Don’t get me wrong, I love the trade of Michal Rozsival for Wojtek Wolski. But for a while now, Ranger fans have been relatively unkind (understatement) to the veteran defenseman. There was some logic there, as Rozsival was being paid $5 million and wasn’t contributed offensively the way he should be. He was also prone to making big mistakes in his own zone, and seemed gun shy on the point on the powerplay. However, what many fans overlook is that Rozsival averaged 20 minutes per game for the entirety of his stay on Broadway. Playing 20 minutes a game means playing on the powerplay, penalty kill, and at even strength, and doing so with enough consistency that the coaching staff doesn’t deem him a liability.
In the game against St. Louis, the last game without Rozsival that the Rangers played, the time on ice differential was staggering. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi each played over 25 minutes. Steve Eminger got in 20 minutes. Michael Sauer played just under 18 minutes. Matt Gilroy and Ryan McDonagh played under 15 minutes. This is what the Rangers are going to expect from their six defensemen going forward. This is a big gamble, as the effectiveness of this strategy is heavily reliant on Eminger and Sauer being able to handle 20 minutes per game on a consistent basis.
With Rozsival in the lineup (last full game was 1/2 at Florida), Staal and Girardi still played their 25 minutes, but Eminger and Sauer played at 16 minutes and 15 minutes respectively (Rozsival skated for 19 minutes). Not many defensemen can play that many minutes at a consistent level. Sure, Rozsival had his issues (see above), but he was what you expected him to be. He’s not stellar, he’s just consistent and can play at all times in the game. He was third in scoring among defensemen with 15 points (Girardi – 20, Staal – 17), second in powerplay points with 6 points (Staal – 7), and third in GVT with a 3.7 rating (Girardi – 5.4, Staal – 5.0). The numbers show his ice time is consistent with his production, third best on team, third most ice time.
It’s tough to replace consistency in the lineup. However, the Rangers are hell-bent on the youth movement, and this move proves it. The Rangers coaching staff and upper management are happy with allowing players like Sauer to grow into a top-four role, and to see what they have in Gilroy and McDonagh. The Rangers defense is one of the youngest, if not the youngest, in the league with an average age of 24.3 years. Any defense corps that young is going to have growing pains. The Rangers may miss Rozsival for now. In the long run, the Rangers look pretty set on defense.