With the offseason underway, and the buyout period beginningo n June 15, the Rangers are going to have some difficult decisions. One of those difficult decisions will be with winger Wojtek Wolski, who was acquired in January in exchange for Michal Rozsival. The acquisition of Wolski was expected to bring increased scoring to the Rangers, who were struggling mightily for consistency on offense. Wolski helped that, but not to the level that many thought he would. Although the numbers weren’t what we as fans expected, they weren’t exactly off from his career average. Wolski put up a line of 6-13-19 in 37 games with the Rangers, which averages out to 13-28-41. It would have been his worst season, but less than 10 points off from his career average.
What puts Wolski in the château-bow-wow was his consistent inconsistency. Upon his arrival, Wolski scored three goals in his first eight games, but scored just three in his remaining 34 games, including a gigantic oh-fer in March. Points alone don’t tell the whole story, as Wolski seemed indifferent and complacent in many games down the stretch, finding himself as a healthy scratch in crucial games in March and April. Although Wolski was tied for the team lead in playoff scoring (no, seriously, he was) with three points, he was lucky to find more than ten minutes of ice time per game, including games that went into double overtime. Points don’t tell the story, ice time does.
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Wojtek Wolski and Erik Christensen are playing for their Rangers careers in the upcoming playoff series against Washington; that is without doubt. What is in doubt is how that pressure will manifest itself throughout the series. Both players have an abundance of talent, something the Rangers as a team haven’t enough of. However both players have been underwhelming as Rangers and regular visitors to the press box because of their play. The Rangers’ season can be categorised as a success whether they get past the Caps or not, but for some players their futures may rest on whether they produce against the Caps.
Barring an outstanding trade offer, players such as Gaborik will be around next year even if they fail to perform, the contract and skill dictates that. However Wolski and Christensen are far from certain of roster spots next year. With prospects such as Carl Hagelin signed and coming to camp, Evgeny Grachev and Dale Weise expected to challenge for roster spots and the likely presence of successful juniors such as Christian Thomas in training camp Christensen and Wolski are anything but assured a Rangers jersey next season. Competition will likely be fierce in camp once again. This is also not accounting for a full time return of Chris Drury (let’s face it; more likely to return than not) and the elephant in the room, free agents such as Brad Richards. The point is this; Wolski and Christensen are under pressure. They face being casualties of the next stage of the roster make-over after this season if they do not make themselves irreplaceable in the playoffs. This is their audition.
It will be interesting to see how the pressure on these ‘fringe’ players plays out. It could go either way. It could force them to up their games (we’ve seen how Christensen CAN play after scratches) or it could make them play timid, cautious and error prone hockey. If they play like the latter it’s very possible one or even both of them are not Rangers next season. Wolski’s cap hit in particular could be spent elsewhere. So while the Rangers look to build on their good year and look to get in to round 2, some players are just playing for their careers – an interesting sub plot to watch.
To win in the playoffs you need your stars to play to their capabilities, but you also need a few unsuspecting players to step their game up and bring more than might be expected of them. For the Rangers heading into their series against the Washington Capitals Wojtek Wolski and Chris Drury are two wild cards that would greatly improve the chances of victory with strong play. From game to game you might know which version will show up, but at their best each can help in their own ways.
Wolski started strong for the Rangers and then tailed off to point of being a healthy scratch, but he played a critical role in each of the team’s final two victories during the regular season. The skill has never been the question for Wolski, rather the effort and impact he has on the ice. Wolski can be a top line talent and since being put with Derek Stepan and Vinny Prospal he has shown more of that talent. Against the Bruins he played excellent hockey and was instrumental in both Vinny Prospal goals that gave the Rangers life to make the comeback possible. Against the Devils he scored early in the second period to tie the game after the Devils had taken the lead late in period one. If that goal does not happen when it did there is no telling how the rest of the game plays out because of the tension both in the crowd and the team the longer it took for them to get back to even. These two games are the kinds of efforts that could make Wolski a key piece that isn’t necessarily accounted for when first analyzing the Rangers in a series.
Chris Drury has had a horrendous season. Between battling injuries and a lack of production when he has been on the ice the Rangers captain has been written off by many. What Drury can bring to the team is playoff experience, penalty killing, faceoffs and leadership. Do not expect him to go out and produce a lot of points, but the intangibles he can bring are important to a team as young as the Rangers are. In the right role, Drury can still be a valuable asset to this club in the playoffs.
Neither of these two players will win or lose the series by themselves, but in each series role players can find big moments to have an impact and both of these players, whether it be the skill of Wolski or the experience of Drury have the ability to change a game in one of those crucial moments.
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.
Not sure if you saw it, but the Rangers made a minor move last night, acquiring Wojtek Wolski from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for defenseman Michal Rozsival. The Rangers made the move after losing Alex Frolov for the remainder of the season with a mangled knee, the fifth Rangers forward (Frolov, Vinny Prospal, Ryan Callahan, Erik Christensen, Derek Boogaard) to hit the IR this month. When the Rangers recalled Kris Newbury to replace Frolov in the lineup, they knew they had a problem. Newbury isn’t exactly the answer the Rangers wanted, especially when they already have AHL call up Dale Weise playing on the fourth line. With Wolski now in the fold, the Rangers now have more options than they did with Newbury, who would be relegated to the fourth line.
With Wolski, the Rangers received a top-nine forward with tremendous skill. It is well known that Wolski’s skill set would land him a top-six spot on most teams if he could put it all together, but the young winger has yet to do so on a consistent basis. With the Rangers, Wolski will likely be given top-six minutes (with the Ruslan Fedotenko-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust line cemented as the third line) and powerplay time, possibly with Marian Gaborik. Of course, Gaborik is still looking for a left wing that he can click with, having failed to click with pretty much every other forward on the Rangers roster.
Newbury does not provide the Rangers with enough scoring skill that would warrant a top-six spot in the lineup. With Newbury, Weise, and Avery pretty much guaranteed fourth line duties, the Rangers did not have flexibility with their top forwards without breaking up that Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust line that has been so effective. Wolski’s ability to play top minutes also gives the coaching staff more flexibility to make on-the-fly changes as the team tries to figure out where he fits in with the team. Wolski also gives the Rangers the ability to put Chris Drury back on the fourth line when Ryan Callahan, who resumed skating this week, returns; which gives the Rangers much more depth. The Rangers skill level has always been a weak point for them. Their skill level just took a big step forward with this trade.
According to Darren Dreger of TSN the New York Rangers have traded Michal Rozsival to the Phoenix Coyotes for Wojtek Wolski. . The move will save the Rangers 1.2 million against the cap this season and bring in an extremely talented if underperforming forward to give the Rangers another push as they look to rise to the ranks of contender. Wolksi, 24, has six goals and ten assists in 36 games this season for the Coyotes after having a breakout year last year in which he posted a line of 23-42-65 in 80 games.
All day there has been trade talk surrounding the Rangers with their vast assortment of injuries with the latest being Alex Frolov out for the year with a knee injury. To turn the disappointment that has been Frolov into the talent that is Wolski is beyond the scope of what many would let themselves imagine especially for only surrendering Rozsival. This is a brilliant move by the much maligned Glen Sather who once again has found a way to correct a free agent contract mistake though the trade market. Wolski has one year remaining on his deal at 3.8 million against the cap, but to compare that to the 5 million that Rozsival was due to count it only makes the deal look better. A little over a month ago I pondered what a Wolski move would be like for the Rangers when there were first rumblings that he could be on the market. The biggest thing that the Rangers have been lacking is secondary scoring and elite talent and Wolski has the potential to bring both of those things in droves.
From the Coyotes perspective they receive a veteran defender to merge into their core and will save 800K in salary next season. Rozsival has three goals and 12 assists in 32 games so far this season for the Rangers. There is a familiarity there for Maloney with Rozsival from his time in New York and he has the ability when healthy to eat up minutes. The have to be concerns about his healthy considering he has missed the last two games with a rib issue and missed nine earlier this season with a shoulder and knee issue.
You have to consider that a move like this is likely the result of the relationship between Maloney and Sather due to their frequent trade partnerships and could be a piece that pushes the Rangers forward to another level. I would have expected a move for Wolski to come at a much steeper price than this given his age, contract status and skill level. This move gives the Rangers another toy to wind up and go play with Marian Gaborik in an attempt to get him into full gear this season. Playing the skill of Wolski and Gaborik with the skill and physicality of Anisimov gives the Rangers a tremendous amount of potential and only makes the team deeper when Ryan Callahan returns from injury. To this point in the season the Rangers have been a pleasant surprise, but now with the addition of young talent to go with all the homegrown talent that is emerging the Rangers have to now be considered a team to truly contend with in the Eastern Conference.