A look at the Original Six: New York and Boston

NEW YORK RANGERS: I will admit ... this one will be hard to do, only because I have been a fan since my father took me to my first game against the California Golden Seals when I was 6 years old.

Last season, New York ended a seven-year playoff appearance drought ... and was swept out in the first round by the New Jersey Devils.

In 1994, the Blueshirts put to rest the ghosts of 1940 by winning it all. While they probably won't go 54 years again between championships, they need to be smarter to make sure that generations won't go by before there's another ticker-tape parade in the Canyon of Heroes.

Some of their recent free-agent signings since winning the Cup included Sylvain Lefebvre, Stephane Quintal and Theoren Fleury -- all bombs on Broadway. This season, I am not completely sold on Matt Cullen and Aaron Ward. The cynic in me (shut up!) says they got their Stanley Cup ring and parlayed that into a big payday.

This season, the Rangers are led by Jaromir Jagr, who turns 35 early next year, and 37-year-old Brendan Shanahan. The future Hall of Famers have combined for more than 1,200 career goals, but I doubt they'll be around to see the Rangers' next banner-raising ceremony.

One player who should be there to watch that, if all goes well, is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Lundqvist was taken with New York's seventh selection, 205th overall in 2000, which is a surprise because New York never has had a solid draft history, especially since their Cup win. Stefan Cherneski was taken 19th overall in 1997 and never played an NHL game. Manny Malhotra was picked seventh overall in '98, but has bounced around some before ending up with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Never have their draft shortcomings been more evident than in 1999 when they selected Pavel Brendl fourth and Jamie Lundmark ninth.

Brendl was a bust, and Lundmark -- who some thought could have been picked first overall -- is now a bit player with the Calgary Flames, his third team. In 2001, New York used the 10th overall pick on goaltender Dan Blackburn, now retired with shoulder injuries.

Here's a short list of some of the players New York could have had: Brenden Morrow (25th overall to Dallas in '97); Simon Gagne (22nd overall to Philadelphia, '98), Jonathan Cheechoo (29th overall to San Jose, '98); Pavel Datsyuk (171st overall to Detroit, '98); Michael Ryder (216th overall to Montreal, '98); Martin Havlat (26th overall to Ottawa, '99); Henrik Zetterberg (210th overall to Detroit, '99); Ales Hemsky (13th overall to Edmonton, '01).

If the crop selected with their first-round picks between 2003-06 pan out though, New York could have a solid foundation for the future:

BOSTON BRUINS: Like the Chicago Blackhawks, this is a franchise that has fallen on hard times. The Bruins haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1972, failing in five straight finals chances since.

The past several years have been hard ones for the Bruins. Over the last five seasons, they've had two first-place finishes, but also have finished third, fourth and fifth -- in fact, they haven't had back-to-back first-place finishes since 1989-91.

The last three times the Bruins reached the post-season, they were bounced out in the conference quarterfinals, twice by the Montreal Canadiens and once by New Jersey.

Under new general manager Peter Chiraelli, who spent seven seasons with the Ottawa Senators including two as assistant to John Muckler, the Bruins did something they've loathed doing for decades: spend money on players.

Their biggest off-season acquisition -- literally -- was signing 6-foot-9, 260-pound (and "Alice the Goon" lookalike) Zdeno Chara from Ottawa to a five-year deal worth $37.5 million. Boston followed that up by inking center Marc Savard to a four-year deal worth around $30 million.

Chara, the B's captain, has scored all five of his goals on the power play. Savard, who had a bit of a petulant reputation dating back to his days with the Rangers, has blossomed as THE go-to player and leads the team with 21 assists and 27 points.

But for those signings though, Boston's biggest problem -- and one that will likely keep them from raising a banner anytime soon -- is in goal.

Tim Thomas has played very well recently, limiting the Toronto Maple Leafs to one goal in each of two straight road wins. In his last nine games, including eight starts, the Michigan native is 7-2-0 with a 2.16 goals-against average. Consistent and solid starts from him will be needed to lift Boston out of last place in an ultra-competitive Northeast Division.

When Thomas doesn't play, Boston's goaltending is quite simply a horror show. Hannu Toivonen is injury-prone, and there's a reason why Brian Finley and Philippe Sauve are journeymen.

The key to the Bruins' future success could lie in Tuukka Rask, acquired in the off-season from the Maple Leafs for former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft. Rask was 12-7 with eight ties and a 2.09 GAA in 2005-06 with Ilves Tampere of the Finnish League.

He could be following in the footsteps of other current Finnish goalies, which include reigning Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary, Kari Lehtonen of the Atlanta Thrashers and emerging star Vesa Toskala of the San Jose Sharks.

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