Monday, July 19, 2010

A Case For The Defense

While the hope for an infusion of younger high end talent on the forward lines is almost non-existent; the transformation on the Ranger blueline has already begun. It is going to take a couple of years for the entire process to complete but when it does then the Rangers will have a solid core of defenders.

Until then the Rangers have to buy time as the younger defenders develop towards their potential and sadly for the 2010-2011 might mean carrying some dead weight on the Ranger roster. If we include Marc Staal as we should then the Rangers start with 3 decent defenders and 1 offensive weapon.

Marc Staal and Micheal Del Zotto

Here is a tough choice to make; do you retard any hope of Marc Staal developing any kind of offense in the hope of unleashing the firepower of Michael Del Zotto? We would because giving Del Zotto a real defender as a partner greatly opens up Del Zotto's offense.

When we watched Del Zotto last season we saw a player who did not use his biggest weapon as much as he should have because he was saddled with partners who it was clear Del Zotto could not feel comfortable gambling with. Taking away Del Zotto's attack only hurts the Rangers so until Ryan McDonagh is ready to be Del Zotto's partner then Staal is the very best choice.

Staal gives Del Zotto the confidence to use his speed and offensive talent because Del Zotto will know if he gets trapped he has a partner who can cover for him. While it will turn Staal into defender first the Rangers will have a solid first pair who can be also used as the first pair on the power play again to protect the very weak defensively Del Zotto.

Dan Girardi and Steve Eminger

The Ranger's second pair on the blueline by rights should be Dan Girardi and Steve Eminger as they would make a good pairing complimenting each other. Both are in many ways clones of the other as neither are going to win the Norris Trophy but you can use both in any situation and they will not hurt you.

Girardi will be needed on the first penalty kill unit unless Del Zotto has found a way to greatly improve his own defense. If Del Zotto does then Girardi and Eminger are going to handle both 2nd power play and 2nd penalty kill.

For the Rangers though the problem is that until they find a way to move at least one of Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival then Girardi and Eminger will have to pair up Redden and Rozsival.

Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden

We can dream all we want about getting rid of Wade Redden but the sad reality is with 4 years and 23 million in salary cap hit remaining the Rangers are almost handcuffed with what they can do with him. It is easy for any of us to say just exile him to Hartford but there is a serious danger in doing that.

Asking the Hartford staff to have to try to teach what is a very young defense and prepare them for the Rangers is hard enough but asking them to do that with a disgruntled player is not a very good idea. It is easy for us to tell Cablevision to eat 23 million dollars but that might go over well with the stockholders.

Michal Rozsival on the flip side you can still use as a power play specialist and a 3rd pair defender but with 10 million in cap hits over the next 2 seasons getting rid of him is also going to be as hard. The key is for the Rangers to use Rozsival in ways that hides his weakness on the defensive end and if they can do that then they can survive 2 more seasons with him on the roster.

As much as we want to hope that Matt Gilroy, Ryan McDonagh or any of the young prospects can step in and replace the weak links on the Rangers; it could be a decision taken out of Glen Sather's hands by the color ink used to define MSG's balance sheets.

James Dolan may not know anything about hockey but his accountants do know the difference between black ink and red ink. They may not let Glen Sather just write off 30 million in salary without wanting a pound of flesh.

Matt Gilroy

With a 1 way contract odds are that if there is an odd man out then it will be Gilroy as he will have a cap hit of 1.75 million and with Marc Staal expected to sign somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 million someone needs to suffer. Hello Matt Gilroy if you do not figure out how to earn a roster spot then look at living in Hartford all season.

If Gilroy was to ask us then we would point him in the direction of Jason Strudwick and say that is his best way to stay in the NHL. Being able to play forward and defense would make Gilroy a very important asset to the Rangers since they would be able to save a roster spot with someone they can stick in 2 spots where needed.

The Wild Cards- Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko

Everyone wants Ryan McDonagh to make the Rangers right out of training camp but as nice a thought as it is; McDonagh would be best served by some time in the AHL so he can adapt to the faster speed of the professional game. McDonagh is also going to carry a cap hit of 1.3 million so unless the Rangers can find a way to move salary; McDonagh on an entry level contract finds himself in Hartford cause he has a 2 way contract.

Valentenko on the other hand has some pro experience from his time with the Montreal Canadians, a nice low cap number of 825,000 but also a history of walking out on the Canadians when they wanted to send him to the AHL. It does not help his cause that injuries have kept him off the ice for all but 15 games over the last 2 seasons.

If he comes over and bring a healthy body and a positive attitude then he could be a nice addition to the blueline as a shut down defender. Losing 2 seasons of development will hurt everyone so it remains to be seen how soon Valentenko can help the Rangers.

The Long Shots- Tomas Kundratek, Lee Baldwin, Sam Klassen, Jyri Niemi, Michael Sauer,  Dylan McIlrath

Tomas Kundratek in many ways is actually the most ideal defenseman for the Tortorella system mainly because he has the best passing skills among the Ranger defensive prospects. The question is his maturity level on the ice as at times Kundratek forgets what he is supposed to be doing.

If Kundratek realizes that time in Hartford gets him to the NHL faster then he should be NHL ready in a year. The key to Kundratek is sitting him down and explaining to him why things are being done as in his best interest not as a punishment.

Michael Sauer is not really a serious contender for a roster spot despite being the best defensive prosect the Rangers have. Injuries have totally slowed Sauer's development to a crawl and it does not help when his one stint with the Rangers was a mishandled mess.

Sauer resigned with the Rangers but most likely Sauer's best hope is to show another NHL team that he can remain healthy for the 2011-12 season. It is going to take several injuries for Sauer to get recalled by the Rangers.

Sam Klassen is perhaps the best pure hitter among the Ranger prospects but he is so much like Michael Sauer we wonder why the Rangers signed him. Still Klassen is going to be in Hartford to work on improving his passing skills and we have learned never to count Sam Klassen out.

Lee Baldwin is a raw green prospect who left Alaska-Anchorage after just one season to turn pro. The Rangers say he can be a 2 way defender but our sources say more of a defensive defender who really does not have a lot potential for offense at the NHL level

Jyri Niemi we expect to be returned to the Saskatoon Blades to work on his consistency. Niemi has the potential to be a good 2 way defender and getting him for next to nothing is a win-win for the Rangers.

Dylan McIlrath is at least 2 years from even turning pro despite being a 1st round draft pick. He returns to Moose Jaw where he elevated his game in the 2nd half last season; we are going to enjoy watching him terrorize the WHL.

We do not include Nigel Williams as we watched his stock drop after a poor season in Hartford. Trevor Glass missed all of last season with a back injury which takes him out of the equation.

Overall the defensive prospects for the Rangers are at least 2 seasons ahead of the forwards but what is going to hurt the Rangers is having to carry 2 bad contracts for at least the next 2 seasons. Our biggest fear is that Glen Sather and the Rangers are hoping to get another free buyout when the next CBA is worked out or another lockout happens.

(Staal and Eminger courtesy of the NHL)


elroy said...

my only quibble with your plan is I believe Eminger is also a Righty shot and you don't see 2 R's in a D-pair much in NHL. But if the NYR carry 4 R's(Girardi, Roszi, Gilroy) that'll happen often I guess

Harwood said...

It is so hard not to be sarcastic after reading this post. There is no way those pairing happen.

First and foremost, how hard is it to pay attention to handedness? Staal and MDZ are both left-handed shots and Girardi and Eminger are both right handed. The Rangers never use defensive pairs that both shoot the same way (except for short periods of time due to injury).

Second, no way Eminger plays in front of Rozsival (nor should he). As much as people like to bash him in Rangerland he is a good player and much better than Eminger.

The top 4 will be Staal, Girardi, MDZ, and Rozsival. Staal and Girardi will probably be paired like most of last year (especially when a shut down pairing is needed). That leaves the rest to fight it out for the bottom 2 spots.

I think McDonaugh and Eminger will be the bottom pairing but this one can really go a lot of ways. I'd rather have Sauer over Eminger but I don't think that will happen.

Jess Rubenstein said...


We are talking about a franchise that badly misuses their talent to begin with so if it does not make sense then that is what the Rangers will do.


If being sarcastic is the only way you can have a discussion the oh well we will not have on.

If you want to make a big deal about who shoots then go ahead. I go by overall talent as I do not expect the Rangers to go with any of these pairs.

I ranked the d-men in accordance to their importance to the Rangers.

Oh and you are wrong the Rangers has used players together injury or not regardless of shot side, talent, etc.

If you want to say Rozsival is better than Eminger then it will be my turn to be sarcastic. I take it you have never seen Rozsival play his "wave as you skate by" defense?

Sauer first has to show he can stay healthy before he can become part of the discussion

Harwood said...

I think I refrained from being sarcastic in my first post. I don't think it is only me who makes a big deal about handedness being important when pairing defensemen. The Rangers have used pairs that shot the same way in the past but always on the bottom pair and this was mostly because of lack of depth more than anything else. When was the last time the Rangers used a top 4 defense pair that was the same handedness?

I don't understand how you can think Eminger is a better player. He's played on 5 teams in the last 3 years, his highest offensive output in his career is equivalent to the worst offensive output that Rozsival has had while on the Rangers. He has missed almost 120 games over the past five years whereas Roszival has missed 10. Roszival has led the Rangers in ice time 4 of the past 5 years (and was just 2 seconds less per game than Girardi last year for second place). If Roszival never scored another point he would finish his career with more than Eminger. Their hits and block shot numbers are very similar, so if you think Roszival plays soft I don't think you will get a much different opinion of Eminger. To me it seems that if Eminger gets better and more consistent he will turn into Michal Rozsival.

Also, although Rozsival's cap hit over the next two years is $10mil he is only owed $7mil. I don't think he would be hard to move to small market team who cares more about actual payroll than cap hit.

I would agree that Sauer has to stay healthy to be part of the discussion, but if he can do that I think he should be given a real shot to play.

Jess Rubenstein said...


Until McDonagh and/or McIlrath is ready to be a partner for Del Zotto Staal remains the best option to get the most production of Del Zotto.

It is not about which hand Staal uses it is about getting the most out of your best weapons. Nothing slowed Del Zotto's production down more than being paired with Redden.

As for Rozsival vs Eminger, I am sorry but I am sick of watching him being undressed over and over with the simplest of head fakes.

My grandmother would do a better job on defense than Rozsival and she has been dead since the 1980s.

I would still take Eminger over Rozsival because at the very least Eminger gets hurt trying to make plays.

Sorry but Cap number still remains important to even the smaller market teams as I am well aware of how much each player makes.

While the Rangers have no problem spending every cent of the cap the smaller market teams still try to stay closer to the lower end of the required cap number.

As for Sauer; even healthy I do not see him getting a fair chance as long as John Tortorella is the coach. Why I can not explain other than Sauer is a very quiet guy and will not speak up when screwed over.

I respect your POV and know mine are more cynical than yours but I have watch many a prospect not be developed to their fullest or not given a chance to earn a roster spot.

Nat Loh said...

I thought all the stories about Valentenko were he had family financial matters back in Russia he had to attend to. I just hope he got paid enough playing only 19 games in 2 years.

Jess Rubenstein said...


I am not sure which story to believe as if that was the case why the Habs just suspend him without pay when he left Hamilton?

See that part does not make sense as if those stories were true then why didn't the Habs say so when all this went down?

I guess the only way we will know for sure is if the Rangers have to send him to Hartford and see how he handles being on the 2 way contract.