In what seemed to be a sports-lovers dream, a schedule made by the Gods, the New York Rangers were pitted in a season finale against Division rival Philadelphia Flyers. What added to this high-octane clash between bitter foes was the reward of the victory: a trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Rangers and fans alike, a heartbreaking shootout loss sent them home without getting a taste of the 2010 post-season.
The Rangers now stand in a difficult situation. They are known for their pricey contracts and mediocre players, terrible drafting, and ability to underperform despite having some quality players. Attributes like that are ones a franchise ideally would like to shed, and now seems to be the most opportune time for the Rangers to do so.
The Rangers offense this past season has revolved around star forward Marian Gaborik. Ending the year with 42 goals and 86 points, Gaborik factored in on 39% of the Rangers scoring. The team hadn’t seen play of his caliber in a few seasons, and relied too heavily on Gaborik to supply the offense.
Centers Vinny Prospal and Olli Jokinen helped provide some secondary scoring, scoring 58 and 50 points respectively. Prospal, arguably the most bang-for–the-buck forward on the team, was streaky all season, yet could be relied on to bring the veteran leadership and offense. Jokinen, who was acquired mid-season for overpaid and underachieving forwards Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins, stepped up his game with a star winger in Gaborik and fueled the Rangers late playoff push.
The pride and joy of Rangers blue is indubitably Ryan Callahan. A man who plays with fire and grit every night, Callahan is a threat in all situations and in all zones. But while he sports the dedication and skill of a fan favorite, his point production is nothing special. It appears he is leaning towards the Chris Drury career points wise, one a talented kid should try to avoid.
On defense, the Rangers have a pretty weak squad. Lead by 23-year-old Marc Staal, the Rangers defense is far and away the most overpaid and least skilled in the league. GM Glenn Sather infamously signed both Wade Redden and Michal Roszival to 6.5 and 5 million dollar contracts per year, and both have not lived up to either of those.
Redden is slow of foot, old, and a defensive liability. His 14 points in 75 games this season is nowhere near his 50 points in 65 games he put up in Ottawa in 2005. Roszival on the other hand, has been playing some solid hockey for the Rangers of late. While he may not be worth 5 million dollars per year, he has moved past the boos and jeers of the Rangers faithful and has provided a solid season as a defensive player.
Rookies Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy have both had solid seasons at the NHL level. While both tailed off at the end of the season, as most rookies do, they have adapted to the NHL pace and have solidified a place with the Rangers as reliable defenseman.
That leaves Dan Girardi to round up the defenseman. A restricted free agent at the end of the season, Girardi will most likely not be re-signed. He provides some grit and defensive work but his offensive numbers need improvement and his ability to turnover the puck is second to none.
So what does Sather do in the offseason? He revamps the team. With the offense ranked 20th in the league, some drastic moves to add another high caliber player need to be done.
First off, Prospal and Erik Christensen need to be re-signed. Both players have been superb for the Rangers, Christensen especially, building good chemistry with Gaborik. Fourth-line intangibles Jody Shelley and Brandon Prust had been paying dividends of late, adding the much needed tertiary scoring. With those signings, the Rangers will sport an offense with Gaborik, Prospal, Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky, Callahan, Sean Avery, Drury, and Artem Anisimov, leaving four open spots for new players.
On defense, the Rangers will have to pony up some big dollars to Staal, whose rookie contract has expired, and will probably want $3-4 million per year for a few seasons. In order for that to happen, the Rangers need to dump Redden’s salary via trade or waivers. Redden can be replaced by AHL players Bobby Sanguinetti, Michael Sauer, or Corey Potter.
If the Rangers are absolved or Redden’s contract, and sign Staal to $4 million per year, then they will have roughly $15 million to spend on free agents. Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec would be a solid addition as a top line center, or add another winger in Pavol Demitra or Lee Stempniak. On defense, Anton Volchenkov is available and would provide some good scoring from the blue line, or they could solidify strong defensive play by adding Marek Zidlicky.
Essentially, the ball is in Sather’s court for the offseason. While he may not make the best signings, he is excellent at correcting his mistakes. We can only hope that he remedies that current Rangers situation and builds a team set for a cup run in the 2010-2011 season.