NHL Free Agency: 4 Problems Free Agency Won't Fix for the New York Rangers
The New York Rangers have to be considered one of the big winners of free agency, until you remember that Rick Nash was acquired via a trade and not in free agency. Even still, the Rangers did use free agency to add veterans in key areas and to compensate for lost players.
The question is, did they do enough to overcome the problems that bounced them out of the playoffs during the Eastern Conference Finals?
Rick Nash certainly adds a missing element to the team, but the Rangers, despite their record, struggled in many areas in 2011-12, and consistently great play could only really be found between the pipes by Henrik Lundqvist.
Here are four potential problems the Rangers may face in this upcoming season:
Improving the Power Play
The Rangers ranked 23rd in the NHL during the regular season on power-play percentage.
That's the eighth worst power play in the league.
Rick Nash will certainly help on the power play, especially with his ability to carry the puck into the zone, but the Rangers need to set up and move the puck quicker to score more often when they have a man advantage.
The Rangers are obviously very happy to have Nash, and he will contribute on the power play, but power-play efficiency starts with the point man, and that position most likely still belongs to Michael Del Zotto, who still needs to learn how to quarterback a power-play offense.
Time will tell if Nash is the addition this unit needed or if they will let another year go by with a subpar power play.
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The odds of the Rangers winning a faceoff in 2011 were a coin flip.
Literally, the Rangers won exactly 50.0 percent of their faceoffs during the regular season, and that figure dipped to 48.4 percent during the playoffs.
The Rangers are returning their top-three centers in Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Brian Boyle, but they also added a faceoff specialist of sorts in 36-year-old Jeff Halpern.
Halpern was the fifth-best faceoff man in the NHL last season, and the Rangers are hoping that skill matures with age—and not just for Halpern.
22-year-old Derek Stepan will probably see more time on the ice this season, and winning more faceoffs will be a major indication that Stepan is developing in the right direction.
Protecting the Talent
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The Rangers went to great lengths to keep their talented core of young players together, and now that they all are still in blue, who will protect them?
The Rangers lost their top-two most-penalized players this offseason: Brandon Prust and Brandon Dubinsky.
Prust's physicality will be missed greatly as he often sparked the team with a big hit or fight at a momentum-swinging moment.
The mental boost a team gets from seeing a teammate sacrifice his body is an important part of the game, but it's tough to quantify.
Hoping to take Prust's role will be 34-year-old Arron Asham. The former Penguin took a big cheap shot during the playoffs against the Flyers, but I'm sure the Rangers have spoken to Asham about that, and he won't be bringing that type of game to New York.
Mike Rupp is still on the roster, and Stu Bickel may have to embrace the role of enforcer if he wants to get on the ice.
Lack of Depth on Defense
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As the playoff games mounted, the Rangers' defensive pairings were exposed as overworked.
This young unit, which includes Dan Girardi as the oldest at 28, is asked to block a lot of shots under Tortorella's system, and fatigue caught up with them during the 2011 playoffs.
Pending Michael Del Zotto's contract, this unit will look the same in 2012 as it did in 2011, with the hope that Michael Sauer reaches full health and can contribute.
During the playoffs, Girardi, McDonagh and Staal each averaged over 25 minutes per game, and that's a lot to ask of any three players.
If Del Zotto, Stralman, Bickel and others can improve their play, then Tortorella can trust them in key situations.
In many aspects of the game, the Rangers will depend on young players to improve and play like they belong in the NHL. Without those contributions, Rick Nash or not, the Rangers will have problems.