Gee, the Rangers make it fun and interesting, don't they?
Do they make it good?
Well, uh, that's a whole different story.
The Blueshirts, falling faster than a puck hurled off the Empire State Building (I know, Sir Isaac Newton will be emailing), used the NHL's trade deadline to continue an on-the-fly makeover that GM Glen Sather hopes will right a whole bunch of wrongs that his team has brought to Broadway this season.
Sather, his club still holding precariously to a playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, dealt on Wednesday for Nik Antropov, a tall and underperforming center/wing from Toronto, and Derek Morris, a hard-shooting defenseman from Phoenix who never really has fulfilled the potential that led him to be the No. 13 pick overall (Calgary) in the 1996 draft.
Two guys. Two questionable pedigrees and portfolios. Yessir, that's the Rangers were talking about here.
Actually, the 6-foot-6 Antropov and the wide-bodied Morris (6-0, 220 pounds), were just part of Sather's reclamation project. Frankly, they were the lesser two moves in a four-part retooling that began with the Feb. 23 hire of the fiery John Tortorella as the new coach.
''Torts'' took over for the cool, calm and collected Tom Renney, whose approach behind the bench was deemed to be just a little too cool, calm and collected for Sather, who should be feeling some heat himself for the collection of ill-fitting parts he has assembled this season, nearly a decade after he took over control of the franchise in June 2000.
With Tortorella behind their bench, the Lightning won the Cup in 2004, which only seemed to further empower his demanding and sarcastic ways. He is tough on his players, which can lead quickly to player burnout, but Sather isn't concerned about the means at the moment. He's concerned about the ends, and the Rangers not lapsing back to their earlier sad sack days of his regime when they went four straight seasons without qualifying for the playoffs.
The means also were officially set aside on Tuesday, the day before the trade deadline, when Sather brought back bad boy Sean Avery, whose bit of warped humor nearly cost him his NHL career earlier this season.
The irascible, foul-mouthed Avery, working under the lucrative free-agent deal he signed in Dallas last July, let his mouth get the best of him — as well as a couple of former girlfriends —when the Stars were in Calgary at the start of December. He was suspended, underwent anger management courses, and ultimately ended up with the Rangers after the Stars waived his rights (at a cost of some $2 million added to the Dallas cap for each of the next three seasons).
So, to sum up quickly, the Rangers:
''Bite on the back end,'' said Sather, noting what he felt Morris could bring to his club. ''He gives us a little bit of everything.''
For a club with a whole lot of nothing, maybe that's a good thing.
The morning of the trade deadline, the Rangers were 32-24-8, good for 72 points and the No. 7 seed in the East. Pittsburgh, also with 72 points, held the final (No. 8) seed. Carolina stood but one point back, and the Sabres only three.
What do all the moves tell us? More than anything, they say that Sather cobbled together a bad team, one without much direction or heart, one he made all the worse by not extending the contract of Brendan Shanahan. Shanny sat out the first half of the season, hoping to get a curtain call, but when Sather didn't come up with a contract, the aged and respected winger crossed over the Hudson for a return run with New Jersey. Poor decision by Sather, who underestimated the classy veteran's presence and meaning in the dressing room.
Tortorella will get more out of this bunch than Renney, but not a lot more. It will be curious, if not fascinating, to see how he gets along with Avery, or if he gets along with Avery. Two strong characters, with different views on life and how to play the game. Not likely a good fit, but at least Tortorella knows that Avery knows he is down to his one, last and only chance to resurrect his career. If not Broadway, then maybe Siberia, or wherever all those failed Broadway shows go.
Antropov can score, but not as much as he should. Not nearly assertive enough for his size. Inevitably, Tortorella will have to lean on him, and, well, that's a sure bet that Antropov will elect to enter free agency July 1. Add that to your list of certainties, next to death and taxes.
Morris? He'll be an improvement to the Ranger backline, but he won't bring what the Rangers really need, which is for Redden to find his get-up-and-go that gone up and went, even before he left Ottawa. Yeesh.
Yessir, forever fun and interesting those Rangers. Bad, too.
And for all they've changed, they don't look any better.
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