If it really is the Rangers’ intention to cut ties with all of their big free agents, you would have to think they have some sort of plan in place. Whether it’s going after A-listers like forward Jonathan Cheechoo or defenseman Brian Campbell, or whether it’s their plan to work around the edges and not make any major moves at all, the subtext is probably a team that wants to get younger, quicker, and frankly, more cohesive.
Like I said, I’m a Jaromir Jagr proponent, and not only because he leaves us media types endless material to scribble into our notebooks. There are still very few players whose presence you feel the moment they step on the ice. For most of last season, Jagr struggled to produce. But even in the darkest days of last season, he was that presence, and a dangerous one.
Still, a lot was made of how Jagr reinvented himself last season, and I think that’s only partially true. The reality is he is still very much an offensive-minded player who probably is an incongruous fit for Tom Renney’s five-in-the-picture system. And let’s face it: as much as I took a personal liking to him, and I always felt some of the criticism he received was either overblown or ill-informed, I don’t doubt he’s a handful to coach, or to have as a teammate.
The point is that you deal with those peripheral issues if either A) he’s locked into your roster, or B) you feel you can re-sign him to a reasonable amount. But if you can’t make the economics work and other teams can, then you start seeing the merits in the clean break.
And like I’ve said before, everything starts with Jagr. If you don’t have Jagr, you don’t keep Martin Straka, and suddenly even an inconsistent Michal Rozsival loses some of his luster (and speaking of which, one would hope Petr Prucha would crack the lineup in Prague if he is in fact the only remaining Czech on the Rangers roster).
And once you’ve started down the road of starting down a new path, you don’t see much point in keeping an aging Brendan Shanahan around either.
As for Sean Avery, both Jagr and Shanahan were the left wing’s checks-and-balance system. Avery could cut loose on occasion, but there was always the presence of the two veterans to keep things under control. I think Chris Drury is an invaluable player to the Rangers, and if he is indeed the team’s captain when the puck drops in Prague, the team will be in fine hands. But for some reason, I could see Avery testing Drury and Scott Gomez more than he would a couple of first ball Hall of Famers.
Granted, this is all speculative at this point, and frankly, I still think the best move is to bring back Jagr for at least one more season. The Rangers might think they’d be better served long term if they turn the page now. But in the new NHL, you can’t look beyond the season right in front of you. And I still think the best chance of winning now is with No. 68 on your side.