With September almost upon us, there is excitement in the air. No matter what a team does in the offseason, the entire season depends on the production as a team on the ice. We know all too well that buying players does not guarantee a Cup, so you never know if the signings of Marian Gaborik, Ales Kotalik, and Vinny Prospal will amount to anything. Injuries can take its toll, and with two rookies seemingly starting on defense, an injury to one of the top-four could spell disaster. Of course, one injury to Henrik Lundqvist, and the Rangers will be a lottery team next season. Since Hank is the most important cog in this machine that is the Rangers, let’s start with him.
The Rangers season begins and ends with Hank in the pipes. As already stated, if he goes down, the Rangers will have a lottery pick next season. Nothing else needs to be said about him.
The most under appreciated, and possibly most important next to Hank, member of the team this year will be Steve Valliquette. With the two week break for the Olympics, an Olympics in which Hank will be playing for Sweden, Vally will need to start, play solidly, and provide rest for Hank, in about 20-25 games this year. We have seen time and time again that Hank tires after playing 70 games in a season. Vally will need to step up and become more than just a backup goalie.
Expect to see Hank in just 3/4 of the games this year, maybe even less. With the condensed schedule, rest plays a vital role.
Going from the net out, you have the Ranger defense, which will have to be better than last year with Vally playing in 20 games. Starting with just the defensive aspect of the game, the defense will be taxed this year, as it is no longer Tom Renney’s five-in-the-play system. John Tortorella’s safe-is-death system will result in many more odd man rushes than we are accustomed to. Smart, positional defense is going to be at a premium for the Rangers.
So where does this leave us? Well, Marc Staal-Dan Girardi and Wade Redden-Michal Rozsival are a pretty good front four in terms of defense. Yes, even Redden. He’s not that terrible, he’s just a $3 million defenseman getting paid $6.5 million. Money aside, he’s a decent 2-pairing. Those four don’t exactly strike fear in the eyes of opposing forwards, but they will be effective. The question-mark here is the 3rd pairing, which as of now will be two rookies, probably something along the lines of Bobby Sanguinetti-Michael Sauer/Corey Potter. They will need to show they can play at the NHL level, or the Rangers will be in deep trouble. The dark horse here is Michael Sauer, who was a whopping +29 last year with Hartford. If he can continue that strong defensive play, it will leave room for error for Sanguinetti.
As far as even-strength offense from the blue line goes, well, if Rozsival and Redden can manage 40-point seasons, I’ll call that a huge victory. I’m hoping for 150 pts total from the defense this year (40 each from Rozsival/Redden, and 20 a piece for the other 4). Considering the Rangers defense put up 137 points total last season this isn’t really all that far fetched. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t happen either.
Update 11:00am: It was brought to my attention that I completely forgot about Matt Gilroy, who is essentially a lock to make the team as a 5th defenseman. So the 6th defenseman spot is likely to be between the Sanguinetti / Sauer / Potter combination, with one serving as a 7th defenseman and the other going back to Hartford.
Four forwards from last years roster are returning this year. Usually, roster turnover as large as this is a bad thing. But, in the offensively-challenged Rangers case, this may be a blessing in disguise. A top line of Vinny Prospal-Brandon Dubinsky-Marian Gaborik has the potential to be a legitimate top line in the league, assuming Gaborik can stay healthy. If he plays 75 games this year, he can, and probably will, put up 80 points, giving the Rangers that primary scoring that they have been longing for since Jaromir Jagr split for Russia. Add that to the hopeful 110 points combined from Prospal and Dubinsky, and that’s almost 200 points from your top line. It’s not tops in the league, but it’s definitely an improvement from last year.
The Rangers strength on the offensive side of the puck will be their secondary scoring. As of today, you are looking at a second line of Chris Higgins-Chris Drury-Ales Kotalik, who each in their own right can put up 50-70 points. Believe it or not, that’s one of the better second lines in the league, because you can’t just focus on one guy. A third line of Sean Avery-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Callahan adds more scoring potential, which may actually be capable of matching the numbers put up by the second line, but that’s in a best-case scenario. Assume an average of 40 points each to be on the conservative side. The second and third line personnel are interchangeable, as nothing is really set in stone right now.
The fourth line won’t see much playing time, and will probably be a revolving door between Donald Brashear, Tyler Arnason, Brian Boyle, Dane Byers and Enver Lisin. They will probably get five minutes a game.
I don’t even know where to begin on the powerplay. We can start with the positives, as Marian Gaborik adds a true sniping presence and will draw the attention of the penalty killers, leaving secondary options like Ales Kotalik, Chris Drury, and Ryan Callahan open for opportunities.
In this league, you live and die by your special teams, and the only question on Ranger fans minds is who will quarterback the powerplay? The job will belong to Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival for now. Both are capable of being a decent QB, but both seem to shy away from being in that spot. I’ll tell you this, if Rozsival starts shooting more often, the powerplay will instantly be better. A puck shooting defenseman, one with a good shot (as Rozsival has), really opens up the rest of the powerplay. Want to ignore the defense and concentrate on stopping Gaborik? Fine, dish the puck to Rozsival who lets a cannon loose from the point. Have to step up on Rozsival? Ok, dish it off to Gaborik who takes his time picking the corner he wants to hit.
As important as Wade Redden is to the Rangers powerplay, Michal Rozsival will be the key to success.
The best penalty killing tandem in the league last year is gone, as Blair Betts and Frederik Sjostrom have been jettisoned in the massive roster turnover this summer. The penalty killing duties will rest on Marian Gaborik, who learned how to play a two-way game while playing for Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Chris Higgins, and Sean Avery. All are strong two-way players who can skate, and will be able to net a few shorthanded tallies. On the defensive side, the two question marks are the two rookies. We will have to wait and see how they handle the rigors of an NHL penalty kill.
Your best penalty killer is your goalie, and with Henrik Lundqvist in net, the Rangers have one of the top penalty killers in the game. His presence will allow the Rangers to take more chances, even when shorthanded. He will be able to bail out the aforementioned rookies a few times as they adjust.
The John Tortorella boot camp begins in two weeks. When Torts took over the team in February and went to the run-and-gun style of play, it was a culture shock for the Rangers. They looked flat out gassed after the first period of every game.
With a full season, and training camp, of the John Tortorella style, the Rangers won’t be caught by surprise again. Expect this team to be in the best shape of their lives coming into the season. This will be one of the most important things for the Rangers, as a condensed season under the run-and-gun offense will take its toll. The Rangers will definitely be more exciting to watch this year, but if they are out of shape, they will run out of gas come March. Conditioning is all on Torts now, and it will be interesting to watch.
There are a lot of new pieces to the puzzle this year, and we will have to be patient to see how they all mesh together. By the middle of November, we should know where this team stands in the grand scheme of things.