Though we may be a distant two months from opening night in Buffalo, it’s pretty safe to assume that Glen Sather has ticked off most of his off-season goals sans the resigning of #1 defenseman Marc Staal.
The Rangers supposed targets prior to the post-season was to address the need for team toughness and secondary scoring (Derek Boogaard, Alex Frolov), add experienced depth to the blueline (Steve Eminger), sign a seasoned goaltender capable of lifting the load on star stopper Henrik Lundqvist (Marty Biron) and, finally, search the markets for something resembling a #1 C - Brad Richards, Jason Spezza, Marc Savard… here’s looking at you.
Now, save for the final stretch goal of acquiring a PPG centre - which, let’s be honest, was never likely to happen given Sather’s reluctance to part with core pieces ala Dubinsky, Callahan and Staal - it feels pretty good to report that cigar smoking Sather has managed to fill most needs without crippling the bank balance.
Sure, the Rangers still need to resign Staal and bin Redden to the minors, but those shouldn’t prove to be difficult moves as we get closer to October.
It’s naïve to think that paper is a platform on which to judge a team, especially when it comes to the New York Rangers (if you’ll remember, Ales ‘fail’ Kotalik and Chris ‘wide open net’ Higgins were supposed to score 50 each last season), but there does at least seem to now be a decent balance of grit and ability throughout the Blueshirts line-up; Frolov, though inconsistent, provides a legitimate shot at a second 30-goal scorer, whilst Boogaard comes in as a prime-time heavyweight unlike last seasons signing of the clearly washed-up and ailing Donald Brashear.
Elsewhere, Marty Biron provides capable back-up to Henrik Lundqvist, and although this particular blogger would have been quite happy to retain the services of the underused Alex Auld, it’s safe to say Biron brings a modicum of calm to the supporting slot in net.
As well as bringing in a set of capable producers, the Rangers inked fresh deals for the likes of Dan Girardi, Brandon Prust, Erik Christensen and Vinny Prospal; all reasonable in terms of cap-hit and all completely understandable in the grand scheme of things.
Prospal continues to provide skilled experience at a scant price - being bought-out by the Lightning really seems to have helped the Rangers there - whilst Christensen gets another shot at continuing last seasons effective partnership alongside leading sniper Marian Gaborik.
Girardi returns to a defensive core that continues to grow as one, with the additions of former Duck Eminger and college signee Ryan McDonagh ensuring stiff competition come the teams pre-season camp.
With Redden seemingly set to hit the bricks in Hartford come the fall, the battle for blueline slots more than likely comes down to Eminger, McDonagh and Matt Gilroy, the latter of which clearly faded under the work-load of a full NHL season in 2009/10.
Many have forgotten that, although a rookie at 25, Gilroy’s quickfire shift from college hockey to the NHL was barely the easiest of things - it also clearly influenced fellow rookie Michael Del Zotto toward the Winter Olympic break. Gilroy perhaps needed a year in Hartford before making the step-up, but he showed more than enough flashes of excellence to have you believe he belongs at this level.
In terms of the forwards, it’s largely a case of as you were with Alex Frolov the only top-level acquisition to an otherwise unchanged deck of cards.
Marian Gaborik remains the only realistic 90+ point option for the Blueshirts, though Frolov should be expected to hit anywhere from 60-80 points whilst Brandon Dubinsky could be set for a breakout year dependant on his linemates.
Young C Artem Anisimov is another curious case for the coming season; the opportunity to work alongside Gaborik and Frolov could potentially be the making of the young Russian, although most would have you believe that the second line slot’s his to lose heading in to camp.
Ryan Callahan and captain Chris Drury should reacquaint themselves together on the third line alongside Sean Avery, whilst the reasonably predictable fourth line will more than likely pair up new signing Derek Boogaard with lanky C Brian Boyle and rapid-fire fan-favourite Brandon Prust.
Chief prospect Derek Stepan is believed to have an excellent chance to crack the line-up heading in to camp, though a year in Hartford alongside Evgeny Grachev would seem the best option for the former Wisconsin man.
Speaking of Stepan, many fans seem to be frustrated at a supposed lack of open slots heading into camp.
The Rangers have preached youth to the hilt this off-season and though the likes of Stepan, Grachev and McDonagh will get their shot come camp, if we’re absolutely honest with ourselves can we truthfully admit that these kids are ready for the big-time?
Grachev, without a dominating AHL season to his name, could and should be taking the bus to Hartford for another season, whilst recent college convert Stepan seems the logical choice as his centerman - either of the two being confined to 4th line minutes on the Rangers would be utterly detrimental to their development at this point and that’s not something the club should want to see.
McDonagh’s a little different given his physical frame already seems a solid fit for the rigours of NHL hockey, and though he’d also be looking at bottom-pairing minutes come opening night, it wouldn’t be nearly as hurtful to his progression as the same would be to Stepan and Grachev on the forwards. Expect Gilroy-esque baby steps for the former-Badger though.
With regard to new acquisition Todd White, I really don't see the 35-year old making much of an impact on the Rangers this season. His cap-hit seems best suited to Hartford, whilst recent injuries make him nothing more than a risk on the big-club right now. Perhaps the Blueshirts see him as a viable 3rd line C further into the season once injuries rear their ugly head, but I wouldn't bank on anything more than that. The trade itself was made with the intention of clearing the hangnail contract of Donald Brashear from the roster whilst returning a viable asset that could help the Rangers at some point.