Outside of Saturday’s Brad Richards signing and yesterday’s salary arbitration filings by Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Mike Sauer, much of the recent talk amongst Ranger fans has revolved around the need for a veteran presence on the blueline to compliment the younger defensemen this season.
Many have suggested a trade, perhaps as a means to clearing some deadwood from the roster, though I’m of the opinion that the Rangers really needn’t look any further afield than their own organisation.
Join me after the jump as I ask the question, “What About Steve Eminger?”.
So, what about Steve Eminger? As far as veteran, bottom-pairing defenseman go I felt he had a reasonable 2010/11 season. He was reliable, did his job well and didn’t kick up a fuss when Tortorella chose to leave him out of the line-up. You rarely noticed him on the ice, a great thing to say about a guy that’s paid to keep things tight and, let’s be honest, to be largely unspectacular in his own end.
As far as stats go, Eminger posted two goals, six points and a -5 rating, none of which are of great significance when discussing a bottom-pairing defenseman. If anything, -5 is a commendable stat for a player that often found himself paired with Michal Rozsival, Matt Gilroy and Bryan McCabe throughout his 65 games last season.
Eminger plays with an edge, something we know the Rangers desperately want of their players at this point, and is a familiar option that the coaching staff know well. Equally, Eminger ‘gets it'; he knows what’s required and would surely be beneficial as someone that’s been there and done it with the Rangers already.
Assuming that last seasons top-4 of Staal-Girardi and McDonagh-Sauer stays the same in 2011/12, re-signing UFA Eminger to partner either Tim Erixon or Michael Del Zotto on the bottom pairing would be a simple move that maintains consistency and prevents the Rangers from having to blend in too many new bodies during training camp.
In terms of the salary cap, Eminger’s $1.125m cap-hit from last season would fit snugly inside the presumed $3m of cap space afforded the Rangers after they complete the signings of their other restricted free agents this summer. It could perhaps leave Eminger in a waiting game until then, though with a potentially thin market for his services a short-term deal may be the best outcome for both sides.
Even if Eminger isn’t deemed the Rangers’ best option, most expect the Blueshirts to scour the market for a veteran blueliner to play the 6th or 7th defenseman role. Scott Hannan and Brent Sopel are two names that have been talked about in great detail, though both could cost more than Eminger and perhaps squeeze the Rangers cap position a little too tightly for their liking.
Personal opinion? I’m not a fan of Hannan and feel he’s too slow of foot to really be relied upon alongside a young skater at this stage of his career. He hardly excelled after being traded from Colorado to Washington last season and would have to come down significantly from last seasons $4.5m salary to even be an afterthought for the Rangers. If I’m taking a shot, then I’m taking it on the devil I know.
Sopel would provide an excellent, experienced option for the Rangers; as a Cup-winner in Chicago during the 2009/10 season, Sopel would be an ideal tutor to the likes of McDonagh, Sauer, Erixon and Del Zotto. Make no mistake, re-signing Eminger would be my #1 choice, but Sopel probably edges second on account of experience and likely price tag even in an inflated market for defenseman this summer.
Shane O’Brien, out of contract with the Nashville Predators, is another possible option, as is Bryan McCabe. Ha. O’Brien, +22 in his last three seasons, is a player I would at the very least take a look at. He’s another defenseman, like Eminger, that plays with an edge and rarely shies away from the physical aspects of the game.
In terms of age, it’s probably unfair to call the 27-year old Eminger a ‘veteran'; be it free agency or trade, expect the Rangers to invest in a depth defenseman at some point between now and training camp; Eminger, I hope, will be in consideration.