Monday, September 26, 2011

Tough Moves Ahead For Rangers

Tim Erixon
Dbfoto on Flickr
Saturday the first round of cuts were made as the Rangers sent 28 players to either the AHL or back to their Junior team. Larry Brooks reports that prior to the team heading to Europe to finish up their pre-season and start the 2011-12 regular season they will likely be cutting two more forwards. This would leave the roster with three goalies, ten defensemen (Staal not traveling to Europe) and nineteen forwards.

As far as the decisions at forward go, Brooks had the following analysis:
With Mats Zuccarello all but certain to start the season with the team, the Rangers have spots open for a pair of spare forwards. Unless Carl Hagelin comes out of nowhere with far more impressive performances in Europe than he’s delivered in his two exhibition outings thus far or Ryan Bourque forces himself into the mix, the candidates are: Sean Avery, who clearly has the highest ceiling of anyone else in the equation; Erik Christensen, whose role has been marginalized by the addition of Brad Richards; and John Mitchell and Dale Weise, both of whom would require waivers in order to be assigned to the AHL Whale.
If you've read PuckCentral for anytime at all you'd know my feelings about Eric Christensen. If it were up to me he would've been sent packing during the first round of cuts. I'm still a big fan of Sean Avery and recognize what he is capable of bringing on a nightly basis if he plays to his potential AND is given the opportunity. Far too many times since his infamous suspension Avery has moved away from the game that keeps him in the lineup. But, just as many times John Torotrella has limited Avery's ice time for no apparent reason. If you're expecting Avery to score 20 goals then you are certainly setting him up for failure. But, Avery can be a very effective third liner, he's very good on the forecheck, can create scoring opportunities for others (when he stays onside) and when at his best can agitate the hell out of most 95% of opponents. 

The problem for Avery is that with Brandon Prust playing the way he does the Rangers have similar style players, known for their gritty style. Add to the mix Dale Weise who is still fighting for a roster spot and you have several players that play a similar type of game fighting for one, possibly two spots. Out of the three, Prust is the only one currently guaranteed a roster spot to start the season. Chirs Botta wrote about Avery possibly being waived depending on how he plays in the team's final pre-season games. If Avery were to clear waivers he would start the season in Connecticut.
At this point I'd be extremely surprised if Ryan Bourque made the team. This is no slight against Bourque but there is just too much competition for only one or two forward positions and I don't see the Rangers keeping a young player around to be a regular healthy scratch. Hagelin has a better shot at making the roster (the kid is a speed demon), but he too should be considered a long shot.

With Marc Staal sitting out with post-concussion symptoms only Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer are guaranteed regular spots on the blue line. Steve Eminger who was re-signed this summer will also stick with the Rangers, but he may be given a more prominent role unless other moves are made. It's still possible that the Rangers invite someone else to camp (which doesn't look likely at this point), sign a player or made a trade. The Rangers announced on Sunday that Marc Staal would not be traveling with the team to Europe for the pre-season games, but wouldn't rule him out of the opening night lineup. I'd have to guess at this point if Staal is still being held out of games that he's highly unlikely for at least the first few games of the regular season.

With the sudden need for defensemen, Dylan McIlrath who was expected to be returned to his Junior team  is left amongst the final group of players. Tortorella told the media on Sunday that McIlrath wasn't yet ready for the NHL. So, unless he does something remarkable in the next few exhibition games, he's likely just along for the ride.

A lot of the decisions on the defense end will hinge upon the health of Marc Staal. What many thought of as the Rangers strength heading into the summer now looks like it could be suspect. I mean, Brendan Bell has seemed like a decent substitute so far, but over the course of the the regular season is a team with Bell playing a prominent role going to be very successful? As for Michael Del Zotto, he was all talk prior to the pre-season about being ready to prove he's ready to play in the NHL and being humbled by his demotion to Hartford last season. But, is he going to be consistent enough to help the team more than harm it?

There are certainly a lot of questions left and not much time to get those answers.

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