Make No Mistake, This is Tom Terrific's Team

by: Joe McDonald | Publisher and Editor-in-Chief | Tuesday, October 28, 2008

If there’s any doubt out there about who runs the Rangers, the answer has clearly been stated.

This is Tom Renney’s team from top to bottom and the coach has put his stamp on the Broadway squad down to the last man on the roster.

Not since Herb Brooks stood behind the bench has a Ranger team been built for the coach. The Blueshirts of the mid-1990s were designed for Mark Messier and in the early 2000s squads were based on star driven talent, many times with no direction.

Even when Renney started after the lockout, he had of tailor a system to the talents of Jaromir Jagr. After No. 68 left for Russia over the summer, Renney saw a chance to remake the Rangers in his image. Instead of a star driven offense, behind Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, the Rangers have a roster filled with up and coming younger players and veterans of unselfish systems.

It has allowed the Blueshirts to a better 2-way unit. It’s one that is designed to cut down on the number of opponent’s shots – and utilize Henrik Lundqvist to his fullest - while taking advantage of the team’s speed, peppering the net with pucks.

It was a risky move, because of the possible chemistry issues. Yet, with 142 Ranger wins – now fourth on the team’s all time list - and three playoff appearances under his belt, Tom Terrific has earned the right to do what he wants.

When he took over the team from Glen Sather, right before the lockout, Renney was thought to be a stopgap. He name wasn’t sexy enough to coach on Broadway and his one coaching stint in Vancouver was considered a failure.

But something changed in Renney after the NHL came back from its one season hiatus. The coach learned how to deal with the NHL ego. He let Jagr be Jagr, while slowing integrating Lundqvist into the league. It gave him the first Ranger playoff appearance since Messier and Wayne Gretzky played together and also a lot more say in how the team would be shaped in the future.

Slowly over the past two seasons, the roster changed. What was a European based system became a North American style team, built from not just free agency but the draft as well. Although the Rangers have notable names like Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund, and Wade Redden, the roster also heavily relies upon draft picks such as Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal, and Lundqvist, which gives the Blueshirts a good blend of experience and youth.

The result is a 9-2-1 record, the best record in hockey so far.

And here’s the scary part: The Rangers haven’t fired on all cylinders yet.

Early on this season, Drury has been slow at the start and Gomez is still searching for his offensive touch. Even Naslund looks a little lost out there, but is starting to come around. It’s forced Renney to stay on his team to keep them on target to the task at hand.

Take last night for instance. With a pedestrian first period on Long Island, Renney focused his team during the final half of the game, leading to a 4-2 win. As the game moved along, the Rangers got better and better, much like they did in Columbus last Friday and at home against Pittsburgh on Saturday. “The guys realize they have to be on the same page,” Renney said. “The idea was to play 60 minutes. They need to complete the deal in an intelligent way. I thought we did that.”

Renney helped move it along. He sent a message in the first by benching Brandon Dubinsky, after the young center took two bad penalties in the first 5 ˝ minutes of the game.

This is not a Plaxico Burress situation. Dubinsky is a good kid and has produced this season. He just made a few bad plays. But Renney not only sent a message to the budding star but the rest of the team as well. Stupid mistakes will not be tolerated.

“Just wanted Dubi to understand there’s a way we have to play and the guy behind the bench is the boss,” Renney said and added, “I am not going to discriminate in that matter.”

Besides playing with discipline, Renney also has the team in great shape. By strongly encouraging the squad to arrive at training camp almost a month early, the Blueshirts were able to get into midseason form in September and the Rangers’ conditioning allows them to outplay opponents in the third period.

“We certainly make sure we get under the time in all the stop watch drills,” said captain Chris Drury. “It very well could be. We are very well aware of how important the third is.”

It’s that complete game with no lapses that Renney keeps preaching.

Of course, it’s still early and no one knows if the hot start will continue. But one thing is for certain: If the Rangers are going to go far into the spring this season, it will be first and foremost because of Tom Terrific and the stamp he put on his team.