2008-02-29 / Sports

Rangers Make Depth The Priority For Playoff Run

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

At this time of the year, there are some that want the Rangers to just go for it.

Damn the farm system and acquire what is needed to make a deep run at the playoffs.

And that was the way of things prelockout, as the Rangers just traded all their prospects for veterans and generally those trades didn't help the team to get to the playoffs, let along make a run.

After the lockout, though, general manager Glen Sather played it smart and made choice trades at the deadline, which didn't hurt the farm system, while helped the main club in its back depth.

This trading deadline was an example of that.

Not wanting to hurt the prized pipe line too much, Sather first sent a fourth round draft pick to St. Louis for defenseman Christian Backman. Then he packaged goalie Al Montoya, who had no place to play with Henrik Lundqvist in goal, and reserve forward Marcel Hossa to Phoenix for defensive forward Fredrik Sjostrom, American League tough guy Josh Gratton and goaltending prospect David LeNeveu.

"We've gone through spurts when I thought our team looked terrific and when it's really struggled," Sather said. "But for most part, I've thought we've had a pretty good year. I think we've got good chemistry. We've got three lines that look really good. There's a good feeling about this team right now. I really didn't want to affect the chemistry and I don't think the coaches wanted me to either."

So Sather decided to touch up and not remake the Ranger lineup. Backman, 27, will fit right into the top-six on the blueline. A former first round pick, the defenseman was a teammate of Lundqvist back in Sweden and can move the puck, which staying back.

Sjostrom will also join the Rangers after playing in Phoenix for the last four seasons. Expect the 24 year-old to play down on the checking line with Blair Betts and Ryan Hollweg until Colton Orr comes back and then fit in on the bottom two lines. With 10 goals and nine assists this season, the Swede will bring some scoring from the back end.

"[Backman and Sjostrom] are both good athletes," Sather said. "Good size. They're both great skaters. Henrik Lundqvist knows both these players well. We like puck moving D and [Backman] does that for us. Sjostrom skates hard, goes to the net, and has more goals in him than he's shown." As for Montoya, his time expired with the Rangers after Lundqvist signed a six year deal with the club and goaltender Miika Wiikman emerged as a prospect. LeNeveu will replace him at Hartford and Sather feels goaltending coach Benoit Allaire will have an influence on the new Rangers netminder, because they worked together in the past. "With Ben Allaire working with him as he did when he was in Phoenix," Sather said, "Benny thinks he can really resurrect this guy and he can be a number one goalie in the NHL."

"We thought it was worth the move. According to Benoit, he sees him as a very good prospect. He's been anxious for us to make a deal for him all year." Gratton will also join Hartford and Sather feels he can help the club if Orr is slow to recover from his upper body injury.

Sather did say he had no inquires on Jaromir Jagr and wasn't interested in moving him anyway.

"There was no entertaining of trading him at all," he said. "Jaromir is a very good player. He's been a great citizen. I like our team the way it looks and he's been very good for us. I don't have one thing to complain about this guy. He's been terrific."

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