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Rangers hope fixes will return them to postseason

by Dave Lozo
After missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, the New York Rangers didn't exactly wheel and deal during the offseason, instead opting to plug a few key holes.

It's hard to blame GM Glen Sather for the lack of any major moves. After all, if the Rangers had beaten the Philadelphia Flyers in that shootout during the final game of the regular season, it would have been they and not the Flyers who clinched a playoff spot. The Flyers used the momentum from that victory to push their way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Rangers finished ninth in the Eastern Conference at 38-33-11, and the biggest reason was the lack of offense. Their 222 goals were good for 20th in the League, and it would've been much worse if not for the one-man show of Marian Gaborik. He scored 42 goals and accounted for 18.9 percent of the team's scoring. Only Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay scored a higher percentage (23.5) of his team's goals.

Without a true backup goaltender, coach John Tortorella was forced to ride Henrik Lundqvist, who admitted after the season he was feeling the effects of playing 73 games. Still, the three-time Vezina Trophy nominee put up a very respectable 2.38 goals-against average and .921 save percentage, both of which ranked eighth in the League.

In July 2009, Sather made a slew of bold moves. He signed Gaborik to a long-term, big-money deal after trading Scott Gomez to the Montreal Canadiens for Christopher Higgins. Sather also picked up forwards Vinny Prospal and Ales Kotalik via free agency. But Higgins and Kotalik were dealt during the season to the Calgary Flames for Olli Jokinen, who failed to give the Rangers the offensive shot in the arm they so desperately needed.

This summer, it was more about patching the roster and taking care of in-house business for Sather than it was about making a splash. Restricted free-agent defenseman Dan Girardi signed a four-year contract, and restricted free-agent blueliner Marc Staal is negotiating a long-term deal.

As expected, Jokinen wasn't brought back. He had just 4 goals and 11 assists in 26 games after he was acquired in early February. Overall, Jokinen had just 15 goals and 35 assists in 82 games with the Flames and Rangers. To put into perspective how bad last season was for Jokinen, he wasn't even the leading scorer among Jokinens in the League. Carolina's Jussi Jokinen (no relation) had 30 goals and 35 assists.

Tough guy Jody Shelley, who was acquired from the San Jose Sharks before the trade deadline, left via free agency. He received a four-year deal from the Flyers after Sather was unwilling to go past three years on a contract.

Forwards Enver Lisin and Aaron Voros were waived and traded, respectively. The 24-year-old Lisin never found his groove with the Rangers, contributing just 6 goals and 8 assists in 57 games. Voros was in coach John Tortorella's doghouse for most of last season, posting 3 goals and 4 assists in just 41 games. He was waived after being traded to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Steve Eminger.

Rookie backup goaltenders Matt Zaba and Chad Johnson spent most of last season commuting between Hartford and Manhattan after Steve Valiquette was sent to the AHL. Zaba and Johnson played a combined seven games for the Rangers and likely won't see time in New York barring injuries.

Alex Auld was picked up from the Dallas Stars at the trade deadline and appeared in three games. He was not brought back by the Rangers.

The Rangers signed goaltender Martin Biron to ease the workload of starter Henrik Lundqvist. The 32-year-old Biron didn't exactly light it up with the Islanders last season, going 9-14-4 with a 3.27 GAA and .896 save percentage. But some of that can be attributed to inconsistent playing time that came with being part of a three-man tandem with Dwayne Roloson and Rick DiPietro for a stretch.

Sather felt the Rangers lacked toughness last season, so he signed the toughest player on the market. Derek Boogaard inked a four-year contract after five seasons with the Minnesota Wild. The 6-foot-8, 257-pound left wing has 2 goals, 12 assists and 544 penalty minutes in 255 career games, so don't expect him to solve the Rangers' goal-scoring problems.

That will be up to Alexander Frolov, who signed a one-year contract after the Los Angeles Kings decided they didn't want him back. The 28-year-old left wing has scored as many as 35 goals and as few as 19 over the last four seasons. His 19 goals and 51 points last season were his lowest totals since 2003-04.

Center Todd White, two seasons removed from a career-high 73 points, was picked up from the Atlanta Thrashers for basically nothing -- tough guy Donald Brashear and forward Patrick Rissmiller, and both were bought out by the Thrashers.

Steve Eminger was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks as a depth defenseman who could see regular time should the Rangers waive Wade Redden to the AHL. The 26-year-old Eminger has 15 goals and 70 assists in 344 career games with five teams.

The Rangers also signed Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, who had 23 goals in 55 games for Modo Hockey in the Swedish Elite League last season. He will compete for a roster spot.

The Rangers appear to be in the same place they were last season. They are a good but not great team that remains dangerous thanks to having an elite goaltender in Lundqvist. But considering how close they were to making the playoffs last season, there's no reason to believe the additions of Biron, Frolov and White can't make up that small difference that kept the Rangers out of the postseason.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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