Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do Rangers Stick With Current Defense Group Or Trade For Veteran Like McCabe?

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Having completed a look at what Wolski can be at his best and could be at his worst from this morning there is now a need to look at what is next for the Rangers in terms of this young defense.  There seem to be two distinct schools of thought on what the moving of Rozsival out and not bringing back a replacement defender in the deal means for the guys who are here.  There is the one mode of thinking that says the move shows the organization has enough faith in the defenders who are here that they are willing to go with them even as young and/or inexperienced as they are.  The other line of reasoning says the combination of moving Rozi to sure up the offense and the cap savings means the table is being set for a deal to bring in a veteran defender if not right away before the team makes a playoff push.  The question today is really a two part query: Which line of thinking is right on what the Rangers should do; which theory is what the Rangers will do?
In terms of what they should I see both sides of the argument because I do believe that the six guys they have up here along with Del Zotto, and more Kundratek than Valentenko can step in and play if necessary and play solid hockey at the NHL depending on the timeframe.  You know what you have in Staal and Girardi with a workhorse shutdown pair that can compete with anyone in the league.  Michael Sauer for me has been the Rangers third best defenseman all season and has earned the right to be elevated finally to the second pair on defense.  Eminger has played his best hockey in the absence of Rozsival whether that is a coincidence or not, but seems to be the reality.  He has shown he is a capable second pair defender and the Emingers, Sauer pair has performed well together.
What you do not fully know is on the last pairing where you wonder if the good side of Matt Gilroy is here to stay and/or if the team truly trusts him to be a guy they count on, but I do believe that is growing.  In Ryan McDonagh I have said since the summer that what you are going to get from him is nothing flashy but a smart, defensively sound hockey player who will play a simple, steady game with a little bit of nastiness in it.  McDonagh displayed all that in his second NHL game after playing a nervous game on Friday in his debut, but that is the negative to relying on McDonagh as he is a rookie with two games of experience on a team looking to make the playoffs.
For me those six guys are good enough as a young unit to take the approach to ride it out with those guys, hope Del Zotto gets his head right and see where the chips fall considering the oldest defender on the club would be Gilroy at 26.  There are certainly negatives to going with these six guys in that you are playing three guys with less than two years’ experience and currently two rookies.  Add to that the fact that other than Staal and Girardi none of these guys have played anything near an 82 game schedule so fatigue will become a factor.  The most games for any of them is the 69 Gilroy played last year with Eminger basically getting 65 games a season for his career when healthy, Sauer only playing 42 games last season and McDonagh coming out of college already approaching the game limit for a college season.  What you have is in some ways by trying to limit their minutes either to prevent fatigue or lack of full trust the burden on Staal and Girardi seems to be getting deeper and you have to wonder if at some point fatigue for those two horses will set in.
The list of what the negatives to go with the all youth defense is what spurs the speculation that now the Rangers are going to go out and make a move for a veteran defender.  The idea of the veteran is obvious in providing not only a player who could fill the needs of the club, but someone who would instill more confidence from the coach and be a mentor to the young defensive core in much the same way Redden has been with the Whale.  The kind of guy for me that fits that bill is one I talked about last week in Bryan McCabe as he has been a captain so he can provide leadership and a mentor for the young players while also filling the need for more grit in the lineup and someone who’s big shot could help on the power play.  Possibly most important of all is he is a lefty.   As has been pointed out to me as well yesterday is the fact that just because you are a veteran does not mean you are good, but McCabe’s 5-14-19 line with a plus 8 rating certainly shows he has game left and can eat minutes with his average of 21:10 time on ice.
The obvious downside to McCabe or any other free agent to be is that the teams feel they have leverage to fill a Rangers need and will attempt to overcharge for him.  While McCabe would make the club stronger there is no guarantee that adding him becomes the difference between a solid year where you maybe win a round or two as opposed to contending for the title so giving anything of long term value must not be sacrificed.  When I say that I am referring to not only NHL people but also the Juniors and College ranks.  If we are talking deals for the likes of Gilroy and a pick for say McCabe then that is more than fine but if the case is say McDonagh you say no unless it is a special defender.
I sort of come down in the middle with a similar take to yesterday and thinking about trades where the club should ride it out for a little bit to get better looks at Gilroy, McDonagh and how Del Zotto bounces back in Hartford to see what the level of need is for the club.  On the same hand if this team believes it can make a run it is tough to go into a playoff atmosphere with a defensive core that is that young and inexperienced.  The happy medium looks like a scenario where the Rangers play with the six they have and come the deadline if they are where they are or better they make a deal when they have more cap room for the veteran, which is the course I believe they take.

Tell me what you think if they will or if they should make a move for a veteran defender or instead stick with what they have and let the kids grow and gain experience that way.