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Breaking the Silence Part 2: New York Rangers Season Overview

Mr. ControversyCorrespondent IJune 17, 2011

Breaking the Silence Part 2: New York Rangers Season Overview

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    This is part two of my overview of the New York Rangers' season. Here we will discuss the goalies and defenseman from last year and the up coming season.

    Some players' contracts have ended, and I will give my opinion on who should come back and who should be set free—and why one bad trade last year may have set the Rangers back a bit.

Was Biron Really Needed?

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    Last year the Rangers signed Goaltender Martin Biron to be Henrik Lundqvist's backup. I myself was not to thrilled with the signing for the following reasons.

    Yes, I know Biron came cheap and with a lot of experience. But I thought in the 5 games Chad Johnson played in the 2009/10 season he looked very good and should have been called up to be Hank's backup. Johnson, who had no defensive support, averaged 2.5 goals against. Not bad when you look at how poorly the defense played that year.

    When you look at how Martin Biron played for the New York Islanders during the 2009/10 season, I did not see anything to be happy about like some NYR fans. He had a losing record where he only won 9 games out of 29, with average goals against of 3.27. We bring in a goalie with a losing record and Ranger fans are happy about it. It makes no sense to me!

    Biron has had injury issues to deal with as well. In fact, the main reason he lost his starting position with Buffalo was due to his injuries. The money spent on Biron could have been used to sign a bigger, tougher and more defensive-minded defender that the Rangers needed so desperately.

    However, Biron played superbly for the blue shirts. He was indeed a very good signing and played his role perfectly. That does not mean that Chad Johnson would not have done the same, but in the end, Martin Biron looked and played extremely well for the blue shirts and I look for the same next season.

    The thing that gets me is, Biron was not really needed. Yes, Tortorella wanted to take some pressure off of Hank, but regardless, Hank was going to play over sixty games. Which he did! So did they really need to go out and spend more money and a risky pick at that with Biron, when they had a half decent goalie in Chad Johnson?

    I agree that Biron played better than I expected, but the Rangers' defense was also a lot better this season which may have contributed to his success. I still I would have rather seen Sather go after a better defenseman, which was needed more then another goalie.

The King of Kings!

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    What can you say about Henrik Lundqvist? He is the main reason the Rangers made it to the Playoffs last year and almost made it in the 2009/10 season. He led the NHL with 11 shutouts and had his sixth consecutive 30-plus win season.

    Henrik Lundqvist is the backbone of this Rangers team and with a much better defense than years before, King Hank will have an even better season to come.

    Henrik has played over 70 games per season since 2006. He has carried this Rangers team since his debut in 2005. Last year was no different for the swede goalie as he played 68 games.

    The signing of Martin Biron did not change anything in terms of the Rangers' star goalie playing fewer games or getting the proper rest.

    Henrik had a few minor injuries last season and being another year older this upcoming season, you would think the Rangers would not allow him to play 68 games or more next year. 

    As good as he is, playing that many games every year will take its toll on him. It is just the way it is. I would rather have a more refreshed Hank in the playoffs if they make it again this season than a goalie who is exhausted.

    There are many teams out there that are struggling with their offense. Teams the Rangers play several times throughout the season. These are teams that our back up goalies should be playing against. Weather they are conference teams or not should not make a difference. Keep Hank well rested and you will see how much further we go.

Is Steve Eminger a Keeper or Not?

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    For years the Rangers have had problems with their defense. They have been missing that dominating, hard-hitting defenseman that gives their opponents something to worry about when they are in the Rangers zone.

    Last year, instead of going out and signing a tough, stay-at-home defender—or calling up one of their own from the minors—The Rangers signed 27 years old Steve Eminger. Again I was not happy for the obvious reasons.

    Steve Eminger was not a terrible pick up, but he was not what the Rangers needed. However, he too surprised me with his aggressiveness last season. He was a man on a mission and was delivering some pretty awesome checks throughout the season. He took his game to another level and I must admit I was impressed.

    But was he the answer to the Rangers' needs? No, he was not! I give him credit for the effort; the defense was improved with him rather then with Rozsival and or Redden. But at 6'1 ,201 lbs he was not that dominating d-man they still need.

    His contract is up and I would not mind seeing Eminger in Blue again for another year depending on how much he is asking for. He will fit the role as a sixth or seventh defenseman unless the Rangers are intending to call up another rookie. If that is the case, Eminger must go.

    I have mixed feelings on Eminger. His offense is nonexistent, and his defense is not on a consistent level. He does, however, bring some speed and he is a defender that can move the puck. But we already have several players that can do that just fine. His aggressiveness last year was by far his most physical of his career. Is he a needed player? I think he would contribute to the defense a bit if the Rangers choose to resign him but i also think we have bigger, tougher and better defenders looking to come up.

Earning His Dollars!

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    What I liked the most about this past season are the many players that really stepped up and improved their play from previous years.

    Dan Girardi was one of those guys.

    For several years Dan Girardi’s game has been up and down. He would start off great in the beginning of the season and would fizzle out towards the end. He would block tons of shots in the beginning and would stop trying at the end of the season.

    He has not been a dominating defenseman nor a huge checker. But this past year Girardi stepped up.

    Here is a player that the Rangers resigned for a 4 year contract at $3.325 million who said, "I am going to earn every cent of it."

    He led the League in blocked shots with 236 and came ninth amongst all defenseman in hits. Sure they are not the hard hitting checks I love to see. But they served their purpose. His defensive game this past season was by far his best of his career and he maintained it throughout the season.

    He was injured in a fight last year, which was the first fight I had ever seen him in...I think he was trying to show the fans that yes, he will protect his teammates when needed. The Gabby fight 2 years ago where Girardi was more afraid of taking the penalty than his star player will never happen again.

    If he brings his A game next year, he will again be a part of one of the most dominating defensive pairing in the NHL with Marc Staal.

Lessons Learned!

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    After coming off his worst year defensively in the 2009/10 season, Marc Staal focused on what he does best this past year. That is shutting down top lines in the NHL.

    He took a step back two years ago when he was trying to be more involved with the offense and focused more on scoring then he did his defense. It resulted in costly mistakes that resulted in the Rangers losing games.

    But last year he did what came natural to him. Playing Defense! Fans may be surprised to learn that Staal is not even listed in the top 30 in hits. He had 140 hits last year that paced him in the thirty-sixth slot amongst all defenseman. But that’s ok!

    Marc Staal is one of the league's top d-men. He is rarely out of position and he knows how to stop the Crosbys and Ovechkins of the NHL.

    This was a very good year for Staal. You can see that he learned from the previous season and realized he does not need to push or rush his offense. He learned that, during the game, the chances to make the big play and score goals will come. He had two game-winning goals last year and if he stays focused he will have an even better year next season. He really matured as a player!

    Marc saw more time on the power play where he scored four goals. He tallied seven goals on the season and had twenty-two assists for a total career high of twenty-nine points.

    He may not be the next Brian Leetch but Marc Staal will only get better with each season and he will be a top defender in the NHL for a very long time.

Time to Shine

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    As good as Marc Staal and Dan Girardi played last year for the Rangers, there was another pair of defensemen that played equally as well, and yes they were rookies!

    It took very little effort for Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh to click right off the bat. The chemistry between them was there right away. They quickly became the number-two defensive pair for John Tortorella and did they ever take full advantage of it.

    I felt Michael Sauer was ready to play two years ago. But this is what happens when you are stuck with a pair of bums you can not do anything with. Players have to sit and wait. The best thing that happened last year to this defense was Glen Sather demoting Wade Redden to the minors and trading Michal Rozsival.

    Michael Sauer was hitting hard, fighting and making his presence known from game one. I am not one for plus-minus stats but when you finish a season with a plus 20 you know he did something right. Sauer also did a very good job protecting Hank and his fellow teammates—something that has been missing for quite a while.

    Michael Sauers' contract is up this year and I expect Glen Sather to offer him a lengthy deal.

Proven His Worth

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    Ryan McDonagh is the other defenseman who paired with Sauer. Ryan finished the season with a plus 16 and although John Tortorella was expecting more offensively from him, what McDonagh showed was that he is an all around defender and a player that can play defense against the best of them. Look for Ryan to be more involved with the offense next year.

    Both Sauer and McDonagh played beyond expectations of many fans and Ranger personnel last season. To think that the Rangers have many players down in the minors that can and will play at the same level and maybe even better then these two rookies is something to really look forward to.

    Both Sauer and McDonagh established themselves as top defenseman for this Rangers club and with a year of experience under their belts they will be that much better next season.

Time for a Change

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    You hear a lot of fans calling players offensive defensemen. There is no such thing! The key word here is defenseman. You are a defenseman before you are anything else. Defenseman! Yes there are players with much higher offensive skills then other defensive players. But again your main job is, should be and always will be defense!

    Now you have a defensive player with absolutely no defensive skills at all. Michael Del Zotto was sent down to the minors to work on his defense last season. This is what should have happened his rookie year, but it didn't. The reason for that is because Del Zotto was scoring early in the season in 2009/2010 and he quickly became a fan favorite and was kept in the line up and on the roster.

    He finished the 2009/10 season with a disastrous minus 20 and started this past season heading for the same train wreck. How this guy became a defenseman is beyond me. Yes he has speed and yes he can shoot. But with no defensive skill at all, why not use him as a winger?

    He gets lost in his own zone and defense is a very hard position to play. You need to account for every player in your zone and you need to foresee plays before they develop into a goal for the other team. Positioning for a defenseman is everything, where as a winger it gives you more room to float around.

    With his speed and offensive skills, making a change to winger would be easier then to try to teach this very talented kid defense.

    I am not trying to put the kid down. I am simply telling it like it is. He is A 20 years old kid and making that transition would be perfect for him. He will handle the puck more, he will definitely shoot more. And for a team that has been struggling to score goals no matter who they sign, Del Zotto might be the missing piece to that puzzle.

    His offensive skills are by far much better then a lot of forwards out there. With his speed it makes him that much more of a threat.

    Lets be real here. He is a player that has been playing defense for many years. He should not be as clueless as he is playing in his own zone. As poorly as he plays defense, it can take him a few more years to be ready. Turn him into a winger!

Underrated

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    I believe Matt Gilroy is an underrated defenseman. I think he has been much better then Del Zotto when it comes down to defense. He seems to have more of an edge to his game as well. There are some guys that just do not get it, and then there are guys like Matt Gilroy who do.

    Matt Gilroy does it all. He is not afraid to hit, he shoots the puck every chance he gets and his defense has improved big time. He can become what Del Zotto was supposed to be.

    He has speed and hockey sense in both zones. He knows when to sneak in down low to make an offensive play and he knows when to fall back. He is a keeper!

    Gilroy’s contract is up this year; he is an RFA {restricted free agent} and he should be back next year.

Veteran Defender Equaled Zero Progress!

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    I know the Rangers had issues on the power play and had scoring issues on and off all season. I understand John Tortorella’s game plan/strategy and what the Rangers needed. I understand that they where thinking about the season at hand, I do!

    But trading for Bryan McCabe was not the answer. I understand it was for the rest of his contract which ended this past season. I understand he came with experience and there were times in his career when he was a difference maker. But that time has come and gone!

    At 36 years old, coming to the end of his career, and again just another player on the way down, the Rangers could have and should have opted for a different route. Maybe call up another defender to get the experience, or maybe just run with one defender on the power play.

    why not bring up another defender? When you look at how well Sauer and McDonagh have played their rookie year. you should run with it and call up another one. We already know that there are several defenders ready to play and come up.

    Trading a young winger who actually brought some spark to this team during the preseason games was not the answer. I am not saying Tim Kennedy was the answer to our prayers. But neither was Bryan McCabe.

    At this point in both of their careers, Tim Kennedy will bring more to the table then McCabe. I was disappointed with that trade—I would have liked to see Kennedy play last year.

    I do not want to hear about how it was the preseason and that is why Kennedy played well. Anyone who watches hockey has seen the way Tim Kennedy plays. The way he played in the preseason is the way he plays every game.

    There were many Buffalo Sabre fans disappointed that Buffalo did not resign Kennedy. The kid plays with heart, has speed, and has a very quick shot. The Rangers should have kept him.

    If you watched the preseason games, the lines skated much faster. There was an edge to their game. Tim Kennedy, although small in size, was checking everyone near him. He was attacking the net and basically he was making the players on his line skate harder to keep up. That is the type of guy you want on your team. Those who make others better.

    Again I am not saying he was THE answer. But he could have made a difference!

One More Is All It Will Take!

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    The Rangers improved their defense last year, but they are still missing that one dominator. That big defender to clear the front of the net, that will fight for the puck in front and get the job done. The Rangers lost a lot of close games due to that reason last season.

    I understand Tort's style of play. He wants all his players to be involved in the offense. The same way Sauer learned it, is the same way any true defender/ hockey player can learn it.

    The Rangers are flying high with talent in the minors, Defensively and forwards. Weather they call a player up, which I would like to see them do, or go out and find another young, big, tough defender to fill that void, this defense will not be complete. With Gilroy, Eminger and that one D-MAN, This team can have a solid defense on all three lines.

    One more is all it will take!

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