Not to be confused with an overly optimistic FAN, one could easily argue that the Ranger glass is half full as opposed to half empty.
Point One: On the empty side you have 4 albatross-like contracts for Scott Gomez, Drury, Wade Redden and Roszival. At the same time can anyone argue that these 4 players didn't play the worst hockey of their careers last season? It's not delusional to suggest that all 4 players can play better next year, although it would be delusional to suggest that any of those 4 players will play up to their salary cap hit. Net result: We'll get more out these 4 players than we did last season.
Point Two: Infusion of youth/prospects. Artem Anisimov, Evgeny Grachev, Del Zotto and/or Sanguinetti. More than likely we'll see either 2 or 3 of the above players in the lineup next year. Grachev scored 40 goals and was the OHL rookie of the year. Nothing to sneeze at and although he could be another year or so away from playing in the NHL, he might just surprise us. He's projected as a power forward with above average speed, good skills and physical presence. Anisimov gave us a taste of things to come. After scoring 37 goals at the ahl level he has little to prove to the brass. Given the fact he's a defensively responsible player with skill, size and adequate speed, it's time he graduates full time to the NHL. Sanguenetti and Del Zotto ... my personal opinion is that neither will be ready to play full-time in the NHL next year, but I don't run the Rangers. The betting money might be on Sanguenetti since he's had a year of seasoning in the NHL, but there are questions about his defensive play. If both falter in camp and assuming the Rangers don't sign Mara for another year, look for Corey Potter to be a fill in.
Point Three: New Players. Gilroy is an overachiever, something every team needs. This is a character kid with great determination and his hockey IQ is impressive. He could be the Ryan Callahan of the defensive corp and a natural leader given a little time. No, he isn't a #1 or 2 d'man, but you'll probably never regret having this kid log significant ice time as a second pairing d'man. Boyle could be the big checking line center/wing we'll need while at the same time providing us with an immovable force in front of the net on the power play. This is no Aaron Voros or Rissmiller, he has much better hands and skills. The question will be his ability to get around fast enough and whether he can bring intensity to 80 games a year. He can however be a shut down forward.
Point Four: Players who should continue to develop. Zherdev, Korpikoski, Staal, Dubinsky and Callahan. There's no reason to suppose that the above young players shouldn't continue to develop, especially Korpikoski now that he has a full season under his belt. Dubinsky should rebound from the small step back he took in his sophomore campaign, but adjusting to life without a player like Jagr on your line is almost inevitable. As far as Staal and Callahan are concerned, they "get it" and they pretty much "get it" every night. Still, there's no reason to assume they won't get marginally better. Saving the best for last, it's hard to imagine that a player with all the skill in the world like Zherdev can once again disappear for such a long stretch of the season. Given the way he played in the first half of last season, you just can't give up on him. This is a make or break year for Nikolai. Some players just don't "get it" until they hit their mid-20's, some even their late 20's. Perhaps it's a mental issue or it's one of conditioning, but either way if one year under Torts can't get "it" out of him it then he may very well be a lost cause.
Point Five: Despite all the talk about the Rangers not having any cap room, that's just not the case --- unless by cap room you mean a team being able to afford signing two big name free agents on July 1. In this though the Rangers are not alone, other teams have similar issues. Eliminating Naslund, Morris, Antropov and Mara alone produces circa $11 million of cap space. Sure it's tight, but it isn't impossible to free up $6-8 million net of cap space.
Conclusion: The Rangers may not improve much (or at all) over last year, but then again the potential elements for real improvement are there. Sure, a bona fide already proven sniper is what they really need to have a legitimate shot at the Cup, but the glass isn't necessarily half empty. There's a fine line between a 90-95 point team that scores 210 goals in a season and a 100-105 point one that scores 240. On paper things might look a bit bleak and potential (prognostication) is often subject to hyperbole, but if most of these guys take a step forward this season like they should, it's a possibility.
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