Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guest Blogger #20: Assessing the off-season

By Alex

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.

http://redwhiteandblueshirts.tumblr.com/

20 comments:

Andrewfromsherb said...

who expected Higgins and Kotalik to score 50 goals????

AndrewFS said...

On eother note, I disagree with you in regards to Todd WHite, he is an excellent player and can prove to be a valuable asset to this team, both in terms of veteran leadership and pure abilitiy. remember he is fresh off a down season in which he struggled with injury on a terrible team, I think he is a solid candidate for a 20-25 goal season and with the struggles this team has seen offensively since teh Jagr/straka/nylander days, i'll take him over a useless brashear and Voros any day.

With the Line combos looking pretty soild all the way down, the Rangers in my opinion have truly developed what we have sorely lacked in recent years, that being DEPTH.

Gaborik and Frolov provide formidable offensive weapons and in my heart of hearts I truly believe that so too does MZA!
but add to that: Prospal, White, Callahan, Dubinsky, Drury, Christensen, Anisimov, possibly Stepan and or Grachev, withgritty guys like fourth line of Avery Prust and the Boogy man, I think th eline combos could look like this

Prospal, White, Gaborik
Frolov, Dubinsky, Christensen/MZA
Callahan, Drury, Avery
Prust, anisimov, Boogy Man
(spares Stepan, Grachev, Byers, Wiese)

with our D-pairings of

Girardi, Staal
Del Z, Rozival/Eminger/willie Mitchell????
Gilroy, McDonagh

with the departure of both Rozy and Redden we could easily slot in a guy like Willie mitchell..in a perfect world thats what I would like to see. that could mean cap space to add a weapon at deadline.

Goalies

King, Marty B.

thas depth and I am syked about the coming season.

Alex said...

Andrew;

Firstly, the Higgins/Kotalik 50-goal thing was a deliberate over-estimation ;)

Secondly, White may add (a few) things to the roster, but right now I just don't see where he fits given his high(er) salary.

Looking at your lines above; Christensen's not playing RW, Callahan's not playing LW and Anisimov isn't centering the 4th line... that'd be awful for his development. Also, Dubinsky's stated himself that he's more comfortable at LW.

I'll take White over Voros and Brashear too, of course, but they weren't really a part of the big-club anyway.

Thanks for reading anyway!

AndrewFS said...

just a note, my line pairings have nothing to do with who plays either wing just so happened that the center fell between the wingers as a coincidence (eventhough Duby might play on the wing rather than at center.. notice the left right D-man pairings may be off as well ...

Alex said...

Makes sense, sorry about that fella'.

stuart said...

Nobody is giving Frodo from Modo much of a chance. This was the best player in the Swedish Elite league last year. He will be an impact player this year if the rangers put him with someone who can get him the puck.

AnnoyingJoe said...

Frodo from Modo he said! oh thats rich. Classic.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, You're living in the past considering White "an excellent player". If you live now in hockey world you would say his place in KHL or AHL. Accept the truth.

ag_blue said...

Excellent post.
But MZA did get kind of left out, right?
He has the best chance out of Stepan and Grachev, I think, and maybe a better shot than Byers and Weise too.

Otherwise I agree with about 98% of this post. A welcome, sober assessment.

Alex said...

ag_blue -

Yeah, I kind of short-changed MZA a little, but I didn't want to go making any gross predictions or assumptions based on the few YouTube vids I've seen so far. If he makes the team then he'll be in the top 6, of that I've no doubt.

Cheers for the positive comments!

Jack said...

MZA FTW

AndrewFS said...

@ anonymous

Todd White IS and excellent player (and this was a great deal made by Sather)watched him pay in Ottawa and after in Minnesota, don't let numbers fool you , this guy is a very good all around player who will give it his all and rarely if ever be cause for concern when he is on the ice at both ends of the ice. and if you want to criticize posts at least man up and leave a name..hate people who judge a player's abilities based on their points totals, there is more to being an excellent player than scoring 50 goals. you will eat those words he will be a good player for us this year.

AnnoyingJoe said...

AndrewFS - thats an excellent point regarding White. I dont think you can really get an accurate picture of a player from stats alone. Only if you see a player play over the course of a season can you get a real feel of what he brings to the team. So I would reserve any judgement on White cause I frankly won't be able to judge til I see him for a bit. Look at Prust; his numbers alone were not a fair representation of how effective he is.

chef dave said...

Solid, well rounded post, Alex. You know your stuff.

Alex said...

Thanks Dave, I appreciate that.

matt said...

Good post. AndrewFS you got a lot of problems with your ideas and lines. First off with Todd White, he shouldnt have a big role on this team. Im not saying White is good player or not, I just dont think he should be on the team, as he takes a spot where other players are needed or more important.

Dubinsky, Christen, Gaborik
Frolov, Anisimov, Callahan
avery, Drury, prust
prospal, white, Boog

with our D-pairings of

Del Zotto, Staal
Gilroy, Giradi
Sauer, Rozival and eminger as the 7th dman

Sadly, even at its best season this team isnt built for the cup. Todd White is an odler player who may be good but is not needed other than as a fourth line player. The first line should be left together since they had some good chemistry last season and played well, and if anything either dubie or christensen can be moved and prospal can be put in his place. Frolov shouldnt be on the 1st line since we need some scoring balance. Anisomov should be the 2nd line center since the kid shows great promise and he needs to be put in a good spot to develop. The problem with putting anisimov there is that he was at his best las season when he was paired with Shelley and prust. Anisomov needs hitters and grinders around him to get him to use his body. Hopefully callahan can get Arty to do that again, as a 6'4" 200 pound center should use his body more. Callhan will be good with anisimov and frolov provides great scoring on that line. The third line is a great line, as avery and prust both have showed that they can be better than third liners. When Avery is Sean Avery, he is a great player and a potential 2nd or 1st line hitting left winger. Prust was the best player for the rangers down the streatch and showed he is much more than a fighter and fourth liner. And lastly drury is one of the best third line centers in the NHL. And yes it is ridicoulous to put Prospal on the 4th line but he is also not needed other than for power play. Prospal could perhaps play on the first line but that would most likely move prust or drury down to the fourth line. And i would rather see drury on the 4th line than prust. The rest of the young guys can use another year in the minors, only weise, dupont or byers or even MZA should have a shot coming out of camp. Defensively I personally believe that Del Zots and Gilroy are poised to have better seasons and show how talented they are. Staal is still getting better as well. Giradi isnt developing anymore but is still a good shutdown defender. And Mcdonagh could use a year in the minors, while Michael Sauer has been there for a while and proven himself to be a very good defender. This team could easily compete next year but this team should be about developing the youth right now and not trying to put Todd White in the lineup for no reason.

LI Joe said...

dubinsky break out year and first line - no and no. this guy has been overhyped and is truly a 3rd liner or 2nd liner on a bad team which is what we are

look at whites stats over last 6 YEARS - 1 good year out of 6 and he had multiple injuries. he was traded for because atlm wanted him out and we wanted brash out. white is hartford bound

someone again is suggesting drury on 4th line. i don't think torts could possibly be that dumb. drurys 1st 2 yrs were 20-25 goals and he led the team in goals his 1st yr here. he needs better time including 1st pp time and he'll revert to 1st 2 yrs numbers

AnnoyingJoe said...

LI Joe - I think you are being a little harsh on Dubinsky. He had 20 goals in only 69 games last year. He does show flashes... I don't know...its tough. I don't think its that outlandish to think that he will have a breakout year, but then it wouldn't be surprising if he did zip. Guess we will have to wait and see.

Drury does need "better" time, especially on the PP. I say 3rd line with less PK and more PP.

AnnoyingJoe said...

I just re-read that and realized that I added absolutely nothing to the conversation.

LI Joe said...

sorry but i think what you've seen from dubi is what you'll get. madening inconsistent does not have near the effort level of a callahan. so high teens or 20 goals and 50 pts and that is hardly a breakout yr