2006-03-17 / Sports

New York Rangers Trade Follows The Blue Line Road To Oz

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald
Sports Columnist

Sandis Ozolinsh #24 of the New York Rangers plays the puck against Vyacheslav Kozlov of Atlanta Thrashers, who won 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)
Sandis Ozolinsh #24 of the New York Rangers plays the puck against Vyacheslav Kozlov of Atlanta Thrashers, who won 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images) It's tough shopping for a Mercedes on a Chevrolet's budget, but somehow, someway Glen Sather was able to pull it off when he announced the acquisition of defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for a third round draft pick right before the NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

"I thought he would have been a little more expensive, because he fits the bill as a puck moving power play defenseman, who can get the puck to our forwards and also rush the puck," said Sather on a conference call. "He is the kind of defenseman we are looking for." The general manager waited until the end to get Ozolinsh because he had to acquire the draft choice from the San Jose Sharks yesterday for Ville Nieminen. Unwilling to mortgage the future, the Rangers wanted to obtain a quality backliner for the right price.

"All defenseman who will be free agents at the end of the year will be very expensive," Sather said. "I wasn't willing to give up a first or second round pick for those players. There were a lot of calls for Mark Staal and Al Montoya, but we weren't willing to trade our future."

So, Sather waited. Ozolinsh, whose value was discounted because of both an injured knee and time spent in the NHL substance abuse program, played in just 17 games. In limited action, he had three goals and three assists.

Ozolinsh did play with Latvia in Torino and performed very well, scoring one goal with three assists in five games. But, because the 33 year-old defenseman is owed $2.75 million for next year, Sather thought many teams may have been scared off.

"There were a lot of factors," the GM said. "A lot of teams have a player like this. Also, he didn't play a lot this year and the fact there were only five general managers at the Olympics, many of them didn't see him."

The Rangers, who are well under the cap, were willing to take the risk on the seven-time All-Star. Since the 1992-93 season, Ozolish ranks fifth among active defensemen in goals [161] and points [531] and is sixth in power play goals [63], and was one of the more lethal offensive defenseman in the league.

He is also a polished playoff performer with 23 goals and 67 assists for 90 points, along with 125 penalty minutes in 134 post-season matches. In 1995-96 Ozolinsh won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.

Sather felt that experience will come in handy. "He's been there," the GM said. "He seemed to be a good fit for me when we looked at all of this."

Currently, four current Rangers [Marik Malik, Petr Sykora, Steve Rucchin and Kevin Weekes] have been Ozolinch's teammate at one time or another in the NHL. Management consulted then when making the decision, which helped eliminate any chemistry concerns.

"When you start fooling around with a team like this, the chemistry is so important," Sather explained. "They get along so well, I really didn't want to fool with that. So when it came time to make the decision, I made a couple of calls to see how he will fit in with the team." Ozolinsh, fills a huge void on the power play and will be able to play the point, which is something the Rangers were lacking this season. His offensive skills will mix well with a team that sometimes seems short on that end, although he won't add toughness on the blue line either.

Sather didn't seem concerned about the physical factor mainly because the way the game is played today. "We are a puck moving team and not a dump and grind team," he said. "He can make the passes, and skate, as well as anyone."

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