2006-10-27 / Sports

Rangers Swoon May Cause Renney To Ax Defensemen

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist


NEW YORK - Something needs to be done. The Garden faithful knows it; the Rangers know it and Tom Renney will decide it.

Too many turnovers and a porous defense will force the coach's hand in the next few days, maybe even before the Blueshirts embark on their four-game West Coast trip this Saturday.

One or two veteran defensemen will probably be cut.

"I am in the process of sorting that out right now," Renney said. "I am looking at tapes and will have one-on-one meetings. I will research it and make a decision based on the how it affects us." On Wednesday, in the Rangers 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, the Blueshirt defense did not show any signs of improvement, Marek Malik and Karel Rachunek both continued their poor play, which has put them front and center on the firing line. Darius Kasparaitis played better, but still has a ways to go.

But at least there was some life from Aaron Ward, who contributed on the Rangers second goal of the night, a beautiful two-line pass to Martin Straka, setting up the forward's goal.

"I was just trying to do a little less," said Ward. "I was jumping the play, which often leads to bad positioning. [Renney] just told me to go back to basics and establish myself as a physical defenseman."

Still with Ward's and Kasparaitis's play, the numbers haven't been impressive by the defense. Four of them have played all nine game, Fedor Tyutin [1-3-4, plus 1], Michal Rozsival [1-3-4, plus 1], Aaron Ward [1-2-3, plus 4], and Rachunek [0-1-1, minus 9], with Malik [0-2-2, plus 3] skating in eight, while Thomas Pock [1-1-2, minus 2] has dressed for five.

Kasparaitis [four games] and Sandis Ozolinsh [one game] have seen limited action due to injuries and both are pointless with Kasparaitis at a minus 3 and Ozolinsch at a minus 1.

Here's the problem the Rangers face: If Renney sends down any of them to Hartford, they will be exposed to waivers, which means Pock's place may be secured. He makes only $550,000, so some team may take him. Pock also can play forward in a pinch, which gives him versatility.

Any of the other struggling veterans should be able to get through waivers, but the problem would be calling them back up, if they either improve their play or an injury occurs. According to the new CBA, if a player gets claimed on re-entry waivers, the team making the transaction would only be responsible for half of the contract and cap hit, while the Rangers would take the other half.

So essentially, the Rangers would be paying a player to skate for another team, after they rehabbed his game and at the same time, hamstringing themselves with the cap.

That's what makes this decision so tough. Cutting any veteran would essentially mean an American League sentence for the rest of the season.

Renney may feel sentimental to some of his veterans - especially Kasparaitis - but knows some of these defensemen can't play anymore and the only way to right the Ranger ship is to bid them farewell.

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