2001-10-20 / Sports

Lace Up the Skates- 2001-2002 N.Y. Hockey Preview

Lace Up the Skates- 2001-2002 N.Y. Hockey Preview

Lace Up the Skates- 2001-2002 N.Y. Hockey Preview

By Andrei Petrovitch

Hockey is like the drunken uncle or crazy aunt of the family: liked by only a few, and hardly ever talked about in public. However, that sentiment is changing, as the Rangers, Islanders, and Devils have made some big moves (and non-moves) over the off-season.

With the season just underway, here’s a look at all three teams:

THE RANGERS:

Hello – Eric Lindros, Dave Karpa, Barrett Heisten, Igor Ulanov, Zdeno Ciger, Bryan Berard

Goodbye – Jan Hlavac, Tim Taylor, Adam Graves, Valerie Kamensky, Kim Johnsson

What is Ranger General Manager Glen Sather up to? It’s anyone’s guess, as his team is motley assortment of promising rookies, has-beens, never-have-beens, and innumerable comeback attempts. This year’s model includes a cycloptic defenseman (Berard, who is coming back from a gruesome eye injury), a journeyman winger who hasn’t played an NHL game in nearly half a decade (Ciger) and a concussion-prone mama’s boy who can perform some amazing moves with the puck AND smash a guy’s face in (center ice-man Lindros). Will hockey’s equivalent to scientific chaos theory work?

Most likely, the answer is no. Incumbents Mark Messier and Mike Richter are yet another year older, with the latter undergoing his second knee operation in as many years. The only other holdover from the 1994 Stanley Cup winner (seems like a long time, doesn’t it?), defenseman Brian Leetch, is still performing well but is burdened with having to be perfect every single game in order to make up for his teammates’ mistakes.

Granted, far lesser teams have won before, but the Ranger’s problems aren’t only on the ice. Head coach Ron Low has simply not shown that he can either discipline this bizarre patchwork or get it to commit to a solid defensive system. His continued suppression of young-blooded players like Mike York and Manny Malhotra is also baffling considering that for the past four years, the Rangers have failed to make the playoffs with a veteran lineup.

Folks, this ain’t gonna be pretty.

THE ISLANDERS

Hello – Alexei Yashin, Mike Peca, Chris Osgood, Adrian Aucoin

Goodbye – Tim Connolly, Taylor Pyatt, Bill Muckalt, Zdeno Chara

Remember the Islanders? Remember actually wanting to go to Nassau Mausoleum, uh, excuse me, Coliseum? Remember when you could wear the Blue, White and Orange in public and not get laughed at?

Well, I don’t – I was too young to remember the team’s heyday. But I digress… Team General Manager Mike "Madman" Milbury has finally received permission from the Isle’s ownership to actually (gasp!) spend some money. The results are two star-caliber centers in Yashin and Peca and a Stanley Cup winning goalie in Osgood. Does this mean Islander fans oughtta clear their schedules for the second week of June to attend the parade?

Not so fast. Other Eastern Conference teams have improved, with the two best examples being the Washington Capitals (who acquired future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr for practically nothing) and the Philadelphia Flyers (who signed top free-agent center Jeremy Roenick). And while the team is off to its best start in years, injuries and slumps can undo any progress the team makes in late October. Remember: The Stanley Cup is awarded in June, not November.

Ultimately, the fate of the season rests on the blade of right-winger Mariuz Czerkawski’s stick. He has lead the team in goal each of the past two years, and must at least match his 30-goal pace for the Islanders to have any success. Defenseman Kenny Jonsson must rebound from a sub par year, and it is imperative that wingers Brad Isbister and Mats Lindgren stay off the injured list.

Are the Islanders better? Absolutely. But any talk of the playoffs –and especially the Stanley Cup – are premature.

THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Hello – Ted Drury, Tommy Albelin

Goodbye – John Vanbiesbrouck, Alexandre Mogilny, Bob Corkum, Sean O’Donnell

To paraphrase Robert Deniro from the film Copland: THEY BLEW IT! On the verge of winning their second Stanley Cup in as many years (and their third in a decade), the Devils played, well, like crap in games 6 and 7 of last year’s Final. They took bad penalties, played without poise in their own zone, and didn’t create offense from enemy turnovers like they usually do. As a result, the team from the swamp lost its dynasty status and the team from the mountains (the Colorado Avalanche) skated around with the big silver bowl.

Despite this major setback, the Devils are still the strongest of the three metro area teams. They have awesome scoring in their top line of Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, and Jason Arnott and the best goalie in the league in Martin Brodeur. Coach Larry Robinson rolls four lines religiously (Rangers, are you listening !?!?). Their power play features two mercurial point men in Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski, and their penalty killing unit includes the league’s top defensive forward in John "I ain’t no football commentator" Madden. Add third year playmaker Scott Gomez and hard-hitting defensman Scott Stevens, and you have the makings of a contender.

Notice I wrote contender, not cup-winner; there are two weaknesses which must be remedied. The first is that of a scoring forward, as Mogilny took his team leading 43 goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Second, the team is getting a little gray, with three of the top six defensemen (Stevens, Albelin, and Ken Daneyko) being 37-years old. While all three are certainly capable of contributing, it remains to be seen if any of them have anything left in the tank come playoff time.

It is also essential for Robinson to prevent the numerous contract disputes from erupting into mass dissension. This factor alone could do some serious damage to the makeup of the team if management is not careful.

Regardless, the Devils are still the team to beat, as they serve as the model for most other would-be contenders. One last thing – expect agitator Claude Lemieux to be back in a Devils uniform by Christmas.


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