Have the New York Rangers Let Their Depth Slip Away?
Following the 2004-05 NHL lockout, there has been one constant within the New York Rangers organization, and that's been depth. Even back in 2005-06, when Jaromir Jagr was headlining a high-powered offense, the team still had solid checking and fourth lines who were able to shut down opposing teams and show up on scoresheets every now and then.
Tom Renney took advantage of the depth and ran all four lines habitually during his tenure as coach, and although John Tortorella may be more reluctant to do so, he used nearly all of his forwards as penalty killers at some point last season.
Both coaches have had the luxury of using all 12 forwards regularly because the team has employed an abundance of strong-skating, two-way forwards over the course of the last eight years.
But since the departure of Jagr, this team has lacked talent. What followed was a series of acquisitions looking to bolster the team's attack.
Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Markus Naslund led the attack in the first Jagr-less campaign, but they couldn't get it done. So, Sather signed Marian Gaborik. He couldn't do it on his own so Brad Richards was signed. And even then, despite a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, a lack of offensive skill was still the team's Achilles' heel.
Sather then did what any other NHL general manager would have done: he traded away what he had in surplus for what he was lacking. Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Ansimov went to Columbus for the silky smooth Rick Nash.
It was a good hockey deal, there's no denying it, but before the deal was even made, Sather allowed Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko and John Mitchell all to leave through free agency. These three, along with Dubinsky and Ansimov, almost entirely made up the bottom two lines for the Rangers last season. Furthermore, all of them were key penalty killers, good skaters and contributed nicely on the offensive side in their bottom six roles.
Their departure now leaves Brian Boyle and Mike Rupp as the only third- and fourth-line players from last season still on the roster.
But, of course, players were brought in to replace the departed. Whenever the league gets it together, Rangers fans will have the distinct honor of being able to watch Arron Asham, Jeff Halpern and Taylor Pyatt play on a nightly basis. I know, you can hardly wait.
To be fair, Sather had little choice but to let some of the aforementioned former Rangers leave. Prust, despite being a stand-up guy and a fan favorite, was demanding a laughable salary. Fedotenko, and Mitchell too, were able to find clubs who were willing to offer more money and probably more playing time.
But regardless, the departure of these five players raises several questions. Questions like, who in the world is going to kill penalties now besides Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle? Can Asham and Halpern stay healthy for the entire season and playoffs at 34 and 36 years of age respectively? Will Taylor Pyatt continue to play as if he's a gentle giant and find himself in John Tortorella's doghouse?
And, maybe most importantly, have the Rangers lost some of their identity? Dubinsky, Prust and Anisimov all represented exactly what this team was all about since Tortorella's arrival: hard-working, two-way, grind-it-out hockey.
Yeah, they needed more skill, but would they have been better off throwing money at Semin for a year or two to keep Dubinsky, Anisimov, and some of their depth intact?
Whether or not depth is a problem will depend solely on if the new signings can assimilate into the team's style of play. If they cannot, and Torts isn't confident giving them regular playing time, the team will have a major problem on its hands. Stanley Cup teams don't run two lines.
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