As per Andrew Gross, Rangers captain Chris Drury will return to the lineup for the first time since having knee surgery on February 4th, a surgery that was expected to keep him out for the remainder of the season. Drury will take Sean Avery’s spot, who probably lost his spot when he failed to clear the zone in the second period Thursday night, resulting in the first Atlanta goal.
Also in today are Mats Zuccarello, who was recalled yesterday, and Matt Gilroy. Per Gross, Gilroy is in today because he presents more of an offensive threat than Eminger, and can move the puck out of the zone quicker.
It should be pointed out at this stage that this is not an anti Matt Gilroy crusade; in fact it’s far from it. He just doesn’t seem to fit in this Rangers team, or at least don’t seem to be able to play his natural game effectively for the Rangers. What this post is about is discussing what may become a straight up choice between two players over the summer; when the Rangers look at putting together next season’s team. The decision between the two defensemen – Gilroy or Eminger – may just come down to economics and if it does, then the choice is even simpler. When the Rangers decide who to bring back for next season they should look to Steve Eminger and not Matt Gilroy. Gilroy has a lot of talent, he is a great skater and has offensive ability but it would be a surprise if he was willing to accept significantly less salary than he earns right now and the problem is, he is only worth significantly less, at least to this team.
The Rangers clearly still plan (as they should) with Michael Del Zotto and Bryan McCabe has done enough thus far to suggest he’s worth bringing back at the right price – ahead of Gilroy and in addition to Eminger. Those two fill the need for offensive defensemen next year, just fine. McCabe has produced more offensively than Gilroy, has that cannon of a shot, is more physical and is that veteran presence this team needs at the back. That brings us to Steve Eminger. He may be the perfect low maintenance depth defenseman. He costs little (even factoring in a little rise), plays physical and has recently stepped in admirably for Marc Staal proving he can handle a bigger work load. Yes, Eminger has had his moments where he’s caught out of position or where he has made a mistake or two but as your 6th or 7th defensemen the Rangers could do a lot worse and this is the point. Whether it is Eminger or Gilroy; at this stage one of those two looks to be the extra defenseman next year. So why have a cap burden (Gilroy) in the press box?
Gilroy will find a team next year if he isn’t kept by the Rangers. He could still turn out to be a good offensive defenseman in the league (a team like Columbus seems an ideal situation for the former Hobey Baker winner) but he doesn’t fit on the Rangers now, or next season. Eminger ticks too many boxes not to keep him around for another year. Cheap, low maintenance, good depth: underrated things that every good team needs to have. For the Rangers, those things mean Steve Eminger.
The New York Rangers have decided that Wojtek Wolski’s injured ribs have not healed sufficiently over the past three days for him to play tomorrow against the Kings. The discussion seems to center around Wolski wanting to go but being unsure of how long he would last and Andrew Gross passes along that coach John Tortorella did not want to start the game with him and end up short a forward early on. This is similar to how they handled the Dan Girardi rib issue right before the All-Star break and it is a smart move to play it cautious right now and not make into a bigger or longer term injury issue.
With Wolski out of the lineup, the team has recalled Kris Newbury from the Connecticut Whale and he will be in the lineup tomorrow. There is no word yet on where Newbury will play, but he is capable of playing either center or left wing.
Also per Andrew Gross, Mats Zuccarello will take Wolski’s point position on the power play unit. After looking shaky there earlier in the year, coach John Tortorella has liked what he has seen from Zuccarello on the point during recent practices. The fact that the Rangers have Zuccarello and Stepan on the points on the power play only underscores their need for a natural power play quarterback.
On the defensive side, according to Steve Zipay, and to the surprise of no one, Michael Del Zotto will be back in and Steve Eminger will be out. I say that there is no surprise because Eminger only got 4:08 of playing time against the Penguins, so Del Zotto being moved back into the lineup has as much to do with displeasure towards Eminger as a vote of confidence in Michael, in my opinion. The reality is none of the final three guys in the defensive rotation are playing well right now and I would not be surprised to see either a trade happen or Matt Gilroy also get sat down in the near future.
With Bob McKenzie of TSN, among others, reporting today that Aaron Voros has been put on waivers, I thought it would be fitting to look back at the trade the Rangers made on July 9, 2010. New York traded Aaron “The People’s Champ” Voros and prospect Ryan Hillier to Anaheim in exchange for Steve Eminger. This was one of those under the radar type trades that few think much of when they happen, but sometimes mean a lot to a hockey club.
The thought process for Sather had to be that Voros had no role on the team and bringing in Eminger could potentially provide the Rangers with a stop-gap defender until some of their defensive prospects were ready.
A look at their numbers:
Eminger 49 GP 1G 3A -8 22PIM
Voros 12 GP 0G 0A -4 43PIM
If Eminger gave the Rangers anything it was going to be an easy win for the New York. Obviously you can see that Voros has given the Ducks less than nothing, and has missed the last 21 games with an orbital bone fracture he sustained in a fight. Nice to see Voros and Rick DiPietro have something in common. Before someone asks, no the Rangers should not claim him, even if Boogaard is out for the year. Players like Kris Newbury are more effective than Voros ever will be, so stay away.
On Eminger’s side of the ledger, despite scaring many of us, including myself, with his atrocious preseason that saw more injuries than quality play, Eminger has made himself a key cog for the young defense, turning it into a resounding victory for Sather.
I have been pleasantly surprised at how well Eminger has played over the totality of the season. During a crucial part of the year, when Rozsival was first injured, it was Eminger who stepped in and filled that void very well. I know for many Rangers fans it is easy to overlook that because it was just Rozsival, but at that point Rozi had been playing very good hockey for the club and having someone fill a top four role is not an easy task.
It would easy to focus on the fact that he has been scratched the last four games, but that for me is a product of other defenders rising and the Rangers trying to figure out what to do with Michael Del Zotto, then to Eminger himself. There is no question there has been some slippage in the quality of Eminger’s play compared to early in the year, but his benching, for me, has been unjustified by performance overall. I expect that Eminger will be back in the lineup for New York on Friday, and Del Zotto will likely be back in Hartford with the Whale
I find it reassuring to look back at this deal as the trade deadline approaches and see that Sather has done a very good job with trades the past few years. Free agency for the most part is still awful, but feel confident as the deadline approaches that Sather will keep an eye on the big picture.
As per Andrew Gross, the Rangers were without tough guy Derek Boogaard and defenseman Steve Eminger at practice yesterday due to injury. Boogaard is out with a strained right shoulder, and will not play against Columbus tonight. He has been sent back to New York for reevaluation. Eminger is day-to-day with a hip flexor, but is expected to play tonight. Todd White will replace Boogaard in the lineup.
The Rangers, with Roszival back and Gaborik out just short term, will shortly have to make a tough decision on which player to sit but there is nothing that says the player that has to sit must be a defenceman just because Roszival has returned. The truth is, for the large part, Gilroy, Eminger and Mike Sauer all deserve to stay in the line up as all three have raised their games after indifferent starts and all three bring useful elements to a club that needs to squeeze every single bit of efficiency out of the line up when they can. So what not try Matt Gilroy at forward?
With Boogaard unable to stay healthy on a consistent basis and with the fourth line changing at regular intervals it would be prudent to try Matt Gilroy as a checking forward and try and utilise one of his great tools; his speed. The Rangers lower forward lines need to play physical get the puck in deep and play strong along the boards to be effective. Chipping the puck in and having a speedster like Gilroy go after it could be an effective plan. What it also does is allow Gilroy to develop another important aspect that his games needs and that is physical play. While it has improved since playing regularly it goes without saying that Gilroy’s game is not based on physicality. Getting him in the corners, getting him going in hard and fast will allow him to be better equipped to take hits and play along the boards should he ever find himself back on the blue line later in the season. Keeping Gilroy in the line up is also important for continuity. Since being re-inserted he has grown in confidence and his game can only realistically develop if he is playing. What he has done recently is re-establish some trade value (that had diminished greatly) and has given the Rangers genuine options, all good things. Now he can be effective and give the Blueshirts more options in another area, at forward.
One or None?
It’s a topic for discussion that will be expanded on as the season continues but the recent play of Mike Sauer and Steve Eminger leads us to an interesting debate; who to keep come season’s end; both, one or perhaps even none?
Mike Sauer has provided physicality, a defensive conscience and stability while Eminger has provided some strong physical play and has improved as the season has worn on, already providing excellent return for Aaron Voros. The problem is this; with Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek all flashing signs of promise at times in the AHL and with most of the NHL jobs already locked up next season (Staal, Girardi, Del Zotto are locks, Roszival is a likely returner) there could be another raft of difficult decisions ahead for management. At this stage both Sauer and Eminger look deserving of at least another year while Sauer has the advantage that he is a Rangers investment (a draft pick) while anything Eminger gave this year was always going to be a bonus but both players have certainly delivered beyond the relatively low expectancy levels. There is a genuine chance neither come back ,should a couple of the prospects really step up their development. Perhaps it’s the fact that Sauer and Eminger are basically auditioning for a job next year (anywhere) that has lead to their impressive play? If that is the case the Rangers are benefiting from the healthy competition but looking ahead, don’t get too attached to the defensive pair because it’s unclear where their future likes for now.
This Rangers club is different from other Rangers clubs of the past. Sure, the Rangers have generally been in the top-five in hits, especially in the Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky years, but there has always been something missing. There was always a level of ferocity that the Rangers simply would not go to previously. This year is different. The feel of the team is different, and it’s because of three players that were mostly afterthoughts over the summer: Michael Sauer, Steve Eminger, and Derek Boogaard.
Starting with Boogaard, the Rangers have themselves an enforcer, and a great locker room guy. Although he will always get attention for that contract, what the Boogyman lacks in ability, he more than makes up for in size and strength. When he is on the ice, no one messes with any of the Rangers. He does more with his five minutes of playing time than Donald Brashear did with his seven minutes of playing time. Boogaard came into came in shape, having lost 25 pounds prior, and it has shown on the ice. He’s not the swiftest of skaters, he doesn’t have the softest hands, but he does protect his teammates. Oh, and he apparently has a wicked slap shot.
Steve Eminger, who was acquired from Anaheim for Aaron Voros and Ryan Hillier, has probably been the biggest surprise of the season. Written off by many, including myself, after his preseason performance, Eminger spent the first ten games alternating as a healthy scratch with Michael Sauer and Matt Gilroy. In those games, Eminger was very inconsistent, and sometimes a liability on the blue line. However, he slowly earned more playing time with increased physical play, and generally good defensive play. He has proved many naysayers wrong, and his physical presence is something that is very understated for this Rangers team.
Rookie Michael Sauer came into training camp as a question mark, but played his way on to the team. He’s tough, he’s physical, and as we learned yesterday, will drop the gloves when challenged. Yesterday’s game against the Flames was the most physical game the Rangers have played all year, and Sauer answered the call. Although that boarding call was well deserved, he managed to draw a roughing penalty to negate the powerplay, and later dropped the gloves twice. He makes opponents think twice before planting themselves in front of the net. He and Eminger together have been great surprises on the Rangers defense, which again has been very good in the absence of Michal Roszival.
Last night’s game against Calgary is going to be the typical game the Rangers will play against most Western Conference teams, very physical with a lot of anger boiling over. These three low key additions have been instrumental in making the Rangers a physical force, and a team that will make you pay for hitting their star, or running their goaltender. This is something we haven’t been able to say about the Rangers in a long time.
And just for fun, here is that Marc Staal hit on Matt Stajan. This hit was clean, as Staal came from in front of Stajan, and hit his left shoulder.
Andrew Gross is tweeting that the Rangers defensive pairs are beginning to take shape, with the always reliable combination of Marc Staal-Dan Girardi being one of the pairs. Michael Del Zotto and Michal Rozsival are going to be paired as the second unit. This leaves Matt Gilroy and Michael Sauer as the third pairing, assuming Steve Eminger is the odd man out.
The Staal/Girardi pairing is going to be ole reliable, but with a twist. Both defensemen have gained more experience from the last time they were paired together. Both defensemen are positionally sound, and will always play defense before offense. However, Staal is beginning to show signs of life in the offensive zone, showcasing an ability to go end-to-end with the puck on multiple occasions. If Staal is able to add the offense without it being a detriment to his defensive game, then this can be a legitimate top pairing that can shut down most teams top lines. Staal generally does a good job at clearing the crease as well. No wonder why everyone wants him in a trade.
The MDZ/Rozsival pairing is an interesting pairing that could pay dividends for the Rangers. MDZ is hopefully going to be an offensive force this season, while growing into the defensive responsibilities that come with being an NHL defenseman. With MDZ taking care of the offensive responsibilities of the pairing, Rozsival can concentrate on defense, where he is undervalued and under appreciated. With this defensive role comes a need for Rozsival to clear the crease and protect Henrik Lundqvist, something we haven’t really seen him do much during his tenure in New York. With clear cut roles for each player, this pairing will either flourish or flounder, I don’t think there’s a middle ground here.
The final pairing of Gilroy/Sauer is the pairing that will garner the most questions, as it pairs two kids who have a combined one year of NHL experience. Both had a stellar preseason, with Gilroy showcasing some ability to quarterback the powerplay. Sauer is going to have to be the rock defensively on this pairing, and also a physical body that will clear the crease. Gilroy appeared to be a victim of the proverbial NCAA 40 game wall last season, but was one of the best skaters this preseason, coming to camp in excellent shape. Although this pairing will have the most questions, they also have the most to prove, which is a good motivational tool.
Steve Eminger will probably be the seventh defenseman, and will replace anyone injured or who just lost their game. That was pretty much expected to be Eminger’s role since his acquisition from Anaheim in July. Not much is expected of a seventh defenseman except to play bottom pairing minutes once a week.
The Rangers defense pairings may have a lot of questions after Staal/Girardi, but could also be one of the better defensive core in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers defense scored 15 points in the preseason (5-10-15), which was more than two points per game. However, they faltered on defense in all but one game. With more clear cut roles defined, and the NHL caliber players now in the lineup regularly, those defensive lapses should be at a minimum. It’s going to be an interesting season for the Rangers blue liners, which has an average age of 25. Many have a lot to prove, and with a seventh defenseman finally in the mix, they will have to show they can remain in an NHL lineup.
The Rangers have made their first cuts of the day, sending defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko to the Hartford Wolfpack of the AHL. For all intents and purposes, Mike Sauer and Steve Eminger have made the club as the sixth and seventh defensemen, respectively. McDonagh and Valentenko did not have to clear waivers, which may have been a determining factor in the decision. With McDonagh needing consistent playing time, there was no need to keep him as the seventh defensemen, who will likely sit in the press box for the majority of the season.
Dale Weise and Mats Zuccarello-Aasen have also been returned to Hartford.
Update 2:45pm: With Vinny Prospal and Chris Drury starting the season on injured reserve, the Rangers do not need to make anymore cuts at the forward position. There will be at least two cuts when both return from injury.
Training camp is right around the corner, and in our next training camp preview series –goalies were done last week– we are going to look at the defensemen vying to make the roster for the 2010-2011 season. Defense isn’t as cluttered as the forward position, but there are going to be some interesting battles in camp for those final two spots in the top six. The battle for that seventh defenseman spot, should there be a seventh defenseman, is also going to be interesting. The Rangers have four players battling for those three spots, and there are some other rookies that may be off most people’s radar, but could be dark horses to make the team.
Marc Staal: The unsigned defender is the Rangers best defenseman. Seeking a big raise from his $800,000 salary last year, the Rangers are going to need Staal signed and playing in order to compete this year. Staal logs all his minutes against opponents top lines, and does a great job at shutting them down. At the end of last season, he showed some offensive prowess, scoring in three straight games as the Rangers made a desperate push for the playoffs. Staal’s 10.4 GVT was third on the team last year, and second among skaters (Marian Gaborik was tops). His 6.4 DGVT was tops on the team by a full goal. Staal’s value to the team is almost immeasurable, and many fans are starting to get worried about when he will sign.
Dan Girardi: Girardi is an interesting conundrum. On one hand, all fans see is that he didn’t stand up for Gaborik as he got pummeled by Dan Carcillo. On the other hand, Girardi’s 5.0 DGVT (second on the team) and 6.8 GVT (fifth among skaters) shows just how valuable he really is. To put those numbers in perspective, Girardi had a better GVT than Fedor Tyutin (who some fans want back), Jay Bouwmeester, Dennis Wideman, Dion Phaneuf, Anton Volchenkov, and Zbynek Michalek. His 5.0 GVT is good for 32nd in the league, better than all those guys just mentioned, and other guys like Dan Hamhuis. Sure, Girardi may be a little overpaid at $3.325 million per season, but he’s a top four defender on almost every team in the league.