The Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres are set to battle for the Eastern Conference Title after both teams eliminated their opponents in five games. After their sweep of the Rangers, the Devils seemed to lose their sharpness in falling to the Canes. Ottawa, one of the favorites to go all the way lost every game by one goal in falling to Buffalo.
The joy in seeing the Devils fall in five to Carolina is tempered by the fact that they blew the Rangers away in four. The Devils were dispatched almost as easily as the Rangers were dispatched. This begs the question, how good were the Rangers at the tail end of the season? Were they any better than the Atlanta Thrashers or Toronto Maple Leafs or the Florida Panthers, all who finished out of the playoffs?
Probably not and the reason for this discussion is to remind the Ranger brain trust that they cannot go into next season with the same team or the same style and mindset. The early elimination by the Devils could put doubt in the mind of Patrik Elias whether to return to the Devils or go for the big bucks with the Rangers. The opportunity is there boys, go get it.
For those who believe that the Olympics had no effect on the NHL, they should look to Ottawa. Dominick Hasek got injured in the Olympics and never returned. Yes Emery played well but it is hard to imagine that two or three of those one goal losses wouldn't have been wins with Hasek in the nets for Ottawa. Ottawa is loaded and has a ton of free agents including the dynamic defensive duo of Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden. One of them would do the trick. Its hard to believe that Ottawa would ante up to keep both Redden and Chara in the fold.
What has made all these dreams possible is the salary cap. The Devils have cap problems and besides Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner and Erik Rasmussen are also free agents. Plus they have to shell out big, long term contracts to Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez who are both restricted free agents. So the possibility exists that the Rangers could have a decent shot at reuniting Elias with Petr Sykora.
The Ottawa situation is more intriguing as far as the Rangers are concerned. Ottawa has seven unrestricted free agents and nine restricted free agents. It just isn't possible or practical to bring them all back. Among the restricted are Martin Havlat, Jason Spezza and tough guy, Brian McGrattan. So Chara and Redden, both unrestricted, either or both are there for the plucking.
The Rangers have six unrestricted free agents, Poti, Rucchin, Rucinsky, Straka, Strudwick and Sykora. Look for Straka and Sykora to stay. The restricted include Hossa, Moore, Ortmeyer, Rozsival and Tyutin. Moore looks like odd man out in this group. Moore and Betts are look alikes on the ice but the edge seems to go to Betts on faceoffs and a little more offense.
Sandis Ozolinsh has one more year on his contract and should be bought out and released.
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