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Where Do We Go From Here?

Posted By Dan Rakusan On Mar 9 2010 @ 2:24 pm In New York Rangers | 9 Comments

Two points out of a playoff spot with 16 games to play, the Rangers are a team mired in mediocrity.  Not only has our offence been pitiful this season, but our defence hasn’t been the tightly knit group they were under Tom Renney.  Don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting this team would be any better under Renney’s coaching, but if the offence isn’t putting pucks in the net, you need to pay more attention to defence in order to give yourself a fighting chance at winning night in and night out.  That’s simply not happening.

The current roster has some bright spots, but many more question marks.  Obviously players like Gaborik, Callahan, Dubinsky, Del Zotto, Lundqvist, Anisimov and Staal are all a part of what is good, but what about the rest of the team?

It’s been written about ad nauseum that the Rangers need to get out from under the crushing weight of the “big 3″ contracts of Redden, Rozsival and Drury, but that doesn’t seem likely unless they package in some youth or significant picks to get a deal done – in other words, ain’t happening.  There are options, however, in terms of Rozsival potentially being loaned to a European team, Redden being demoted to Hartford, and Chris Drury possibly getting hit by a bus…  However, it doesn’t seem likely that GM Glen Sather would be willing to admit his failure and make any of those moves (although the bus thing would be random, so don’t discount that possibility)…

Supposing we’re stuck with those three, what can we expect down the stretch?

Firstly, we need Gaborik to be injured again, as the team’s offence actually produced better when he was out after the Olympics.  Since his return, the team has been losing.  Now, I’m not suggesting Gaborik himself is a cancer in the lockerroom or anything to that effect, but it seems like when he plays he becomes so much a central figure in the attack that the team can’t get into the flow of games, thus making the opposition’s gameplan a very simple one:  Shut down Gabby.

The season can’t be written off just yet, although it’s a foregone conclusion that should the Rangers make the playoffs, they’ll be done in one round.  Of course, that changes if we meet the Devils or Penguins, against whom we always seem to elevate our play.  Tomorrow’s matchup against New Jersey will show just how serious the Rangers are about making a playoff push, but one has to wonder if making the post-season is really the best thing for the team.

In an ideal world, the Rangers would finish dead last in the NHL, thus being enabled to draft one of the three potential wunderkinds available in Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin or Cam Fowler, but unfortunately the team has earned far too many points to drop back that far in the standings.  So, we’ll be looking at a middling pick in a draft considered to be rather weak after the top 5 or so.  Forget about trading up, since it’s unlikely we have the parts that would be required to move up very far in the draft order, unless Bob Gainey gets another GM gig somewhere and takes Redden off of our hands…

The bottom line here is that this team is stuck in the mud, and there isn’t much that can be done about it.  The free agency market is not particularly stocked with high-end talent who would make an instant difference on Broadway, but there are a couple of interesting names that may be considered, provided they don’t re-sign with their current teams and would be willing to take a spot in the Rangers’ lineup.

1 – Anton Volchenkov (D) – The “A-Train” is the ideal shut-down defenceman the Rangers should target.  He’s physical, defensively responsible, a good skater, and a low-maintenance player.  I picture him getting anywhere between $4M-5.5M per season on a new deal, which would be feasible in the Rangers’ cap situation provided we let Dan Girardi walk.  Adding Volchenkov would make opposing forwards think twice about attacking the crease, something that has been a glaring problem this year.

2 – Tomas Plekanec (C) – Plekanec would be a great fit alongside Gaborik, who lacks a true number one center.  While I don’t consider Plekanec anything more than an exceptional second-line center, on the Rangers he’d instantly be the best player down the middle.  His combination of scoring acumen and setup ability would give the Rangers a very solid top line and make the whole team harder to defend against.  I’m also assuming we’d be re-signing Prospal at a reasonable salary for this to happen…  Plekanec, in my opinion, will net about $4.5M-$5M per season on his new deal, making him a potentially affordable signing if we suppose Olli Jokinen will not stick around.

3 – Olli Jokinen (C) – Failing a signing of Plekanec, I’m actually on-board with re-signing Jokinen, assuming the price is right.  He hasn’t been great, but hasn’t been terrible either, and it could just be a matter of learning Tortorella’s system and his linemates’ habits.  Joker is a former 30-goal guy, and gives us depth up front.  I’d like to see what he could do on a line with Gaborik full-time.

Finally, we can expect an injection of youth into the lineup next season, with guys like Grachev, Sanguinetti and others nearing NHL readiness.  I wouldn’t think Kreider, Stepan or Ryan Bourque will make the team out of camp next season, although some may be called up for spot duty if injuries occur.

In all, I think this team will look a lot different next season, and likely a lot better.  It is all contingent on moving at least one of the big salaries, but I believe that’s possible if not probable.  Until then, we as Rangers’ fans should treat the remaining balance of this season as a development camp.  There will be a few winning streaks, but we shouldn’t get too excited.  There will be some losing streaks, and we shouldn’t get too discouraged.  Overall, this is a team in transition, and for once, we actually have the prospect depth needed to build from within.  Patience is a virtue…

Until next time,

Na Zdravi!

DR

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