As the hockey world prepares to loosen the pursestrings on Tuesday and spend our season ticket money on the horses that are expected to bring the cart to the Cup, I can't help but be really concerned - especially as a Ranger fan.
The post-Cup Blueshirts were notorious for bad decisions when it comes to free agents; before you start, the jury is still out on Dru and Gomer. Before the lockout they were attempting to improve upon Frankenstein's monster with a part here and a part there. Those pieces certainly didn't match and the lumbering result never made it to the stage to tap dance with its creator. After the labor tragedy, the monster spoke Czech and made it to the stage but could barely do more than a two-step.
The brain now knows what to do in the spotlight, but Tuesday will determine way too many of the body parts that has to do the dancing. If you look back at the Cup winners since 1994 they all had a corps (get it?) made up primarily of home-grown or long-term talent and the biggest parts of those teams came from top picks after the team completely fell on its face. The Rangers fell on their face but blew the draft picks (five top 10 picks in the 10 years after the Cup). They never were able to draft Steve Yzerman, Mike Modano, Vinny Lecavalier, Eric Lindros (who turned into Peter Forsberg) or Eric Staal. Recent Ranger drafts appear to have been able to produce a nice bounty but the main parts of this monster still need to be signed in free agency.
We have a goaltender, that's for sure, but beyond that there are a lot of positions where we may have something down the line, but nothing right now. We don't have a No. 1 defenseman (Rozy is free). We don't have a power play quarterback (and we haven't since Leetchy left). We don't have a scoring winger (Jagr appears as good as gone). We don't have a heart (bye Sean, we loved having you). This is pretty damned depressing. As I said, we may have solid substitutes in a few years - Marc Staal, Bobby Sanguinetti, Alexei Cherepanov, Brandon Dubinsky, respectively - but we don't have it now. Replacements for 2008-09 will have to come from a shallow free agent pool that will incite salaries that are certain to send this league to another lockout when the CBA runs out.
I've been asked many times who I want the Rangers to sign and, while I think it would be neat to see Sundin or Orpik or a few others, I have to say that I would probably be happiest if the Rangers stood pat. This hired gun thing, the picking up pieces of different puzzles and hoping they fit together isn't the right way to build a team. The time when it worked to win a Cup is long gone. In the last few years the monster got some new parts grafted on so it could shuffle around and get the crowd to clap but that's about it. It isn't until the Ranger brass puts him together the right way that he will be able to dance with Stanley. If the current crop of Ranger free agents want to leave, let them go, but don't bother breaking the bank to replace them. Use the extra money earmarked for salaries towards the planned renovation of the Garden.
In a few years we should have a team worth playing in it.