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14 NEW YORK Rangers
Pete McEntegart
October 14, 2002
Another off-season spending spree, but this time they bought the right stuff
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October 14, 2002

14 New York Rangers

Another off-season spending spree, but this time they bought the right stuff

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Bure, Lindros should click; rookie Lundmark may surprise



Kasparaitis brings needed crunch to back line



Richter must stay healthy; Blackburn not ready to be No. 1



Coaching change will boost PK, ranked 30th last season



G.M. Sather on hot seat; expect strong job by Trottier

Bobby Holik is no dummy. In nine seasons with New Jersey the 6'4", 235-pound center developed a reputation as a deep thinker who led teammates on outings to such places as the National Air and Space Museum and the Texas School Book Depository. Surely, a bright man such as Holik must have noticed that while his Devils were winning two Stanley Cups, in 1995 and 2000, the Rangers were proving that record spending doesn't buy titles. In fact, New York has missed the playoffs in five straight seasons, despite a payroll that approaches an NHL alltime high of $80 million. Having signed a five-year, $45 million free-agent contract in July, Holik is responsible for $9 million of that total. Money aside, though, he's certain the move across the Hudson River was a smart one. "Call me an optimist," Holik says. "I believe in the guys in this locker room. There's no way this team doesn't have the ability to move up."

The Rangers added a second high-priced free agent in pugnacious defenseman Darius Kasparaitis (six years, $25.5 million). While Holik made his name as a two-way threat who can lock up top-line centers, the 5'11", 205-pound Kasparaitis is a feared—and sometimes loathed—hitter. "There are players you hate playing against, but you love them when they're on your team," says new coach Bryan Trottier. "Those two guys fall into that category."

Both bring grit and toughness to a team that already had plenty of glitz; the trouble was, most of the glamour boys are either injury-prone or getting too old. With a team-leading 73 points, center Eric Lindros, 29, made a largely successful return to the NHL after sitting out 2000-01 because of the effects of postconcussion syndrome and a contract dispute with the Flyers.

Three players who helped the Rangers win the Cup in 1994—center Mark Messier, 41; goalie Mike Richter, 36; and defenseman Brian Leetch, 34—are showing their age. Right wing Pavel Bure, who was acquired in a trade with the Panthers last March, is questionable for the start of the season after arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee, the same knee in which the ACL has been replaced twice. "The organization has provided enough talent, skill and depth," says Holik. "It's up to the guys in this locker room to make the difference."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]