Every Rangers fan was elated to see/read Marc Staal, struggling all season with post-concussion symptoms, make his season debut in the Winter Classic and improve his overall game in each contest following the outdoor extravaganza. The Rangers have gone beyond expectations defensively this season without Staal, ranking 2nd in the NHL in GAA (2.03) and GA (79). Adding arguably their best defender into the fold will only make their defense corps stronger as the Rangers stay atop the Eastern Conference.
There’s more good news today on the defensive front today. Follow after the jump to find out.
Michael Sauer, out since Dec 5 with a concussion, has been symptom-free for several weeks and has begun light workouts. He’s still far away from being cleared for contact. However, as with Staal’s recovery, the Rangers will handle it ultra-cautiously and participating in light workouts is a small but positive step in the recovery process. If all goes well, the Rangers could see Michal Sauer suit up sometime in mid-to-late February.
The question remains who will be taken out of the lineup if/when Sauer is cleared to play games. If you read the New York Post this morning, beat writer Larry Brooks gave you some insight as to why it could be Stu Bickel.
Bickel will take a huge step in cementing a spot on an NHL roster for the remainder of the season when he skates against the Coyotes tonight at the Garden in his 10th game since making his big-league debut in New Jersey the night following his promotion.
Reaching that milestone means Bickel would have to clear waivers in order to be reassigned to the Blueshirts’ top farm club. And because right-handed defensemen who can play adequately are in as much need around the NHL as left-handed relief pitchers who can get a batter out are in Major League Baseball, it’s extremely unlikely Bickel would get through. That’s not to mention Bickel’s age, size (6-foot-4, 207), willingness to take the body, and contract situation ($600,000 as an impending restricted free agent).
Since arriving on Broadway, Bickel has impressed all onlookers and gone beyond any possible expectations. He’s brought with him physicality – something always welcome on defense – and a willingness to defend his teammates.
Combine that with all of Brooks’ points and its tough to make a case for Bickel leaving, meaning good solider Jeff Woywitka will likely be the odd man out when Sauer returns. Steve Eminger, out with a separated shoulder, will return in approximately eight weeks from his injury, giving the Rangers more roster decisions to make.
It’s been remarkable what the Rangers have done with a patchwork defense all season long. Imagine the things they can do when their top 6 defenders are all healthy?