Friday, December 10, 2010

What Was/Will Be the Rangers Biggest Mistake In the Off-season?

With the completion of last night’s game the New York Rangers are now 30 games into their season which is no real milestone, but a nice round number and a pretty good sample size by which to judge some players and how they have performed.  Instead of talking about the team as a whole or one individual player I want to take a look back at the most recent off-season which by all accounts was considered a good one for Glen Sather and company.  Obviously with the number of moves a team makes in the off-season there will be those that succeed and those that fail.  Today’s topic is about the failures and which one is now or will go down as the biggest failure for Rangers management.

As I said for the front office the moves have been widely seen as good whether it be in free agency with signing Martin Biron and giving the team a legitimate backup goaltender or trading away something basically useless in Voros and getting Steve Eminger who has played better than certainly I expected in being a legit top 4 quality defender of late or in seemingly getting another steal in the second round with Christian Thomas.  On the other end of the spectrum we have those that look to have no panned out or that something that directly could have happened instead appears to be better or at least further along.

Free Agency:
Derek Boogaard: Boogaard is one of the most intimidating players in the league in terms of that very few other players in the league have any desire to fight him.  That can be a good thing but when your role is predominantly as a fighter that is also a problem.  Other problems come in when the reason used to sell the signing was that it would make the team tougher or other teams less likely to take liberties on the players or Henrik Lundqvist and Boogaard’s presence has done nothing to markedly change either.  In Boogaard’s defense it is unfair and unrealistic to think that one person, especially one who only plays 4:39 a game can have that kind of impact. 

What fans can be upset about is this developing trend of when he does fight he ends up injured and missing games because he did what he was brought here to do.  If you are an enforcer/fighter in this league you cannot get hurt virtually every time you drop the gloves.  Also there seems to be a hesitance on Boogaard’s part to be a “mercenary.”  What I mean by that is when an opponent does take liberties with a teammate Boogaard does not seem to have the team mentality to go out and do something about it or have a fight to spark the team the way a Colton Orr used to in that role or that Brandon Prust always is willing to for this team.  Prust has been a warrior in that regard this season and while he is seen as a tough guy he was not the one who was paid 1.625 million for four seasons to fill that role and Prust is much more valuable in other areas of the game than Boogaard is so it is time Derek fill the role he was paid so much for.  This deal looked bad to many from the moment it was signed and it is looking worse and worse at times not even for the obscene overpayment per season but for the fact he got four years and it will likely only get worse.

Alexander Frolov:  Frolov was brought in to be a large part of the solution to the secondary scoring issue that has plagued the Rangers over recent seasons.  When he was signed it was assumed that he would play with Marian Gaborik and that together they would put up very good numbers and provide more offensive support for Henrik Lundqvist.  It was assumed that due to the fact the deal was only for one year that the Rangers would be getting a highly motivated Frolov looking to prove the production decline over the recent seasons was about other factors than deterioration in his game.  Things looked to be positive in camp and in the preseason and then as they say they started to play for real.

What the Rangers have ended up with in Frolov is a guy who has shown why Los Angeles did not attempt to bring him back both on and off the ice.  On the ice he has struggled mightily to get any consistent play going and his production has been significantly lower than was expected.  Frolov currently has 5 goals and 6 assists which puts him on pace for 30 points a far cry from the 60 many expected.  It is widely assumed by many Rangers fans that Frolov who started the season on the top line has fallen far enough that when Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal return he is a top candidate for a healthy scratch if he is not traded.  Off the ice this week there was the interview with the Russian reporter which certainly did not help his cause with the fans on the bust front.  The best part and possibly what saves him from being the worst offseason move is that it was only a one year deal.

Vinny Prospal/Erik Christensen:  It might be unfair to put these two on the list but I would bet that if Sather and company had known for sure that rookie Derek Stepan would be ready to not only make the club but play the role he is and as well as he has that one or both would not have been brought back and Christensen certainly would not have gotten two years.  Prospal gets put into the list partially because he has not played a single game yet this year and all the signs were there not to sign him with his up and down alternating years and his age, but it was a one year and incentive laden deal.  Christensen makes the list because he was signed off the hope that the enigma would finally have the switch flip and he would live up to his talent level.  Obviously that has not happened as he too is on pace for a 30 point season despite being give multiple opportunities to center the best offensive weapon on the team.

McIlrath vs Fowler: On draft night while watching the draft I like many others had my ideas on who might be there for selection when the Rangers spot came up and I also had my opinions on who they should draft.  Very few if any foresaw that Cam Fowler would fall into the Rangers laps at 10 and if he did even fewer would have guessed they would pass on the chance to select him, but they did to take Dylan McIlrath.  I understand all the arguments for taking Dylan as the Rangers do have no one like him in the system in terms of his ability to intimidate, his crease clearing mentality and he can fight.  He could be their next version of Beukeboom which they have been looking to find for a number of years.  That said it was known that “truck” was at least a two if not three-four year project while Fowler was seen as NHL ready this year or next.  The argument against Fowler was that the Rangers already had Michael Del Zotto and that MDZ was better in each phase than Fowler so the need was not there. 

Arguments for both players are valid and the truth is we will not know for years which side is right or if they both turn out to be great players, but right now you have one in Juniors and the other playing 22 minutes a night on pace for basically a 40 point year.  I also think if the staff had foreseen the struggles MDZ has had so far this season that the thought process at the draft might have been different. I am not a big believer in drafting based on need unless all other things are exactly equal so I would have taken Fowler whether that would have ended up as the right move or not time will tell.

Randy McNaught: I know it is unfair to talk about a 7th round pick as a mistake or a bust or anything of the sort and it is not really about McNaught who is what he is as a tough guy that they really did not have to use a pick on but the guy who went directly after him Mac Carruth.  Carruth is a goaltender for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL who is leading his team into contention for a Memorial Cup this year. Carruth would have been an excellent project/upside goalie who has a large frame at 6' 3" excellent quickness and very good positioning in the net.

Brandon Manning:  I don’t know if this really classifies as the offseason since Manning did not sign with the rival Flyers until recently but the organization did have him in for the summer and had a chance to sign him before the season, so I will classify it that way.  Manning as I have written about before is the type of defender that the Rangers do not possess in their system because he is an all-around defender that  has offense, defense, fighting ability and leadership.  I do believe the failure to sign him will come back to bite us down the line though no guarantees as to how badly.

I would have included Todd White in the list but considering we gave up Brashear and Rissmiller to get him it does not matter that he has been absolutely useless. 

For me the biggest bust of the off-season will go down as Frolov if for no other reason than he probably had the highest expectations of any of the moves, but the biggest mistake of the off-season will be giving Boogaard four years on a contract, especially at his ridiculous price-tag.

Who do you vote for?