When it comes to the Rangers defensive core, we all knew going into this offseason that some things were going to have to be changed. There were large question marks placed next to certain players and others that seemed concrete were made into question marks. Some issues have been resolved, most are still pending.
In fact, the only defenders from last year that have been: not talked about, untouched, unscathed, and able to dodge every questionable topic have been Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy. These two young defenders that are almost guaranteed to start next season are the only ones that haven’t been questioned, shuffled, traded, or talk of any of the above occurring. And I agree. Most believe that MDZ will be on the Rangers for years and years to come. Gilroy still has a lot to prove and I wouldn’t be shocked if he finds his way back to the Wolf Pack for a stint again. And not because he doesn’t play well, but more that our defensive core is more stacked than ever.
Which brings me to my point, who is going to start come October?
The major question marks at this point of the offseason rely on three men: Michal Rozsival, Wade Redden, and Marc Staal.
Rozsival did well towards the last half of the season and picked up his game. I use to be a fan of Rozsival, but I feel like he always does this. He’ll be terrible, then play good for a little while just so you don’t make big waves to get him off the team. He goes back and forth so often, that for the money he’s making, I’d rather him just be gone. Luckily, he played well enough towards the end of last season to have some trade value. In the beginning of the offseason, the idea of Rozsival being traded was a pipe dream, but as time goes on it seems more of a reality to happen.
What’s been said about Redden has already been said over and over again and regurgitated countless times. Most fans want him gone, and from the message we heard from Sather earlier this offseason that a contract “will not dictate a roster spot”, we can assume that’s directed at him. There have been rumors that Team Renney over in Edmonton was interested in trading for him, but those ramblings quieted down. More than likely, as everyone and their mother has been saying, Redden will be kicked down to the AHL before October 1st to prevent his salary from hurting anymore fine players.
If the Rangers were run by Bleacher Report, Marc Staal wouldn’t be a Ranger. Well thank God for small miracles that they haven’t acquired the funds yet to purchase the team from the All Mighty Dolan. They say: Trade Staal. Guess what? It ain’t happening. Glen Sather is not going to trade Staal. He’s head over heels in love with him. He also loved Dan Girardi and he threw buckets of money at him. Sather publicly said if anyone puts an offer sheet on him they’ll automatically match it. We’re keeping Staal, even if we have to dunk him in a pool of benjamins. And with Sather at the reins, that’s entirely possible.
With Steve Eminger acquired via trade a couple weeks ago from the Anaheim Ducks, that makes it appear as though five spots are already taken up.
*This also going on the assumption that Marc Staal will be a Ranger by the start of the season and that Rozsival will indeed be traded.
Staal – Girardi
MDZ – Gilroy
Eminger – ???
That is where these smaller question marks come into play. They are placed upon more than a few defenders: Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, Matt McCue, Pavel Valentenko, and Jyri Niemi.
Proceeding with the assumption from above, McDonagh looks as the favorite to fill that 6th spot. Most of the Rangers World was in anticipation for his announcement of becoming a professional. To my amazement, Donuts has impressed everyone and there’s heavy talk of him playing this season, even starting the season on the Blueshirts. Even if Rozsival is still on the team by the start of the season, expect McDonagh to be called up sometime in 2010/2011. Most prospect reports on him put him as a future first line defenseman.
Michael Sauer was a surprise re-signing to me. I figured he was already given his chance to prove himself and with abundance of defensive prospects, it just seemed like he was a goner like Corey Potter (who a week ago was signed by Pittsburgh Penguins). Clearly, the Rangers are not done with Sauer and plan on utilizing him. Hockey’s Future has Sauer ranked as our 2nd best defensive prospect. This is Sauer’s “put up or shut up” contract, which could mean that we’ll also see him sometime on Tortorella’s team.
McCue was another player just recently acquired via trade with the Ducks for potato chips and a Mars bar. Well not exactly, but the trade seems like a steal at the moment. McCue, who spent most of last season between the ECHL and the AHL, has talk behind him of coming up to the NHL sometime this season. And this was when he was on the Ducks. Now that the Rangers have him, he’ll more than likely be Wolf Pack depth. Although, don’t be shocked if he comes up for a game or two. With his size, he could become quite handy in the NHL.
Earlier in June it was announced that one of our bigger prospects, Valentenko, was coming back from Russia to play in the NHL. Little did he know that he has to compete for a spot on a team riddled with defensive talent.
This was also before free agency began and any trades were made. I wouldn’t put him at the top of the list, and more than likely he’ll spend most of the season on Hartford. But don’t get me wrong either, his name is still up there as a possibility to see some time in New York, especially considering he’s going into a contract season.
The trade to acquire Niemi in June added more depth to the Rangers blue line. Niemi who has, up until this upcoming season solely played in the WHL, will more than likely make the move to the AHL this year. Of course he’s further down the depth chart, but his offensive prowess will make people take notes. And with the lack of offensive defensemen, Niemi has a little bit of a niche in the Rangers organization. I think he’ll also spend most, if not all, of his season on the Wolf Pack, but there’s talk of him having a shot to come up as well.
As the offseason progresses, only time will tell as to what the situation of the Rangers’ blue line will become. Like Sather said though, he still has some tinkering to do and we’re not close to finished. But after going over who we have at the time being and what their capabilities are, I think we have a better understanding of where we’re going to be at the start of the season.