The past few weeks have been a whirlwind in the National Hockey League. The action started at the NHL Entry Draft a few short weeks ago and has now steamrolled into July. All-Star players have shifted teams via trades and free agency and new rumors continue to make their way around hockey’s inner circles on a daily basis.
So, what does this mean for the Blueshirts, who have already made several moves to bolster the organization in the last few weeks? Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather touched upon these topics in a recent conference call with the New York media.
Q: Can you just take each of the two guys you signed (Igor Ulanov and Dave Karpa), and tell us what you expect to get from them and how you feel they're upgrades over what you had last year on the blueline?
GS: Well, I know Ulanov a lot better than I do Karpa, of course, although I've watched Karpa for a long time while he was in Anaheim. They're both competitors, they're both tough, they’re both aggressive, they’re both good size guys, and they’re both great team guys. And, you know, that’s really what I was looking for. Somebody I know that’s going to compete every night whether they’ve got a sore toe or a sore groin. I just want to make sure that these are the kind of guys that we were going to get. I’ve talked a lot about Karpa with other people, and I know that both of them wanted to come here. So I was very happy to get both of them. _________________________________________________
Q: It seems like you are stockpiling defenseman maybe with the idea of making a trade. Does this make it easier? Is that an accurate assessment of what you’re doing?
GS: I learned a long time ago from Emile Francis that you can never have enough defenseman. And especially guys who are competitive and want to compete for jobs. I just felt last year we didn’t compete hard enough, and in the right way a lot of nights. I want to make sure that we don’t run into that problem again. But I’m not saying, “no” to any kind of a deal. We have a long way to go before the season starts. I suppose the other point of this whole thing is that we didn’t get locked into any real long-term contracts that were going to be a problem for us in the future. _________________________________________________
Q: If the price for these players (unrestricted free agents) is too high, is there any possibility that you would look at the restricted free agents and try to work something out for the kind of player that could fulfill your needs?
GS: No. I’d much rather make a trade for somebody than to go after somebody in the Group II free agent market. I think that is just hurts you too much in the future going after those guys. _________________________________________________
Q: Did anything that happened in the past few days shock you? The speed at which some of these guys were signed, or even the money they were signed to?
GS: Yeah, I think that all of the above kind of shocked me. I’m surprised that the guys in Colorado opted to stay there as quickly as they did. But understanding that they won the Stanley Cup, it probably makes a lot of sense that they want to stay together and try to repeat it. They certainly got some pretty good deals. Some of the other free agent signings surprised me a little bit, the amount of money teams paid them and the length of contracts they got in to. If you look back at the historical signings of Group III free agents, you’ll find that a lot of guys haven’t done too well in that market. I think that the real trick is smart shopping. I know that all of us see players differently, and all of us are trying to fill different needs, but I really want to leave some spots open for young guys on this team. _________________________________________________
Q: With the names that were supposed to be available, did you feel like you had a chance to improve your team more than you were able to in the past few days? And how close do you think the team is to being a playoff team after the changes you’ve made, with getting rid of certain players and bringing in others?
GS: I don’t want to say anything that is detrimental to some of the guys that aren’t here now, but I know that we have to have, and will have, more enthusiasm every night on the ice. We’re still a long way away from training camp and a lot of things can happen before then. You know, we’re all even right now. Every one of us is either in the playoffs or out of the playoffs. We’ve still got quite sometime before we get to that stage. _________________________________________________
Q: Of all the guys that you’ve been adding to the organization who would fit the ‘prospect’ category, is the purpose primarily to sort of restock the farm system so you’ve got some quality call-ups? Or do you see some of those guys as potentially ready to fill those younger spots you say you want to keep open for some youthful players?
GS: I think that all of these guys have got an opportunity to play here. When we got into looking at the situation last year, or a little longer than a year ago, I really found that we were over-stocked with guys that are 28 to 30 years old playing in the minors. They are great minor league players, but they really didn’t have any potential to make the Rangers any better. If you look at the deal that St. Louis just made with Edmonton (Doug Weight), they traded three prospects for a great player. And in order to get better, you have to have prospects. _________________________________________________
Q: Is there any one of those guys that you look at as a special type of guy who really has a chance to jump out early?
GS: Well I think that Andreas Johansson, he’s played here (NHL) before, and he is certainly capable of playing for us. I don’t see any of these guys as not being prospects. Kyle Freadrich is a big, tough guy who can play. He’s young, strong; he’s very game. I think that all of them are prospects. I don’t see any of them as guys that are going to develop into becoming a superstar, but I also don’t want to put a handle on any of them, because they may turn out to be very good players. But I just don’t think they need the pressure at this time. We signed some kids out of juniors (Barrett Heisten, Matt Kinch and Layne Ulmer); we’ve got some guys that are pretty good prospects. I think we’re a lot stronger as an organization right now. Maybe Dan Blackburn will come in here and make this team. It’s hard to tell right now. Only time will tell.