Lundqvist to a contract extension and lost him this offseason as a restricted free agent. But were that the case, shouldn’t Montoya have gotten a sniff of NHL action at some point during the last two seasons? It’s not as if Stephen Valiquette has carried much of a load backing up the King.

Which brings us back to the trade deadline – you knew I’d get back there eventually, right? On Tuesday, Sather finally pulled the trigger, packaging Montoya along with Marcel Hossa in exchange for Fredrik Sjostrom, David LeNeveu, and Josh Gratton. Talk about too little, too late. Writes Larry Brooks of the Post:

[I]t took less than three seasons for the Rangers to admit that their selection of Al Montoya out of Michigan at sixth overall in the 2004 Entry Draft had somehow turned into an unmitigated disaster. It took less than three years for the Rangers to admit their failure at the top of the board.

They took Montoya when they already had Henrik Lundqvist within their sights – but obviously didn’t know what quite they had – instead of Rostislav Olesz, Drew Stafford or Alexander Radulov. They eschewed the opportunity to sign R.J. Umberger. They juggled draft picks to trade up from 24 to 19 and then selected Lauri Korpikoski instead of Mike Green, Andrej Meszaros, Wojtek Wolski or Travis Zajac.

Writes John Dellapina on his Blueshirts Blog:

After a couple of years of uneven play at Hartford, Al Montoya’s trade value had dwindled dramatically. In fact, a Rangers source insisted that the only team that showed any interest in acquiring him was the team run by the guy who called his name in the first round of the 2004 Entry Draft.

Goaltenders traditionally are undervalued. Goaltenders who have never played in the NHL aren’t worth anything at all on the trade market. Goaltenders who have never played in the NHL and are about to have their contracts expire while playing for an organization in which they have no future? Well, you know what the Rangers got back in the Phoenix trade.

And so while Sather must be praised for not selling his young assets at the deadline this year, he also has to take the hit for thoroughly mismanaging the career of Montoya. Moreover, for a franchise that is, in Sather’s words, trying to build from within, it’s tough to sugar-coat the squandering of two out of three first round picks on players whose careers are already in jeopardy before either has played an NHL game.

These blunders of the past make me less willing to give Slats the benefit of the doubt in the present, even without anything overt to criticize at the trade deadline. As Brooks states, “small picture: it was a good trade-deadline day for the Rangers and GM Glen Sather, who yielded nothing of apparent value within the organization and who remained committed to developing from within.” However basically what this amounts to is patting a guy on the back for not screwing up – which I guess is something given the depths from which this club has climbed. Still, after nearly three years of relative competence from the front office, is it too much to have some level of expectations? At what point are the fans allowed to cease being thrilled that we’re no longer amongst the league’s cellar dwellers? At what point is it once again acceptable to demand excellence from this organization?

For me, that time has come. And no, dumping your own draft day disaster doesn’t constitute a good deadline day. No, adding some offensive punch to your fourth line doesn’t constitute a good deadline day. And no, surrounding your franchise goalie with some fellow Swedes he can go out drinking with certainly does not categorize a good – deadline – day.

Are Ranger fans happy with this team or merely satisfied? Does this fan base have any faith in the man in charge? Before you answer that, check out John Dellapina on Slats’ deadline dealings:

[I]nsider trading, while frowned upon by the SEC when it comes to stock transactions, remains pretty much the only way Glen Sather does business.

Two trades made with two former fellow Cablevision employees — Don Maloney and John Davidson. And both were of the “How can we help one another?” variety.

I don’t know if there were better deals out there. But let’s just say I’m not surprised that the best deals Sather found were offered by his former assistant GM and the Rangers’ former television analyst.

More from Larry Brooks:

[O]ne club official who has dealt recently with Sather told The Post, “Glen is trying to win every deal, 10-0. That’s not going to happen.”

You know who’s excited today? The Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, and Dallas Stars. Sure, their new acquisitions could all be busts, but you can take it to the bank that those locker rooms and those fan bases are jazzed. Fourteen years ago, then-GM Neil Smith obtained Stephane Matteau, Brian Noonan, Glenn Anderson, and Craig MacTavish at the trade deadline in exchange for Tony Amonte, Mike Gartner, and Todd Marchant. Risky? Of course. Worth it? You tell me.


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