In this first of three season preview articles, I will break down the New York Rangers' defensive corps for your reading pleasure. Look for the Rangers' forward preview to come in mid-September when we will know for sure whether Sundin or Shanahan will be joining the team.
Listed next to the players' names you will find their salaries for next season, along with their point totals from last season.
1. Wade Redden ($6.5 million; 6 G, 32 A, 38 P)
Wade Redden is perhaps the most important member of the Rangers' defense this season, if not only because he earned the enormous six-year, $36 million deal, but also because of his potential.
In his heyday, Redden was one of the best offensive defensemen in the league and one of the best power play quarterbacks as well.
Over the last few seasons in Ottawa, however, his play has slipped. This could be due to him wearing out his welcome, or the fact that he has had some off-ice issues.
Whatever the cause, if he brings those problems to New York not only will he be booed night in and night out, but he will make Glen Sather look like a horrible GM, which he is not.
I truly believe that a change of scenery to one of the best hockey markets in the country will fix Redden and get him back on track so he can be the power play quarterback this team has been missing since Brian Leetch.
2. Michal Rozsival ($5 million; 13 G, 25 A, 38 p)
During the end of last season, I bashed this defenseman in almost every game because his defense was simply atrocious. Yes, he scored goals and that's why he was given the free pass from fans while Marek Malik (whose defensive play was not much worse than Rozsival's) was the whipping boy.
On the afternoon of July 1, Rozsival signed a huge deal with the Rangers—a four-year deal worth $20 million. For that, I decided to put my past with him behind me and look to the future. And actually, the future is quite bright.
He was playing with a bad hip last season and that may have been the reason for his defensive struggles, but now I can see his offense is also improving.
On a team starved for offense, Rozsival scored 13 goals, and that was after passing up opportunities to shoot on what seemed to be every single shift. Every time he had the puck Jagr was calling for a pass and he would give in.
But now, with no Jagr, Rozsival will be using that hard, low slap shot of his more often and scoring more goals. Together with Redden, they have the potential to be one of the best power play point combinations in the league.
3. Dmitri Kalinin ($2.1 million; 1 G, 7 A, 8 P)
One of the Rangers free agent acquisitions this offseason was bringing in Dmitri Kalinin. I cannot comment on him based on personal experience, but from what I hear he has a very accurate and hard slap shot that he is not afraid to use.
He only scored one goal last year due to missing half the season, but when healthy he will be able to put pucks in the net and be an integral part of the team's second power play unit.
4. Paul Mara ($1.95 million; 1 G, 16 A, 17 P)
If there was one player on the Rangers that I wanted Sather to re-sign, it was Paul Mara—even more so then Jagr and Avery. Although relatively unknown to Rangers' fans because he doesn't score the big goals or throw the big check, he possesses something more valuable than that.
That quality is leadership. During the Pittsburgh series last season, no one on the team was more confident than Paul Mara. His post-game interview after Game Three was one of the most inspiring ones I've ever seen. It prompted Hockey Maven Stan Fischler to draw comparisons between him and Mark Messier.
From there on out, I knew that I wanted this guy back. And this season, with a little more offensive freedom, Mara will become even more valuable than he was in years past when he scored 15 goals with the Coyotes in 2005.
5. Dan Girardi ($1.55 million; 10 G, 18 A, 28 P)
Who would have though that one of the most steady defensemen to play for the Rangers in the last two seasons went undrafted? Exactly: no one. It's just amazing that this kid slipped under the radar because he is definitely one of the most valuable pieces of the Rangers' defensive puzzle.
In his first season, he concentrated on defense and worried about the defense until he was ready to take scoring chances and the risks that come with that. Last season, he flashed his offensive ability by scoring 10 goals, but hardly made any costly errors in doing so.
He has the poise and patience of a veteran who is always aware of his surroundings and knows where the pass is going before he makes it. Only 24-years-old, Rangers fans will look forward to seeing this kid on the blue line for years to come.
6. Marc Staal ($.827 million; 2 G, 8 A, 10 P)
It took a season or two of waiting before fans finally got to see what all the fuss was about with the third Staal brother to make the NHL. He had been tearing up the OHL with the Sudbury Wolves and fans couldn't wait to see him on Broadway.
Although his offense was a bit of a disappointment, his defensive play was cause to forget it. I'm not a homer, but I honestly cannot remember a mistake he made or, furthermore, one that ever cost the Rangers a goal.
It seems that what was said for Girardi can also be said for Staal who, as a rookie, showed the poise of a 10-year veteran.
This leads me to believe that his offensive ability will improve this season, due to the fact that he now has a year under his belt and will grow more comfortable in NHL play.
Probable Defensive Combinations
Pairing One: Marc Staal, Wade Redden
Pairing Two: Michal Rozsival, Dan Girardi
Pairing Three: Dmitri Kalinin, Paul Mara
Player Stat Projections
Wade Redden: 12 G, 44 A, 56 P
Michal Rozsival: 15 G, 33 A, 48 P
Dan Girardi: 8 G, 25 A, 33 P
Marc Staal: 10 G, 19 A, 29 P
Paul Mara: 9 G, 10 A, 19 P
Dmitri Kalinin: 5 G, 12 A, 17 P
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