Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rangers send Rozsival to Desert for Wolski

Just as I had finished yesterday's post, the Rangers decided to one up me by trading Michal Rozsival to the Coyotes for Wojtek Wolski. As I was singing the vet's praises for steadier play than the previous two seasons, he became the odd man out after Alex Frolov went down. Considering that the team suddenly had to fill a void up front while also continuing to play well defensively minus the '05-06 holdover, it made sense to move him.

So, once again Glen Sather hooked up with pal Don Maloney and acquired a player he'd been after for a while. Slats had interest in Wolski last year before the Avs dealt him to the Coyotes in exchange for Peter Mueller. At the time, the cost was too much. So, he held firm. You know how Heinz says good things come to those who wait. In this case, it has merit because following a career best 65-point season (23-42-65) with the Avs and 'Yotes, Wolski came back to earth dropping to 6-10-16 in 36 contests this year. So, the Rangers got him cheap and saved $1.2 million in cap space by dealing the pricier Rozsival ($5 million) who has another year left on his contract. As for Wolski, he also has one year remaining and is set to earn $4 million in '11-12.

"It gives us more opportunities to do a few other things that may come up in the future," Sather noted of more cap flexibility that also includes LTI (Long Term Injury) for Frolov. "It was a situation that was easy for us to make for a lot of reasons."
The 24 year-old Wolski brings size with his 6-3, 210 pound frame talented enough to bolster our offense. On a grinding team that's been scoring by committee, adding someone like the former Avs' '04 No.1 pick should bode well for the Blueshirts. He's expected to donn the unusual No.86 and debut in tonight's big showdown versus eighth Montreal, who enters four points behind us for sixth. The two Original Sixes will also be meeting back up north on Hockey Night In Canada following a big test against the Canucks.

When he's taken part in the playoffs, Wolski's fared well recently putting up four goals and an assist for Phoenix last year while going 2-3-5 in '07-08 for Colorado. It wouldn't be surprising if John Tortorella tries him with slumping star Marian Gaborik and Artem Anisimov. That would demote Sean Avery, who's elevated his play the past three games, back to the fourth line with Chris Drury and Connecticut recall Kris Newbury, who KO'd Devil Bryce Salvador back in preseason, concussing him.

For Rozsival who was a frequent MSG target despite contributing on the blueline, he gets a fresh start in the Desert where he'll bolster a 'Yotes back end that includes Ed Jovanovski, Keith Yandle, Derek Morris and Adrian Aucoin. Given a chance by Sather following the lockout as a camp invite, Rozsival made the most of it growing into a top four D who worked well with Czech Marek Malik as part of the Euro-Rangers led by Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Martin Rucinsky, Petr Prucha and Michael Nylander. Six Czechs and one Swede led the Blueshirts back to the playoffs where they hadn't been in nearly a decade.

The most memorable highlight for Rozsival and the same hypocritical Garden Faithful had to be when his one-timer from the point beat Ryan Miller in triple overtime, giving the underdog Rangers life in a dramatic Game Three Eastern Conference Semifinal at a pumped up MSG. As someone who was fortunate enough to be there, it ranks as my best Ranger game. I'll never forget the animosity towards the refs for screwing us at the end of regulation when a goal was disallowed. The Sabres forced sudden death and could've put a stranglehold on the series. Instead, our guys wouldn't let it happen with Rozy playing the hero. The place just exploded. Everyone mobbed each other in one of the most awesome scenes ever. If you were there, you know how special it was.

It allowed our team to get back in the series, winning Game Four to push it even back to Buffalo. We all know what happened there. Straka scored late in regulation with lone '05-06 member Henrik Lundqvist on the verge of stealing Game Five. But as fate had it, Chris Drury got to a rebound and buried it with 7.7 seconds remaining. The same amount of time Valeri Zelepukin scored with a lifetime ago for the Devils. This time, there was no Matteau Matteau Matteau. Instead, Maxim Afinogenov broke our backs when his shot deflected off a diving Jed Ortmeyer past King Henrik. The Sabres would win a real shootout in Game Six to wrap up the series. Still, to this day, it's hard not to go back and contemplate just how close that team was to advancing to its first Conference Final since Messier and Gretzky teamed up with Leetch, Graves and Richter. Oh. What could've been.

It's hard to believe that Rozsival evolved into a reliable defenseman here. I remember laughing at the '05 signing thinking, 'The former Pen. Come on.' Well, the joke was on me. In his first year, Rozsival scored five goals and 25 assists for 30 points while posting a plus-35 rating along with three power play goals. Amazing. Of course, it helped to have No.68 to pass to during his record-breaking season. Still, Rozy proved it wasn't a fluke by increasing to career highs with 30 helpers and 40 points along with seven PPG, 20 power play points and three deciding markers. In '07-08, he again had a strong season tallying a career best 13 goals with 25 assists for 38 points along with half a dozen PPG and 18 PPP. Even if he sometimes was an adventure in the corners, one couldn't dispute his contributions- helping guide Marc Staal and Dan Girardi who now are a shutdown tandem.

It would be foolish not to think Rozsival had something to do with their development. He was the one vet the organization kept. Even if Slats messed up giving him four years, $20 million while foolishly spending a ton on the immortal Wade Redden. His real folly while gambling on Nikolai Zherdev for Fedor Tyutin. True enough, Rozy wasn't the same after Jagr left becoming overly passive on the power play driving fans nuts with his tenativeness to shoot despite a deadly one when it hit the net. For a year and a half, he struggled badly while playing through injuries- continuing to log big minutes and never complaining once about the unfair treatment from the home crowd. Sure. It was frustrating because of some of the chances he passed up. However, it's also accurate to say he was our best passer, often making perfect outlets that strung teammates for breakaways.

There also is the notion that Rozsival was soft. While he'll never be confused with Jeff Beukeboom, the guy always battled and often sacrificed his body to get in front of shots. He was a superb penalty killer and that should be valued in his new home. Under Tortorella, he regained confidence and became more active in all facets. To ignore the marked improvement wouldn't be fair to the kind of character he had. Rozy stuck up for teammates shoving players away from Lundqvist's crease. He did have pride and it showed during the final portion of a solid Ranger career. In nearly six seasons, Rozsival finishes with 42 goals and 134 assists totaling 176 points over 432 games. He went 4-10-14 in 31 games during the postseason on Broadway.

"It was a good opportunity for us to get younger and bigger and give the kids the opportunity on defence to play," Sather said of the change. "I was very happy with the way Rozie played. He's a good player, he's durable, he works hard, he played through a lot of pain through his career. We have nothing but good things to say about him. He was treated a little unfairly once in a while, but he was a guy who was the ultimate professional."

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