Friday, December 10, 2010

Steve Eminger: From Dreadful to Invaluable Line of Rangers Defense

This morning I looked at the biggest potential mistakes the New York Rangers made this offseason and in doing so I also cited the moves that have been met with general approval like the Steve Eminger trade.  When the trade initially happened I thought it was a good move if only it gave the Rangers a chance to finally get real value out of the Voros signing and bring in a cheap 6th/7th defender who had NHL experience.  My expectations for Eminger were low especially when you think about a team that was going to be thin on defense just traded him for Voros of all players. 

When training camp started I had Eminger likely battling Gilroy for the 6/7 spot with Ryan McDonagh having a good shot at making the club.  Through the camp and preseason Eminger showed absolutely nothing in his game that said he was deserving of a spot on this club as he was slow, out of position and soft in the games he played.  In Eminger’s defense he was slowed by a groin issue at the time.  When the final rosters came out I was very happy that Michael Sauer was kept on the club because I thought he earned but I was vocal in my displeasure over Eminger being kept around as I did not believe his performance to that point warranted it.  I bashed the move as mainly a cop-out to the waiver system that instead of risking losing him they kept him on the club and sent down the two defenders left in the competition that were not subject to waivers; Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko.

Early in the season my frustration continued as Eminger was still playing poorly yet he was being put in the lineup over Matt Gilroy and/or Michael Sauer, but then Emminger started to play a simple and more physical game that helped him in his positioning.  The solid play he was starting to display was earning him more and responsibility on the club and then came the injury to Michal Rozsival that would sideline Rozi for 9 games.  At the time Rozi was arguably the second best defender on the club for the early season and I saw his loss as a huge void for the Rangers.  The coaching staff turned to Eminger to fill that void and other than a few hiccups he filled in the top four role very well in the absence of Rozi in all facets of the game.  When Rozsival came back into the lineup, like a good soldier, Eminger went back to the third pair having done his job well and once again being paired with Michael Sauer.

Following the return of Rozsival I stated numerous times on this blog that the play of Eminger during Rozsival’s injury would allow for the Rangers to drop Michael Del Zotto down in the lineup or sit him to let him regroup and work on his game.  Yesterday much of the talk in Ranger world during the day was about how MDZ was a healthy scratch for last night’s game against the Senators, which was the right move, but that move never gets made if not for the presence, play and faith the team has in Eminger right now.  That faith is no misplaced either as Eminger currently ranks number second on the team in blocked shots and third on among the defense in hits while only Michael Sauer has less giveaways than Eminger among the defense.

Last night Eminger was injured during the game and is being reported as day to day with a back strain hopefully Emmy will be back quickly the blue line needs you.

As someone who I believe justifiably bashed Eminger when he was playing poorly I must also praise the excellent job he did in not only proving his worth in terms of a roster spot and dressing for the team but he has become an invaluable member of the blue-line so I will gladly eat crow for my early criticisms of Emmy and hope that he keeps his up.  In an offseason where many moves were praised it might just turn out that a trade that was mainly under the radar was the best move of all.