The last thing that the Rangers as an organization need to do is to get RFA Michael Del Zotto under contract. When we last wrote about this, Larry Brooks was on record saying that the Rangers offered MDZ a multi-year deal in the $2.5 million range. Del Zotto was rumored to be looking for more, but no concrete numbers were provided. The logical assumption is that Del Zotto’s number is far enough off the Rangers offer to create a stalemate in negotiations. Obviously, this is just rumor and there is no concrete evidence to support this.
Basing analysis off this assumption, let’s say that the Del Zotto camp wants $3.5 million on a multi-year deal. It’s not that unheard of, nor is he that far off market value. After all, Del Zotto was in the top-20 in defensive scoring, top-15 in plus/minus (I know…), and top-10 in GVT. That makes MDZ one of the top offensive defensemen in the league. And although he does have some shortcomings (inconsistent defensive play), his stats make him a premier RFA.
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Despite enduring a wretched summer, the Philadelphia Flyers manage to inconvenience the Rangers. On top of all their bad news the Flyers have had this off season came the recent announcement that veteran defenseman Andreas Lilja would miss at least the start of the next season, assuming it starts on time.
How does this affect the Rangers? Now, more than ever the Flyers will be looking to add defensive help to their roster. Ideally the Flyers are looking for an impact player, something that the Rangers aren’t desperate for, but the Flyers – given the scarcity of talent available – might have to be content with adding depth and a veteran to plug a whole, short term. In short, the Flyers are likely to compete with the Rangers for any and every viable blueliner over the next few weeks and months.
The Rangers top four is set, and ideally Mike Sauer and Anton Stralman will round out the blueline giving the Rangers enviable depth. However, with Mike Del Zotto’s contract situation, Sauer’s ongoing health concerns, injuries to kids like Dylan McIlrath and the lack of trust John Tortorella appears to have with Stu Bickel, competition promises to be minimal right now on the blueline come camp time.
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With the Rick Nash acquisition and the changing faces among the Rangers bottom six forwards the Rangers roster has undergone considerable change. Glen Sather appears to have made most of his moves when factoring in the new contracts handed out to players such as Anton Stralman. Barring a Shane Doan arrival the last significant move the Rangers GM must make is re-signing Michael Del Zotto.
Del Zotto’s contract situation is a pretty key situation for all concerned. On the one hand the player himself would surely prefer a significant commitment from the Rangers before any possible CBA decisions can influence what he may receive. Del Zotto had a fine bounce back season and is comfortably the Rangers most offensively inclined blueliner making his position (and future) in the organisation a critical one.
Then there are the Rangers themselves. How do they address Del Zotto’s new deal? After Del Zotto was qualified for the 105% figure that was needed (after his rookie deal of $875k) Sather has been in – what appears to be – no rush in inking Del Zotto.
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Recent reports from radio color commentator Dave Maloney and from Jess Rubenstein at The Prospect Park that Michael Sauer has made “tremendous progress” have added to what has been a spectacular late-July for the New York Rangers.
Though Tim Erixon was a necessary piece to acquire Rick Nash, trading him left the Blueshirts woefully thin on the blueline. The top-four of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto rates among the best in the league, but after them New York was left with only Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel.
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The Atlantic division could have been about to change significantly for the Rangers and without them making a single move. The stark reality however is that the division’s order of power won’t change. The Philadelphia Flyers spectacularly went out and got All Star defenseman Shea Weber’s signature on a $110m, 14 year contract with a bold offer sheet. The Predators now has seven days to match the offer, something they are likely to do.
Nashville has what appears to be a straight forward decision to make. Weber is the face of their franchise (despite the presence of elite goaltender Pekka Rinne), an absolute game changing defenseman and a player who may not even have hit his absolute prime yet. Nashville has a large amount of cap space and still need to make the cap floor, something that matching the Flyers offer will help them hit.
In the end, Nashville will likely have to match. However, as Suit noted on Twitter, it’s not just the offer in totality that will be difficult for them to swallow. The front loading is the real issue. Despite their recent success, they are still a small market team and not yet producing the revenue it takes to hand out deals of this nature.
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The conversations this summer have mainly focused on the Rangers forwards. With three forwards departing, three (four if you include the AHL-bound Michael Haley) coming on board, and the never-ending discussions about Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, Alex Semin, and Shane Doan, it’s easy to see why the focus is on scoring and depth.
However some of the biggest concerns during the postseason were about the depth on defense. Stu Bickel was barely playing, and the five other defensemen were struggling to keep their legs under them while playing shorthanded throughout the playoffs. The Rangers need depth or growth. With Michael Sauer out, and no major signings pending, the answers appear to have to come from within.
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It’s a pretty good problem to have when one of the key reasons a stud defensive prospect could be hesitant to join your team is because he’s afraid he wouldn’t be able to supplant the club’s current top-four defensemen and play significant minutes.
But the Rangers are so stacked with Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto that coveted 21-year-old unrestricted free agent Justin Schultz, who supposedly wants major responsibility from the start, may be unwilling to sign with New York.
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Justin Schultz is a very good prospect. There’s a distinct chance that should he indeed enter free agency, then the Anaheim Ducks will have lost a good player for the future. That said, it simply doesn’t make sense for the Rangers to be linked with him for various reasons. Yes, it’s rumoured and yes, plenty of Blueshirt fans would like him on the Rangers, but read on to find out why Schultz to the Rangers isn’t a realistic option for either party.
The Rangers are pretty damn stacked at the defense position. They are stacked at the NHL level and last time most people checked, they have some pretty high end prospects en route to the NHL level soon as well (hello Erixon, Tim and McIlrath, Dylan). Justin Schultz and his agent will know all this. The Rangers may not be the 1975 Canadiens with Lapointe, Savard and Robinson, but the Rangers blueline is young, talented and one of the main reasons this team went so far this year. Where does a talent (and he’s still just a talent folks) like Schultz project in the immediate future?
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Before we get to the report card for the Rangers blueline, let’s remember this: the Rangers enjoyed a spectacular season bested by only two teams in the entire league. A huge part of this success was because of the Rangers blueline. With that said, let’s look at the grades for the Rangers defensemen.
(p.s. if you missed it, here’s the Suit’s take on the top six scoring forwards this season – enjoy.)
For a significant part of the season Dan Girardi played like a Norris Trophy candidate. He was that good. Girardi enjoyed his finest season for the Rangers. With 29 points, a plus 13 rating, being an absolute work horse like few other in the entire league not to mention all the shot blocking, Dan Girardi literally does it all for the Rangers.
Aside from a very occasional stumble in the latter half of the season the only things that perhaps stop Girardi from being the perfect all round defenseman are his shooting percentage and lack of presence on the power play (1 goal). I really had to nitpick when trying to criticise Dan Girardi for this post. He is a richly deserved 2012 NHL All Star. Mid-season: A+/Full Season: A+/Playoffs: A+
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It’s amazing how quickly someone becomes an afterthought in this league. When Michael Sauer went down with his concussion, it seemed the world had ended. Marc Staal was still out, Sauer was out, and in the following week Jeff Woywitka and Steve Eminger would both suffer injuries. The Rangers were forced to rely on unknown Stu Bickel to play regular minutes to fill out the blue line. Bickel impressed and the rest, as they say, is history.
But it’s not history. Fast forward five months and we have the playoffs, where Bickel is still dressing in almost every game for the Rangers. But the problem is that he rarely cracks five minutes of ice time per game, even when games head into overtime or triple overtime. For all intents and purposes, the Rangers are playing with five defensemen.
When Bickel does get on the ice, he is often caught out of position, his inexperience and lack of foot speed exploited by more experienced and skilled playoff competitors. Stephen Gionta’s goal on Wednesday night was evidence of a player that is still developing and learning the position at the NHL level. Thus, coach John Tortorella is forced to play his more experienced players and sit Bickel. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves the Rangers with five defensemen.
In the playoffs, depth becomes the most important factor. Players grow tired –both physically and mentally– and need more time to recover. With just five defensemen, the Rangers don’t have that luxury. And it makes you wonder: Would they be in this position if Mike Sauer was in the lineup?
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