Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rangers 2010-11 Predictions & Analysis

Puck Central was kindly asked to participate in a Blogger Round Table by View From My Seats to give our opinion on the New York Rangers for the upcoming NHL season. The idea of the article was to have all 30 teams represented by one blogger and then group the teams together by the division that they play in. Over the next two weeks View From My Seats is focusing on a specific division every couple of days. Today it is the Atlantic Division discussion. Below is the responses that I had for the questions. To check out what the other bloggers are saying about the teams in the Atlantic check out the full article.

1. Tell us why your team will be better this season than they were last.

Unfortunately, I'm not 100% positive that they'll be any better than they were last season. We won't know what the lineup is really even going to look like until after training camp. There's the whole Marc Staal situation, the possibility of the Rangers waiving Wade Redden, the uncertainty about who will start the season in New York on the blue line and then trying to figure out what exactly the Rangers plan on doing with their forward lines.

Sather and Tortorella have claimed that they want to give the younger players a lot of ice time. Will Todd White make the big club out of camp? If so, will he be given a prominent role? Who will center the number one line? It's pretty much certain that Gaborik, Callahan, Drury, Dubinsky, Christensen, Frolov, Anisimov and Prospal will all be on the opening night roster. But, who will get the remaining spots. You have to assume that Avery and Prust are already penciled in on the third or fourth lines and that Derek Boogaard is going to play at least every couple of games.

There are so many uncertainties that it's impossible to say one way or the other whether the Rangers have actually improved. In one respect, adding a player of Frolov's caliber has to be an improvement, as too does adding a solid veteran backup goalie in Marty Biron. But, if the Rangers do decide to give younger players like Grachev, McDonagh, Zuccarello-Aasen, Stepan or Weise prominent roles on the team, will there be repercussions for the short term?

Once again, the one decisive factor is Henrik Lundqvist. The game plan heading into the season has to be to start Lundqvist less than he has in years past. There's no point heading into the final three weeks of the season battling for the final playoff berth and relying on Lundqvist to play night in and night out. The problem with that is, even if they do manage to scrape by, if Lundqvist is burnt out, then it's going to be an early exit from postseason action.

2. What part of your team are you concerned about this season?

Without a doubt once again the Rangers biggest concern heading into the new season is whether they have the fire power up front to win on a regular basis. Last season apart from Marian Gaborik, no other Ranger put the puck in the net on a consistent basis. The Rangers hope that the addition of Frolov will add at least another 30 goals. But, the team seriously lacks a legitimate number one line center. Christensen may start the season playing on the top line with Gaborik but Christensen has become a journeyman at the NHL level, he definitely has shown glimpses of his talent but he has never been consistent enough to be considered anything close to a number one center.

Defensively the Rangers look like they are going to start the season with a rather young defense core. I still believe that the Rangers will sign Marc Staal and will send Redden to Hartford. That leaves the Rangers with a top six of Staal, Rozsival, Girardi, Del Zotto, Gilroy and all signs pointing to McDonagh. Leaving Eminger as the rotating seventh defenseman. But, with Sather in charge, anything is a possibility.

3. Each year there are players who break onto the scene as all-stars or even superstars. Sometimes it's a rookie who is already expected to be great, sometimes it's a rookie who shocks the world, and sometimes it's a younger player who simply comes into their own. Which player on your team should we expect to have a breakout season?

Like I said, with all the uncertainties there are several young players who could either make the team or spend the entire year in the AHL. If I had to guess this could be a big year for Artem Anisimov. Anismov spent the majority of last season on the fourth line but could be thrust into a much more important role this season with the Rangers having no specific top center man. Not that I expect Anisimov to play on the first line, but he could be expected to play top-six minutes this season.

But, the player to really watch out for in my opinion is Michael Del Zotto. In the first half of his rookie season Del Zotto was clearly one of the best Rangers defenseman and in my opinion, easily the best passer on the blue line. Hopefully having one full professional season under his belt has helped Del Zotto and his sophomore season will result in a much more complete game, rather than the common sophomore slump. Look for Del Zotto to have a much more consistent season and show much more of what he did in the first half of last season.

4. We all know that watching a team for 82 games allows us to appreciate things casual fans won’t necessarily recognize. Which guy on your bench doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves?

Unfortunately for this Rangers team, there are no classic unsung heroes. In recent years the Rangers have had players like Blair Betts and Jed Ortmeyer who played their heart out every game and got very little recognition for their effort around the league. Now, the closest the Rangers have to that is probably Ryan Callahan. But, as an alternate captain and a member of the 2010 USA Olympic Team, it's very hard to say that Callahan isn't appreciated or recognized for what he does. Callahan is a heart and soul type player; gives it all on every shift, throws the body like he's twice the size that he is and gives up his body all night long to block shots.

5. The Moment of Truth: I understand that everyone is an expert BEFORE the season starts; so as bloggers, it's important to throw up your pre-season predictions so everyone can mock you later. If your credibility was on the line, how would you rank the final standings of the Atlantic Division? More importantly, which teams do you think will make the playoffs from the Atlantic? 

Credibility? What credibility? All joking aside I think that in the Atlantic there is a real possibility that four of the five teams make it into the playoffs. Even if the Devils don't end up signing Kovalchuk, which is still expected, you have to think that they are good enough to clinch another playoff spot this season. The Penguins with Crosby and Malkin leading the way have to be penciled in as a possible contender to win the Eastern Conference. After getting to the Stanley Cup Finals this past summer, it's hard to think that the Flyers wouldn't make it into the final 16 come April. The Flyers may still have some questions marks between the pipes but they certainly have one of the better blue lines in the league and several prolific forwards.

That brings us to the Rangers and Islanders. It would take a real stretch of the imagination to see the Islanders finishing amongst the top eight in the East. Chances are Garth Snow's Islanders will be battling it out with Florida at the bottom of the Conference. That leaves us with the Rangers, the team that missed out on last year's playoffs in the last game of the season when they lost in the shootout to the Flyers. It would be hard to predict that the Rangers would bring it down to the wire like that again, but having game #82 mean something is a real possibility. I think that the Rangers will be battling it out for one of the final playoff spots in the East, finishing between 7th and 10th in the Conference. Anything better would be surprising and anything less would be a major disappointment.

1. Penguins
2. Devils
3. Flyers
4. Rangers
5. Islanders

I'd like to thank Matt from ViewFromMySeats for approaching me about taking part in their blogger roundtable. Let the season begin!

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