In an offseason that has seen the likes of Scott Gomez, Paul Mara, Nikolai Zherdev, Markus Naslund, Nik Antropov, Colton Orr, and Blair Betts leave, it has become obvious that this is now John Tortorella’s team. After being hired after the release of Tom Renney, Tortorella has implemented a new, up-tempo system of play into an otherwise defensive-minded squad.
However, given the personnel Torts had to work with, he could not maximize the full benefits that his system of play can yield, and therefore his system resulted in a lackluster showing in the second half of the first round playoff series against Washington. Entering his first full season as Rangers head coach, Tortorella has promised better results with a revamped squad of players.
One of the main problems the team had last season, as many Rangers fans know, was a lack of scorers. Glen Sather fixed that, but not without making a few moves first. The first casualty of the Tortorella Era was Scott Gomez, when on June 30, 2009, it was announced that he was shipped to Montreal for Chris Higgins and Ryan McDonagh. Although Higgins had an injury-riddled year, he is very happy to be in New York and is determined more than ever to take his play to the next level.
Just one day later, with Gomez’s $7.3 million cap hit off the books, the New York Rangers signed superstar winger Marian Gaborik to a five-year contract worth $7.5 million dollars with a no-trade clause. Although Gaborik has a history of nagging injuries, his ability to get behind the defense and finish his opportunities should help the Rangers’ scoring woes in a big way. His wrist shot and lightning fast release should also yield a high number of power play goals, which would surely help a Rangers power play that was ranked 29th in the NHL last season.
In addition to the big-ticket signing of Gaborik, Donald Brashear, Brian Boyle, Ales Kotalik, Enver Lisin, and most recently, Vaclav Prospal, have been added to the team via free agency and trades. With the exception of Brashear, who was signed as an enforcer to replace Colton Orr, all of these players should help jump-start the offense and provide a strong supporting cast around the core of Drury, Dubinsky, Higgins, Avery, Gaborik, and Callahan.
I will get to more detailed predictions on the offense later, but now, I would like to discuss the state of the Rangers’ defense for the coming season. After being signed to a ludicrous six-year, $6.5 million/year contract, Wade Redden has quickly become a scapegoat for the Rangers’ fanbase for his untimely turnovers and apparently nonchalant attitude. Once Tortorella took over for Renney, Redden seemed to turn it around, playing a solid second half of the season. Returning to the Rangers defense are Rozsival, Staal, and Girardi.
The next two spots, however, are open for the team’s defensive prospects for the taking. With the departures of Paul Mara and Derek Morris to other teams via free agency, how these two spots are going to be filled is anyone’s guess. Hobey Baker award winner Matt Gilroy, Michael Del Zotto, Bobby Sanguinetti, Finnish import Ilkka Heikkinen, Michael Sauer, and Corey Potter will all make strong cases in training camp to be inserted into the Rangers’ defensive corps.
There have been rumors that the Rangers are attempting to sign either Francis Boullion or Dennis Seidenberg to fill one of the slots in order to not rush a young defenseman into the NHL. Although finding a veteran to play on the bottom pairing makes sense, both players are seeking multi-year deals, something the Rangers should not give out to an aging defenseman with a lot of defensive prospects knocking on the NHL’s door in the near future.
This officially concludes the journalistic part of the article, and instead, this begins the part of the article that I will write my personal predictions for this upcoming season. Let’s start with the roster on opening night. I expect the lines to look something like this:
I’m not expecting many surprises in training camp outside of these line combinations in terms of personnel, other than a couple of players being juggled between lines here and there. Although the skills of Boyle and Lisin are more suited for the top nine, their place on the depth chart sets them on the fourth line to start out. But I would not be surprised to see one or both promoted to the third or even second line during the course of the season. The burning question, however, is who moves down to the fourth line when a player earns a promotion.
The biggest surprise to some reading this may be the inclusion of Gilroy in the Rangers’ defensive corps. Some may say that the gap between the NCAA and NHL is vast, and that it would be difficult for him to adjust to the rigors of an 82-game schedule. In my opinion, however, I don’t see Gilroy having those problems. Simply put, players like him do not grow on trees. His poise with the puck, passing abilities, speed, agility, and sound defensive play should allow him to adjust to the NHL quite easily, as I believe these particular skills are vital to be a successful player in the NHL. Although I think THN’s prediction of him scoring 45 points in his first season in the NHL are very generous, to put it lightly, I think he’ll do just fine for himself in his rookie season.
With the full implementation of Tortorella’s up-tempo system, look for Ryan Callahan, Chris Higgins, and Marian Gaborik (if he stays healthy) to have excellent seasons. Look out also for Brandon Dubinsky to continue to follow the Mike Richards curve of development. Centering Gaborik is part of the recipe that will allow Brandon to have a break-out season. Kotalik will bring Drury’s offensive game back from dormancy, and will add a few goals of his own blasting howitzers from the left circle on the power play.
On the defensive side of things, look for Wade Redden to play himself out of scapegoat status. Redden has reportedly been undergoing a rigorous training program in the offseason to prepare for this coming season. As one of the premier puck moving defensemen in the league pre-lockout, a physically-fit Redden can be a force to be reckoned with this coming season.
Staal will continue to improve, especially on the offensive side of the puck. Look, however, for Girardi to disappoint this season, as he seems to go through a stretch when he slumps for games at a time at least once during the season. It is only a matter of time before the Garden faithful start to get on his case.
As for goaltending, we all know what we’re getting. Look for Valiquette to get more starts this season with Lundqvist playing for Team Sweden during the Olympics and the fatigue that is sure to result from it.
I will end this article with some point predictions for each player this upcoming season, along with a prediction for how the team will fare.
With a solid offensive supporting cast around Gaborik under Tortorella, this new Rangers team will no longer struggle to score goals. In turn, however, expect the Rangers to give up a few more goals this season, and for Lundqvist’s GAA stat to increase slightly. The success of the defense will hinge on whether or not Marc Staal establishes himself as a premier shut down defenseman in the NHL, along with steady play from Rozsival and Redden. Like previous seasons, the success of the team will be based on how their star players perform. If both Gaborik and Lundqvist meet expectations, the Rangers will finish second in the division and fourth in the East. If one of these players gets hurt and misses a significant chunk of time, expect the Rangers to be a bubble playoff team. If both get hurt, well, I don’t even want to think about it. My prediction? Gaborik plays 72 games, Lundqvist plays 65, and the Rangers finish third in the Atlantic.
Joe’s Prediction: Sixth in the East (47-30-5)
Now, as promised, I will end the article with my point predictions for each player for this upcoming season.
Anisimov: G: 9 A: 22 P: 33
Avery: G: 12 A: 26 P: 38
Brashear: G: 3 A: 2 P: 5
Boyle: G: 14 A: 12 P: 26
Callahan: G: 25 A: 23 P: 48
Drury: G: 31 A: 33 P: 64
Dubinsky: G: 17 A: 42 P: 59
Gaborik: G: 47 A: 44 P: 91
Gilroy: G: 6 A: 19 P: 25
Girardi: G: 8 A: 16 P: 24
Higgins: G: 28 A: 24 P: 52
Kotalik: G: 21 A: 22 P: 43
Lisin: G: 11 A: 13 P: 24
Potter: G: 2 A: 11 P: 13
Prospal: G: 18 A: 40 P: 58
Redden: G: 9 A: 38 P: 47
Rozsival: G: 11 A: 22 P: 33
Staal: G: 5 A: 21 P: 26
Lundqvist: GP: 65 GAA: 2.46 SV %: .921 W: 39
Valiquette: GP: 17 GAA: 2.65 SV %: .909 W: 8