After taking a trip to Long Island to visit the New York Islanders, we swing back around and hit Broadway to check out where the Blueshirts are headed this year.
How's that for scene setting?
The Rangers have done a lot of work over the offseason, but you have to wonder if inconsistent scorers and periodically injured players are really the way to go.
New York Rangers
2008/09 Record: 43-30-9, 95 points, seventh in East—Lost to Washington Capitals in seven games (First Round)
Additions: Vaclav Prospal—F (1 year/$1.1 mil), Enver Lisin—F (Trade w/Phoenix), Donald Brashear—F (2 years/$2.8 mil), Marian Gaborik—F (5 years/$37.5 mil), Christopher Higgins—F (Trade w/Montreal), Ales Kotalik—F (3 years/$9 mil), Tyler Arnason—F (FA)
Subtractions: Derek Morris—D (FA), Paul Mara—D (FA), Colton Orr—F (FA), Fredrick Sjostrom—F (FA), Nik Antropov—F (FA), Scott Gomez—F (Trade w/Montreal), Lauri Korpikoski—F (Trade w/Phoenix), Nikolai Zherdev—F (Europe/Arbitration), Markus Naslund—F (Retired), Blair Betts—F (FA)
All it took was a new head coach in John Tortorella and the re-acquisition of Sean Avery, (and a few other parts) and the New York Rangers were able to get themselves into the playoff picture (but just barely) in the Eastern Conference.
Now, with some interesting moves in the forward ranks and some heavy reliance on young defensemen, the Rangers are forced to compete with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers, while Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise ensure no one forgets about the Devils in the Atlantic.
Gabbing about the prospects of Prospal…
Starting on the front lines, the Rangers almost slid sideways.
While Nikolai Zherdev’s antics left fans in a state of bewilderment (culminating in a big goose-egg during the first round) throughout the season, Marian Gaborik will prove to be equally as frustrating.
I could dance around it by raising pointless questions like “Does Gaborik have the talent? No that’s not it” but I won’t.
Fact is he’s an all-world talent that’s good for about twenty games a year. If he turns that around in New York, he and Vaclav Prospal could vault this team’s offensive attack into the 240/245 goal range (they scored 210 last year) because they’re both that good.
If Gaborik is hurt and Prospal stumbles with inconsistency though, it’s just a whole lot of paychecks for nothing.
Then you have to look at who might be centering that line (if Gabby and Prospal do in fact play together).
The remaining part of the Rangers' "dynamic duo" from a few offseasons ago, Chris Drury, might be a candidate for this line, but Prospal and Gaborik may require a better passer, while Drury hasn’t exactly flourished as a feature forward.
Drury’s line may actually consist of former teammate Ales Kotalik as both experienced career years with the Buffalo Sabres post-lockout (With a best case scenario seeing them combine for 45-50 goals).
Many Blueshirt Believers feel that Brandon Dubinsky may be put up on the first line. Although the abilities of his potential linemates could boost Dubinsky’s production (He’s leveled off in the 40 point neighborhood the past two seasons), Dubinsky would still be miscast in the No. 1 slot, although he remains as one of the most ideal candidates.
The last remaining option with real NHL experience would be Tyler Arnason, but his quick dissension from future star to third-liner is troublesome, making him a very silly choice.
The prospects of playing alongside players of that caliber could get the hands working again, but the more likely situation is that Arnason lines up alongside the physical Aaron Voros, Donald Brashear, or even Enver Lisin as the former Coyote tries to move his way up the lineup.
After all, you have to earn those kind of linemates and that kind of ice time and Arnason simply hasn't.
While his skating ability never left, the ability to finish seemed to evade Chris Higgins last year. After three-straight 20-goal campaigns, Higgins sunk to 12 last season, as Montreal big adieu to him in much the same light they did Michael Ryder after his production tailed off.
Closer to home, Higgins may be in a better situation now, especially if (And I’m surprised I'm admitting this) he plays alongside Sean Avery.
For some reason, Avery keeps his ridiculous antics on-ice in New York, rather than bringing them off the ice (For the most part. Was the Vogue internship a little strange? Yea. But at least he wasn't taking pot-shots at Elisha Cuthbert). If Avery can keep his head on straight and avoid a meltdown like late in the Washington series, then he could grab a lot of attention away from his linemates, allowing them to create.
While there are a variety of different players up front, the Rangers aren’t without an unknown quality. Already dubbed one of the team's "top three centers," Artem Anisimov has big expectations on a big stage, and he’ll be pressured to perform—something that will be made easier if he’s paired with quality linemates.
The Rangers certainly aren't guaranteeing jobs to anyone in camp however, as former Brampton Battalion Evgeny Grachev is also expected to push for a spot.
Rozes are Redd, Gilroy is Blue…
There was no player ridiculed more last year than Wade Redden in Rangers' circles.
Having fallen from the 40-point stratosphere, Redden seemed to have trouble both offensively and defensively for the Rangers—not something you want out of a defenseman making $8 million.
This year the Rangers are eyeing up a much younger core.
Starting with Matt Gilroy (one of the three highly-sought after College stars from last year), the Hobey Baker award winner had some of the quickest feet in the NCAA ranks. A mobile, matured defenseman who’s able to jump up seamlessly into the rush is a big asset for the Rangers to have—especially when Michal Rozsival led the back-enders with just 30 points last year (the third lowest total of any team-leading defenseman).
What’ll help out Rozsival this year, is the fact that the offense will be spread around even more—not just with Gilroy—which will take a lot of pressure off the 31 year old.
Bobby Sanguinetti is another young defenseman with big expectations.
A big defenseman with a big shot, Sanguinetti improved his defensive play by leaps and bounds last year, and looks to be a very well-rounded prospect in the Rangers’ system. Blessed with a big shot that’ll boost the power play, Sanguinetti could step in a la Drew Doughty in LA last year and provide a rookie surprise.
Then there are the two youngest returnees in Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Although Girardi took a step backwards offensively, he’s proven in the past at different levels that, when given some leeway in the offensive game he can be deadly.
If Coach Tortorella continues to bump up his ice time (Girardi saw his responsibilities increase once Torts came aboard) Girardi could be a quality 30-point man. The only catch is if he commits to the defensive side of things.
And of course there’s Marc Staal. Not quite as offensively gifted from the back end as his brethren, Staal’s abilities are only hampered by his age. Staal skates extremely well for such a big-bodied defenseman, and while fans look at the underwhelming 15 points/-7 line from last year and get frustrated, there’s no reason to.
Remember, young defensemen—especially those with the expectations like Staal has—take longer to develop, but it's always worth it in the end.
Is he top 20 in the league right now? No. But be patient and he’ll be the head-on-his-shoulders leader of a dangerous offensive squad soon enough.
Well…he’s kind of like Joel Lundqvist…
Henrik Lundqvist has become one of the top puck-stoppers in the league. With four-straight 30-win seasons in the NHL (Five in professional hockey with his last season in Sweden) Lundqvist has proven that he’s the real deal.
A goalie who can routinely play 70 games in a season while winning 35 with a save percentage around .915 and a goals-against between 2.25 and 2.45 is a goalie that’s able to carry a team to the playoffs—something that Lundvist has done each of his years with the Blueshirts.
From there, Stephen Valiquette returns as the man behind Lundqvist. For the past three years Valiquette has played that role, and it’s turned out fairly well for New York.
Although it remains to be seen how well Valiquette would do if Lundqvist went down long term, for all intents and purposes Stephen has done his job, offering up a solid 13-15 games per year.
Keep Lundqvist happy and healthy and the Rangers will have no questions between the pipes.
So what’s it all mean…
The Rangers' key heading into this season is remaining healthy.
If they can do that, then there are weapons up front that can generate a whole lot of offense. If not, those weapons have shown in the past that they can go awfully silent.
Defensively the Rangers are younger, but if they can find a balance and pair up effectively, Henrik Lundqvist should be able to mask any major shortcomings.
That being said, this is still the division that features the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin experience, CGB (Philadelphia’s Carter, Gagne, and Briere—If Knuble stuck around it could be KGB), and Captain Shutout over in New Jersey.
Then again, fourth was good enough to make the playoffs last year.
4th in Atlantic
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.