New York Rangers 2010-2011 Season Preview: The Mystery Remains
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Another off-season has passed us Rangers' fans by, and we got to bear witness to another logic-defying Glen Sather contract (known henceforth as the Brashear Blue Plate Special), the acquisition of yet another forward that can be associated with the word "enigmatic", an almost hold-out, and the shuffling of a mistake under the proverbial rug.
It seems like just another day in Rangers country.
As the curtain rises on this frozen stage, we find our anti-heroes still searching for their identity. The Rangers stayed uncharacteristically quiet on July 1st. Of course, that had a great deal to do with the staggering mess general manager (or mangler), Glen Sather, has made of the team, in this salary cap ruled world.
Then, Sather went about the task of adding more offense to the scoring inept team, that took their fans and this writer through 82 inconsistent games ,and one major gut-check penalty shootout that ended with the Blueshirts polishing up their golf game. He signed Alexander Frolov and Tim Kennedy, in an attempt to boost offense on the wings. He shipped mistake Donald Brashear, along with a prospect, to Atlanta for the aging Todd White.
Todd White would have been an interesting story, if he had replicated his past chemistry with Ilya "Mr. Summertime" Kovalchuk, and had applied it to creating some magic with Marian "I AM THE NYR OFFENSE" Gaborik. However, it wasn't meant to be.
The Rangers may have found their number one center, between Gaborik, and a rejuvenated Frolov, in Derek Stepan.
Stepan fits into the Rangers' youth movement nicely and has some early chemistry with his two proposed wingers. The upside is that they will score a lot of points. The downside is that the unit has no idea what defensive responsibility entails. Because of this developmental need, Stepan was moved two spots down on the depth chart to center, behind Sean "I'm too sexy for your cat" Avery, and camp walk on Ruslan "I love Torts" Fedotenko. If the now-injured Vaclav Prospal's renaissance last season is any indication, then Fedotenko's play under coach and chief slave-driver John Tortorella should be just as good. What is it with the role players on that Cup winning Tampa Bay squad, anyway?
The interesting drama that will play out about a month into the season is what Torts will do with the million dollar penalty killer, Chris Drury. Drury will begin the season on the IR after suffering a broken finger, just after training camp opened. He has even stated that he isn't even sure of his role once he returns. Will Drury remain the captain de facto of the Rangers? What will Drury's role actually be? If the Rangers forwards have early success, does Drury become a healthy scratch night after night? If that happens, what will little Jimmy Dolan think when he realizes that $6 million in cap space is standing in the press box, with a no-movement clause?
Speaking of roles in the middle of limbo, Vinny Prospal will also begin the season on the IR, and may be done for the entire season, if not his career. Prospal injured his knee during camp and may require surgery if he is not able to recover. Knee surgery will most certainly end his season, if not his career.
Then there's the case of the one man brute squad that is Derek Boogaard. Apparently, Glen Sather has to give out one senseless contract per year. This year, it was the 6'8" hulk, Boogaard, who won the National Hockey Lottery, sponsored by Cablevision.
If there was one thing that Sather did to make Rangers' fans cheer, it was finally pulling the trigger on what most fans and journalists have been calling for since the Olympic break last season. Wade "Whipping Post" Redden was placed on waivers, cleared said waivers, and was summarily banished to the AHL affiliate, taking with him a season long respite from his albatross of a contract.
This opened the door to re-sign young master, Marc Staal, to a contract that he rightfully deserved. He returns this season to anchor a young defense that, with Redden's timely reassignment, sports only one member over the age of 30 (Michal "The Other White Meat" Rozsival). Look for Michael "Babyface" Del Zotto to continue his development into a power play quarterback, and for Matt Gilroy to have a revolving door installed in Torts' doghouse. Also, look for Tortorella to demand blue chip Ryan McDonough's presence, when he gets frustrated that his young corps doesn't understand the concept of jumping into the play intelligently.
The key for the Rangers is the one that they don't have to question. The King, Henrik Lundquist, finally has a worthy understudy on Broadway. Look for Martin Biron to play around 20 games this season, in order to keep Lundquist ready for action.
Overall, this Rangers team did continue the youth movement, however, Sather has not built a thoroughbred with this concoction. There are too many questions and still not enough room to maneuver beneath the salary cap, in order to fix mistakes in a prompt manner. Instead, this Rangers team will struggle in the middle of the season and positionally. They have yet to find a viable option for a number one center to shepherd dynamos, Frolov and Gaborik. If Gaborik, who played a complete season for the first time in years, gets injured, who will pick up the slack? Can Dubinsky, Callahan, and Christiansen net 25 goals? How about 30? Will the defense have enough poise to be responsible in front of King Henrik's net? And will they be able to score enough to win games?
That's a great deal of questions and not a lot of answers. Especially for a team that missed the playoffs by losing in a shootout to the eventual Stanley Cup runner-up...
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