I will be previewing all 30 NHL clubs. I will be looking at their available salary cap room, the additions and deletions from the 2008-09 rosters, and where I think they will stack up in their division and conference for the 2009-10 campaign.
Let's get a move on with the New York Rangers, who play in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.
Distraction and dysfunction, those were the key factors to the collapse in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Washington Capitals. The Game Six suspension for head coach John Tortorella, because of an incident with fans in Washington, and Sean Avery being benched for Game Five, for his untimely penalties during the previous games in the series, both led to a big distraction for the Rangers.
Neither Avery or Tortorella was with the organization at the start of the 2008-09 season. Avery was signed as a free-agent by the Dallas Stars during the offseason and Tortorella was a panellist for TSN in Canada, after being dismissed by the Tampa Bay Lightning from his head coaching duties.
After an off-ice incident in Calgary in early December, Avery was suspended from the NHL and was subsequently claimed off waivers by the Rangers on Feb. 9. It was made very clear by the leadership inside the Dallas Stars' locker room that Avery was not welcomed back to their organization.
One of the most out-spoken critics of Avery was Tortorella. After his comments in Calgary, Tortorella made his feelings quite clear about Avery's behaviour. Everything seemed to be going along quite smoothly until the playoffs.
How the New York Rangers handle this distraction will go along to determine the upcoming season in Manhattan. The other changes that General Manager Glen Sather made in the offseason won’t matter if the dressing room is dysfunctional and if Avery continues to be a distraction.
The unrestricted free agents that have been signed by the Rangers are as follows: Tyler Arnason (Colorado), Brian Boyle (Los Angeles), Donald Brashear (Washington), Marian Gaborik (Minnesota), Chad Johnson (Pittsburgh), Ales Kotalik (Edmonton), Corey Locke (Minnesota), Enver Lisin (Phoenix), and Vaclav Prospal (Tampa Bay).
Chris Higgins was acquired in the Scott Gomez deal, prior to the beginning of the free agent period.
The unrestricted free agents that have moved on from New York are: Nik Antropov (Atlanta), Doug Janik (Detroit), Lauri Korpikoski (Phoenix), Paul Mara (Montreal), Greg Moore (N.Y. Islanders), Derek Morris (Boston), Colton Orr (Toronto) and Fredrik Sjostrom (Calgary).
Markus Naslund retired from the NHL on May 5. Nikolai Zherdev became an UFA after the Rangers walked away from Zherdev's arbitration reward. Zherdev remains unsigned by another NHL franchise.
There are six former Rangers players that have yet to sign deals with another franchise. They are: Joe Barnes, Mark Bell, Blair Betts, Dane Byers, Vladimir Denisov, and Jarkko Immonen.
The Rangers still have one unsigned restricted free agent. Brandon Dubinsky is projected to be the team's second line center, when he resigns.
The Projected 2009–10 New York Rangers' Roster
The Rangers currently have 18 players under one-way contracts; 12 forwards, four defensemen, and two goaltenders. The five players that are most likely to fill out the roster, that are on two-way contracts are as follows (it would most likey be two forwards and three defensemen):
If and when Dubinsky signs his new contract, he would take one of the available forward positions. If he does not sign, the Rangers will look to Artem Anisimov and either Tyler Arnason or Brian Boyle.
According to Rangers Director, Player Personnel Gordie Clark, "I would say that he's got a position on the team that's his to lose. He's not coming in to try out, we have our top three centers—(Chris) Drury, (Brandon) Dubinsky, and Anisimov."
Anisimov has played professional hockey in North America for the last two seasons. He has one game of NHL experience and also appeared in one game during the playoffs last season, after Blair Betts was knocked out of the playoffs by Brashear.
Because of his lower cap hit, I look for the Rangers to go with Brian Boyle. He is a 6'7" 252 pound center. He has been playing professional hockey for the last two seasons since graduating from Boston College. Boyle has played in 36 NHL games with the L.A. Kings, scoring eight goals and adding two assists.
The total number of seasons for players patrolling the Rangers' blueline is 28. Which seems OK, until you realize Wade Redden is entering his 13th season. Dan Girardi is entering his fourth season and Michal Rozsival is entering his ninth.
Marc Staal is entering the final year of his entry level contract and will be looking to continue developing into the top defenseman in the Rangers' organization. This is his third season with the Rangers and he has appeared in 162 games, scoring five goals and tallying 20 assists. Last season Staal averaged 21:07 of ice time last season.
The Rangers could have as many as three rookies patrolling the blueline in Madison Square Garden.
Matt Gilroy signed a one-way free agent contract after graduating from Boston University. He was an undrafted free agent and is projected to make the Rangers coming out of training camp.
Bobby Sanguinetti, Michael Del Zotto, and Ilkka Heikkinen will be battling for the final two defensive positions on the Rangers’ roster coming out of training camp. It is most likely to be Sanguinetti and Heikkinen because of their age and cap numbers. Del Zotto has one more year of eligibility left in the OHL, but will be given every opportunity to shine on Broadway.
If the Rangers start the season with Redden, Staal, Girardi, Gilroy, Rozsival, Sanguinetti, and Heikkinen, it will be a very inexperienced blue line and also a young one. Staal is 22, Gilroy is 25, Sanguinetti is 21, Girardi is 25, and Heikkinen is 24. They may not have a lot of NHL experience, but they will be fun to watch.
Without the unsigned Dubinsky, the other 23 players would give the Rangers a Salary Cap of $56.1 million. If they want to get Dubinsky signed, the Rangers will most likely have to make move or two to get under the Salary Cap.
Now let’s take a look at some of the Rangers' top prospects that will be looking to impress G.M. Sather and Head Coach Tortorella.
This 19-year-old native of Khabarovsk, Russia, was the Rangers third round pick (75th Overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Grachev played last season with the Brampton Battalion of the OHL. It was his first season of North America hockey.
According to NHL.com, "Evgeny is a power forward with a good physical presence and ability to come up with the puck in traffic areas. He displays strong puck skills and the ability to make plays all over the ice, but needs to improve his acceleration and overall speed."
He has signed his first entry level contract but will most likely go back to Brampton of the OHL for another full season of North American hockey.
This native of Yaroslavl, Russia was the Rangers' second round pick (54th Overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. According to NHL Central Scouting, "A good, solid skater with deceptive moves, he is a good puck handler and very good playmaker that makes passes with good vision. Anisimov also has a very quick shot."
This native of St. Paul, Minnesota was the Canadiens' first round pick (12th Overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He was acquired from Montreal as part of the Scott Gomez deal on June 30, 2009. McDonagh has yet to sign his first entry level contract so it's likely that McDonagh will return to the University of Wisconsin again this season.
According to hockeysfuture.com, McDonagh's key asset is his speed, which has been described by the Montreal’s Director of Player Development and Acquisition, Trevor Timmins, as "dimensional." Added to this is his ability to play an all-ice game. He's responsible in his own end and has the size to be a physical force. He combines that with an ability to contribute on the offensive end of the rink, making the smart pass and keying the rush.
The native of Hastings, Minnesota was the Rangers’ second round pick (51st Overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Stepan has yet to sign his first entry level contract, so it's likely that he will return to the University of Wisconsin for his second season.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Gary Eggleston, "Derek is a very good skater who accelerates quickly, pulling away from his opponent. He is quick on the fore-check and he possesses a surprising reach. He has very good hands with a quick-release shot and excellent passing. He is a smart player who will continue to improve."
Michael Del Zotto
The native of Stouffville, Ontario was the Rangers’ first round pick (20th Overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Del Zotto has signed his first entry level contract and will be given an opportunity to make the Rangers out of training camp. I believe his age and his salary cap number will see him return to the London Knights of the OHL.
Recap of 2008-09
The Rangers finished fourth in the Atlantic Division and finished seventh in the Eastern Conference with a record of 43-30-9, good for 95 points.
The Rangers had four players that broke the 20-goal plateau and they had seven players finished with double digit goals. Of those seven players, only Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky, (when and if he signs his new contract) are returning to the hockey club in 2009-10. They were led by Nikolai Zherdev (23 goals and 58 points) and Markus Naslund (24 goals).
The Rangers' offense was 28th in the NHL with 200 goals for and defensively, the Rangers were sixth in the NHL giving up 212 goals.
The Rangers power play was 29th in the NHL last season, clicking at only 13.9 percent, but they were first in killing penalties (87.8 percent).
Outlook for 2009-10
Offensively, the Rangers have lost 90 goals from last year’s team, but signed players that only scored 68 goals last season. The free agent acquisition of Marian Gaborik is a risky one for the Rangers. He missed 65 games last season due to groin injuries, but he still managed to score 13 goals in 17 games. If Gaborik can return to his 42-goal season of two years ago, the risk will be worth it. Add to that a more wide open style of play in New York and playing alongside Chris Drury, may mean a career year for Gaborik, again if he can stay healthy.
Goaltending should not be an issue for the Rangers again this season with Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes for his fifth season. Lundqvist has been an All-Star, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2006.
Defensively, as we discussed earlier is the area of concern for the Rangers. After Redden and Rozsival, the average age of the other five defensemen is 23.6-years-old and they may have as many as three rookies on the opening day roster.
There will have to be at least one more move by the Rangers in order to get Dubinsky signed and have the Rangers under the Salary Cap. Looking at the roster, the most likely candidates are Ryan Callaghan or Pat Rissmiller. If they could move them for a cheaper defensemen and draft picks, it would be in Sather's best interest to pull the trigger on such a deal.
With Staal, Rozsival, Redden, and Girardi all averaging more than 21 minutes last season, what the Rangers have lost in defensive experience, they should gain in offensive output. With a full season with Avery and a healthy Gaborik, the Rangers should be able to recover from their defensive inexperience.
I foresee a fourth place finish in the highly competitive Atlantic Division and I think they will finish sixth in the Eastern Conference. I also caution Rangers fans that this is probably the best case scenario.
It also would not surprise me if the Rangers finished as low as 12th if injuries become an issue for Gaborik, Lundqvist or any of the experienced four defensemen. Secondly, the Tortorella-Avery side show may also destroy the dressing room and lead to a disappointing end to the 2009-10 season. A sixth place finish is based on everything going perfect on Broadway.
On Sept. 7, I will be reviewing Ottawa Senators as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs. Look for my four-part article on how I would improve the NHL and my other previously published articles on bleacherreport.com.