Shawn P. Roarke / Special to FOXSports.com
Posted: 1 hour ago
Contrary to initial appearances, the trade for Anaheim's Petr Sykora is not the first sign that the New York Rangers are abruptly abandoning the blueprint that has led the team to unexpected heights so far this season.
The Rangers returned from the lockout with a fresh outlook, stressing teamwork over individualism and young, hungry players in the place of the fat and happy superstars on the decline that often marked past editions of the team.
Not surprisingly, the results have been favorable as the Rangers — with a revitalized Jaromir Jagr as their only legitimate superstar — have been one of the true surprises in the first half of the season, challenging for the Atlantic Division title and a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
So, the trade for an under-performing forward — apparently living somewhat on past glories — for a young prospect would surely raise some eyebrows among the team's rejuvenated fan base. But, in this case, there is no need to fear.
The Rangers need Petr Sykora and Petr Sykora needs the Rangers.
In fact, the 29-year-old right winger openly campaigned to land in the Big Apple.
Therefore, the loss of 22-year-old defenseman Maxim Kondratiev — the key to the deal that sent franchise icon Brian Leetch to Toronto at the trading deadline in 2004 — is a fair price to pay to facilitate Sykora's move to Broadway.
Surprisingly, this move makes sense on almost every level.
Most importantly, the Rangers have not abandoned the team-building approach that they began instituting with the fire sale of high-priced, high-profile veterans at the 2004 trading deadline.
Yes, Sykora is the type of player that all too often represented the sins of the past for the Rangers. He is making decent coin and not producing results commensurate with the $3.1 million salary he is pulling down. He has just seven goals and 13 assists in 39 games this season and was in the doghouse of Randy Carlyle, the Mighty Ducks' coach. But, Sykora is in the final season of a three-year deal and will become a free agent after this season, meaning New York can part ways with him as early as this spring if things don't work out.
As it is, New York is only on the hook for half of Sykora's salary and still has some room under the cap to allow for other minor moves as they become necessary.
Sykora's remaining $1.6 million pay packet is a fair-market price for a proven scorer. Sykora has topped the 20-goal mark in each of his six of his eight NHL seasons and has surpassed the 30-goal plateau on two occasions. He can be a threat in both even-strength situations and on the power play. In man-advantage situations, Sykora has the shot and hockey sense to effectively man the point, giving the Rangers a much-needed option for their blue line — addressing a weakness that is currently bedeviling a power play that runs almost exclusively through Jagr.
And, Sykora can handle the bright lights of the big city. Sykora played for New Jersey for the first seven seasons of his career before being the key component in a huge trade in 2002 that sent Jeff Friesen and Oleg Tverdovsky to the Devils. Sykora was a key contributor to New Jersey's Stanley Cup triumph in 2000.
Also, he will be among players he likes and respects. Madison Square Garden is quickly becoming Little Prague as the Rangers boast six high-profile Czechs — Jagr, Martin Straka, Martin Rucinsky, Petr Prucha, Marek Malik and Michal Rozsival — who define the team's character and style of play.
"I'm just looking for a fresh start," Sykora told reporters. "I get a chance to play. Basically I just have a half a season left."
Finally, the move makes sense from a roster standpoint for the Rangers.
"Petr is a highly-skilled offensive player, who adds speed and a scoring presence to our lineup," Glen Sather, the team's GM, said in a statement. "He is a versatile player who we feel will play an important role on our team."
The Rangers needed another offensive weapon to round out their top two lines. Most likely, Straka — a player Sykora idolizes — will move to second-line center, initially paired with Sykora. That means Steve Rucchin can move into a more natural checking role, filling the vacant center position on the third line that came about when Blair Betts suffered a knee injury last week.
Sure, Kondratiev was considered a prized prospect when the Rangers pried him away from the Leafs. He is a big, physically intimidating defenseman that can also move the puck. In fact, Anaheim believes Kondratiev will be a top-four defenseman once he finishes developing. The Rangers likely share Anaheim's belief, but still felt comfortable in moving the defenseman because of the young depth they now have at that position.
Fellow Russian Fedor Tyutin, also 23, has taken a regular shift this season for the Rangers and the club is high on both minor leaguer Thomas Pock, 24, and 18-year-old Mark Staal, who is still playing junior hockey, but impressed greatly in his first training camp. Veteran Jason Strudwick has been a revelation in providing the stability that makes the move of Kondratiev easier to swallow for Ranger brass.
Simply put, the Rangers are a better team — both short term and long term — after Sunday's big trade, a claim the club could rarely make during the last decade.
That alone should be enough to alleviate the trepidation Ranger fans might have about adding an under-performing big name to a surprisingly successful mix.
Petr hasn't been fat this season.
Rangers trade for Sykora
BY JOHN DELLAPINA
New York Daily News
NEW YORK - With the second half of the season underway and the New York Rangers' quest for their first playoff berth in nine years having gone from pipe dream to probable to a bit precarious, Glen Sather on Sunday turned to two familiar sources of help:
The Czech Republic and one of his NHL buddies.
Sather, the Rangers' president/GM, got together with pal Brian Burke to consummate a trade that brought forward Petr Sykora and a 2007 fourth-round draft pick to the Rangers and sent young defenseman Maxim Kondratiev to Anaheim.
Sykora, who turned 29 in November, is a left-shooting right wing who can man the point of the power play and who desperately wanted to come to the Rangers. Kondratiev, who turns 23 in two weeks, is a raw defenseman still learning the position who was the key prospect acquired in the trade that sent Brian Leetch to Toronto at the 2004 deadline.
"Petr is a highly-skilled offensive player, who adds speed and a scoring presence to our lineup," Sather said in a statement. "He is a versatile player who we feel will play an important role on our team."
He also is a guy who was pining for a trade to the Rangers to join his many Czech countrymen - particularly fellow Plzen native Martin Straka, whom Sykora lists in his media guide bio as his "idol growing up."
"I don't think it's any secret that he was dying to come to New York," Rangers assistant GM Don Maloney said. "And certainly, we have plenty of input into his background and character since we have half the Czech nation playing here and Steve Rucchin played with him in Anaheim."
Maloney insisted the trade was not a departure from the long-term approach the Rangers have taken to team-building this season. For one thing, Maloney pointed out that the Rangers got back the fourth-round pick they originally had traded for Rucchin - and that Kondratiev was a fifth-round pick.
Maloney also cited the development of several young defensive prospects - notably Marc Staal and Thomas Pock - as having made Kondratiev somewhat expendable.
Still, this deal clearly was made in order to solidify the Rangers' playoff chances for this year. And its timing was prompted by Blair Betts' torn MCL, suffered Saturday afternoon, that will keep the 25-year-old center out for six to eight weeks.
"Even though we had a good first half, we're going to have to compete for a playoff berth - we're not a lock," Maloney said.
While Sykora will slide into a spot on one of the Rangers' top two lines, it doesn't appear as if that will cost rookie Petr Prucha any ice time at even strength. The Rangers' initial plan is to move Rucchin down into Betts' slot as the center of the checking line while Straka moves to center.
A six-time 20-goal scorer, Sykora had his most productive seasons with the Devils. His best year was a 35-goal, 46-assist 2000-01. He was dealt to Anaheim in the summer of 2002 in a seven-player trade that brought Oleg Tverdovsky and Jeff Friesen to the Devils.
After two seasons as one of Anaheim's top-line players, Sykora had been dropped down in the lineup this season under new coach Randy Carlyle. He has just seven goals and 13 assists in 39 games. He missed five games in early December to a groin strain and was scratched for the Dec. 8 game at Buffalo because Burke believed he had a trade about to be worked out.
The Ducks originally asked for Tom Poti in return for Sykora. But with no other offensive presence on their blue line, the Rangers were unwilling to part with Poti, whose game has picked up considerably since the beginning of the season.
After a promising start that drew several compliments from Rangers coach Tom Renney, Kondratiev had lost his place in the team's immediate plans. Though he was hardly steadied by being paired with the unpredictable Darius Kasparaitis, Kondratiev showed a willingness to play a physical game and make plays with the puck.
However, the emergence of veteran Jason Strudwick as a stabilizing and physical presence caused Kondratiev to be scratched for nine of the Rangers' first 37 games before being sent to Hartford of the AHL on Dec. 28.
Pining for Marty Straka!