Trying to come up with some cute line to start our look at the Ranger defense though the entire system simply was not worth the effort. What should be one of the biggest strengths on the Rangers has become a major question mark of which direction the Rangers need to take.
On the surface the easy solution sounds very simple; buyout Wade Redden, move out Michael Rozsival and not resign Derek Morris and Paul Mara. Problem is that the Rangers want to "retool" not rebuild their defense which means another gamble or two or three on free agent defensemen which is not the way we believe the team should go.
If the Rangers were to do as the fans would like then it would mean that only Dan Girardi and Marc Staal would return on the blueline while adding at least 4-5 new faces which simply is not going to happen. As unpopular as this will sound at least 2 defensemen will be returning to earn the ire of the Ranger fans next season.
Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are the foundation of the Ranger blueline; both have played solid defense for the team with Girardi chipping in more offense than Staal. John Tortorella would like to see Staal offer up more offense but we think that is a bad idea because there are better offensive options coming up though the system and Staal helps the team best by being the defensive defender.
Staal remaining focused as a "2" means that under the Tortorella system, he will cover for the pinches of his partner. It makes no sense to pair Girardi and Staal up if the Rangers do not bring in a top cover defender.
The Rangers we also seriously doubt will have the money to pay for one anyway. Leave Staal as is and he can look to chip in an occasional goal here or there. Girardi is a great example as to how best to get the most out of Staal as Girardi is more defensive minded but did add some offense.
If it was up to us as to which defenders to keep then we would say Michal Rozsival over Redden for offense and Paul Mara over Derek Morris for everything else. Rozsival is the lesser of the two evils with Redden and it will not be so hard to get rid of him in a year or two once Michael Del Zotto makes it up the ranks.
At least with Rozsival, you are getting someone who's game is not in the steep decline as Redden's game is and with the right defensive partner can have his liabilities masked up to a point. Having a lower cap number than Redden helps Rozsival's case as well.
Paul Mara gets kept because unlike Morris, we felt the Rangers got their money's worth out of him whether it was standing up for his teammates, playing decent defense and being a true team player. Mara wants to be a Ranger and has already given them a salary cut to stay with them which deserves another 1 year contract for his loyalty.
Derek Morris never got going as a Ranger and there is no way to justify the kind of money that Morris thinks he is worth. Morris was paid 3.95 million to produce 5-7-12 for the Coyotes and then just 0-8-8 for the Rangers need we say anymore about his salary?
The problems with Wade Redden are so well documented that it is not worth the space to list why his signing was one major mistake. Just bite the bullet and buy his salary out because nobody not even the folks in the KHL will take on his contract.
For us that means there are 3 spots open on the blueline and we believe that the biggest of blunders made by the Rangers was the inability to carry a 7th defenseman even though it was crystal clear that there was the need for one.
The problem is who gets to fill those 3 spots for the Rangers and our belief that given the most pressing need will be a goal scoring forward that the Rangers might give at least 2 of the prospects a chance to earn a spot on the roster.
The favorite going into training camp to earn a rookie roster spot will be Matt Gilroy the 2009 Hobey Baker winner. Gilroy is on a one way contract as it is but offers the best hope of giving the Rangers an inexpensive option (1.4 million next season) for a 2 way defenseman.
Gilroy comes from the NCAA Champion Boston University and at 25 appears to offer more ready than any of the current prospects in the system. We think that Gilroy can step right in and play the 2nd pair offensive defender spot.
Good shot, nice smarts and does not panic when under pressure will all help with his fast transition to the NHL next year. The question though is do the Rangers believe that Gilroy make the direct jump from the NCAA to the NHL?
The answer might come in what moves the Rangers make during the off-season; if they go in the direction of minor addition that should signal that they expect 1-2 kids to step up and make the team out of training camp.
Michael Sauer is second on our list of those who could make the jump to the Rangers despite the (in our opinion) bungling of his development by John Tortorella last season (which we will skip for now but will file away for future prospect use).
Sauer will take the lessons learned from his very brief stint with the Rangers and learn from them. Sauer is going to be more Beukeboom than Leetch but he is what the Rangers will need as they transition to the Tortorella offensive system.
Sauer's defensive skills will allow his partner to be able to pinch more knowing that Sauer is strong enough defensively to cover for him. Sauer also will surprise people with the occasional goal but our experience with Sauer is that his goals tend to be clutch ones.
Bobby Sanguinetti we will say right off the bat is a favorite of ours so our judgment might be colored here. Sangs is never going to be the defensive stopper, yes his defense at times might have some gaffes to it but used with the right partner then his offense will more than make up for it.
We hear whispers that some with the Rangers do not believe Sanguinetti can improve his defense to play at the NHL level. Sanguinetti is going to prove people wrong as he has had to do since the Rangers drafted him in 2006.
What Sanguinetti is going to do is give the Rangers a much better option on offense than Wade Redden has been. Sanguinetti will not be afraid to shoot the puck from anywhere especially the point on the power play.
We also think that you can not discount his growing up a Ranger fan; Sanguinetti grew up attending Ranger games at the Garden so he knows exactly what he is getting into. Never discount the powerful influence of making your own dream come true (as Brandon Dubinsky did) so keep an eye on Sanguinetti.
We also would pair him with Sauer and you could have the makings of a very lethal partnership.
It seems that for the last 2 years the Rangers have had a prospect who earned a roster spot right out of training camp but did not get his just rewards. Corey Potter was that prospect last year as he clearly earned a spot but yet the Rangers only carried 6 defensemen.
It was a dumb move not to carry Potter and instead he was the annual yo-yo for the Rangers and typically that tends to hurt a prospect's future with a team. We have seen this before where a prospect goes up and down but with each frustrating demotion loses a bit of his game.
That is what we saw happening with Potter at Hartford last season and to put it in other words; callup then demotion is a mind game which does affect your confidence. It is not that Potter did anything wrong but even Superman would wonder what he did wrong if he keeps getting messed with.
Potter we believe got passed by Sauer in the depth chart but we are not ready to write him off just yet. If the Rangers do not resign Mara that might open a door for Potter IF he does resign with the Rangers given his status as a restricted free agent.
Among the prospects while the Rangers can say that 2008 1st round pick Michael Del Zotto will get a long look at training camp, the odds are he is headed back to London of the OHL. Del Zotto is a smaller version of Sanguinetti; a ton of offense but his defensive skill is always going to be questioned.
None of the others at Hartford showed anything that would suggest they are going to challenge for an NHL roster spot. If anything we expect a shakeup among Hartford defenders next season.
In: Ilkka Heikinen, Tomas Kundratek, Tysen Dowzak
Out: Brian Fahey, Vladimir Denisov, Michael Busto
Given all that Mitch Gaulton went though last season we expect he is going to return to the OHL for another season.
The Rangers do have the makings of a solid blueline corp over the next few years as well as having some depth behind it. The concern is going to be will the Rangers remain patient and give the youth a chance to finally develop.
(All pictures courtesy of the New York Rangers)
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