We all know what today's incarnation of the Rangers looks like.
A few years ago, we were a straight up blue collar team. Even the superstars at that moment like Michael Nylander and Martin Straka could easily be found cycling in the corners.
That team was made up of no names that were constantly fighting for their jobs; players like Jason Ward and Jed Ortmeyer.
Today, our team has nearly nothing in common with them. The team has yet again incorporated "has been superstars" onto the roster, with names such as Redden and Naslund, and other busts, such as former Sabre's first rounder Dmitri Kalinin. Others that have shown a work ethic, such as Petr Prucha and Ryan Callahan, really aren't getting that first-line ice time they might deserve.
On defense, we're softer that a pee-wee squad. The days of Ulf Samuelsson and Jeff Beukeboom are long gone, and Paul Mara (a career offensive defenseman) is our closest thing to a physical presence. Marc Staal might one day be that player, but he still has a way to go.
We also have a group of slumping younger players, like Nik Zherdev, Brandon Dubinsky, and Nigel Dawes. All three have shown nothing short of flashes of brilliance, but have yet to prove that they be counted on for 82 games.
The leadership of the Rangers seems to be devoid of just that: leadership. Players like Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, two of our highest paid nonetheless, have not shown the capability of being able to come through in the clutch; which is the opposite reputation that came with the latter.
When we're down by a goal with just a few minutes left, those are two players who have shown a near ineptitude to come through when the rest of the team needs them to.
When you look at all of these issues together, it's easy to see that the team is going to have flaws. Fatal ones at that. However, at the end of the day, teams really aren't just what they have on the ice at that moment, it's much more about what they have coming up through the system.
Teams like San Jose and Detroit are always considered favorites (Colorado was as well before the dismissal of Pierre Lacroix) because no matter what, every year they can produce a top notch prospect from within. Last year in Detroit it was Johan Franzen and Nik Kronwall breaking through.
This year Jiri Hudler looks to break out. In San Jose, a few years ago it was Marleau and Cheechoo, and now it's Devin Setoguchi. How about Marc-Edouard Vlasic? These teams are factories for solid NHL players.
And in New York? I'll give you Dawes, Callahan, Dubinsky and Prucha. However, none of those 4 has proven yet to be a go to first line talent. Maybe in the future? Who knows. At this moment though, that's a solid crop of third line talent, and possibly even second. Is that enough to carry New York to a Cup? It doesn't seem that way at the moment. Henrik Lundqvist might be the best player to come out of our draft since Brian Leetch. However, this year Henrik's showing kinks in his armor.
My main point though, is that I don't believe the Rangers can win as constructed. Considering our .500 play of the last month or so, I see the Rangers as a sixth or seventh seed in the East. That's all, nothing more. We can't compete with teams that play a solid 60 minutes of hockey, because we've proven to be incapable of that. So, what I'm curious about is what our team might need to do in the new few years to better ourselves.
First thing I look at is defense. For the past few years it's been our strong point, and now it's our glaring weakness. Players like Roszival and Redden cannot be counted on daily, and Dmitri Kalinin has been an absolute bust. Others like Girardi, Staal, and Mara have been revelations.
The good news: our prospect pool is probably strongest on the backline. We have the very impressive Michael Del Zotto (pictured above) and Bobby Sanguinetti almost certainly ready to join us within the next year or two. However, where do they fit? In my opinion, Mara nor Kalinin will be brought back. They are both UFA's at the end of the season.
A player that I believe the Rangers MUST sign this upcoming summer is Mike Komisarek of Montreal. A New York native, Komisarek brings a shut down, physical element that we MUST have. If he is signed, and either Sanguinetti or Corey Potter is brought up, I think that's a major upgrade.
Over the course of the next few years, I believe Michal Roszival will either be traded or bought out, allowing Del Zotto to entire the lineup, for a huge financial savings. We're probably stuck with Redden, due to his no movement contract.
We also have Tomas Kundratek, who had a very solid showing at the world juniors. If this occurred, in two years our defense would look like this:
Komisarek Del Zotto
extra: Kundratek, Potter
Up front, the Rangers have gotten themselves into quite a pickle. To be honest, we have no wingers really ready to step into our lineup. At the end of the day, we have at least three natural centers, and no place to put them. Those players are Lauri Korpikoski (who's already at wing), Artem Anisimov, and Evgeni Gratchev.
Anisimov might be the only bright spot on a horrendous Hartford team (which is quite a sign of our overall poor drafting... players who probably will never see the NHL like Brodie Dupont and Tom Pyatt), and Gratchev was very impressive at the world juniors.
However, there are four centers truly entrenched on the Rangers. One of three things are obviously going to occur: the Rangers promote no one, and leave the prospects in Hartford, they trade one of their current NHL centers, or they convert all of these prospects into wingers.
At this moment, I have to say that I'm uncomfortable with the idea of trading a guy like Dubinsky (who they might be most apt to trading and getting a decent return, due to his age, salary and potential). True, he's mired in a horrific slump, but sadly, I'm more comfortable with the trading of Gomez or Drury.
I might even lean more to Drury, and it hurts me to say that. I was very excited by his signing... but offensively speaking, he's barely there. Maybe the problem is we have no real offensive wingers to put next to him.
However, as Captain, he needs to be the facilitator of our production... and he just isn't. Maybe the team trades Drury for a scoring winger? A player like Kovalchuk is available... but I have to believe it would take a lot more than Chris Drury to get him.
That part is hard to predict, what isn't however, is that Sather will be forced either this year or next to clear up his center ice conundrum, and at the same time, save this team from the dire straights we're beginning to enter.
At the end of the day, it was Glen Sather who hasn't drafted as well as he could have, and has made some terrible off season signings. Redden nor Roszival will ever live up to their contracts, and neither Drury nor Gomez is a legitimate $7 million a year player.
Tom Renney also at this moment seems incapable of reviving a sleeping Rangers group.
Knowing what I do about the NHL... either you win, or changes occur. At this moment, I have to believe that the team is on quite a short leash. I'll be curious to see what this team looks like a year or two from today.
My gut feeling: it won't look much like the group that's here today, on the fourth of January... a team that's lost four out of its last five, and has shown no glimmer of hope to righting this sinking ship.