Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rangers Analysis: Biggest Needs and Which Trades Might Solve Them

Each team in the National Hockey League has holes and or deficiencies in the fabric of their team and the New York Rangers are certainly not immune to that fact.  As we get closer to next month’s trade deadline the trade rumors associated with the team will only rise both in terms of the specific players the Rangers are interested in, but also the positions they might fill.  In order to somewhat prepare for that with tonight ending the first half of this regular season this is as good a time as any to take stock of where the team is currently.  In do that there can be an examination of what the flaws in the current roster are perceived to be, what they might actually be and how to prioritize fixing those deficiencies the rest of the season. 

Before we do that we have to look at what this team has to understand what it lacks.  The team has one of the best third lines in the league; four or five solid if not spectacular top six forwards; two top four defenders with four others that are solid; and championship caliber goaltender with a capable backup.  On special teams they are set when it comes to the penalty kill.  The biggest deficiencies one can point offensively come from an overall lack of threatening skill, the need for another scorer, deficiencies on draws.  Defensively the needs include a crease clearer, a left handed defender and a power play quarterback.

In order to find some order to this I am just going to start with the forwards first and then deal with the potential needs on defense after.  For years the talk has been that the Rangers need a number one center and that talk has been absolutely correct, which is what spurs the Brad Richards rumors to continue to turn, but is that the case anymore.  This season the Rangers have witnessed Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle emerge as very good centers in this league which can call into question whether that need down the middle is nearly as great as it was deemed before the year began.  The caveat to that though is as good as all three have been none of them is truly, at least right now, a true top flight center in the league and certainly not in the class of a Brad Richards.  There is certainly the potential for Stepan and Anisimov to develop into legitimate number 1 centers in the league down the road, but that certainly leaves it to be reasonably left on the list as a potential place of upgrade this season.  Brad Richards is the only center said to be potentially available that fits this bill as while I personally like Stephen Weiss as a player he is not a significant upgrade over Stepan and Anisimov especially long term.

A place of bigger need is likely that of a secondary scoring threat from the wing as while the Rangers hope for a resurgence of Gaborik to go along with the rise of Brandon Dubinsky’s output this season and a return to health for Ryan Callahan there is still a lack of proven scoring from the wings.  Mats Zuccarello has flashed his skills and has the potential to help remedy that need to an extent but the failure of Alex Frolov to ever get in gear, the utter lack of faith in Sean Avery to do anything consistent, and the increasing likelihood of no Vinny Prospal leaves the Rangers in need of another scoring threat.  The Rangers do not need a star winger by any means, just a consistent producer.  A player that would fit the bill very well and only add to the leadership in the locker room would be Jamie Langenbrunner, but he is a Devil so the Rangers would have to overpay to get him, so more someone of that ilk.

The other area the Rangers have really struggled in up front has been on faceoffs where they rank 28th in the league at a paltry 45.4% effective.  The return of Chris Drury and improvement for Brian Boyle of late have helped to some extent, but the burden that has been put on Brandon Dubinsky with the struggles of both Stepan and Anisimov has been great.  Getting a faceoff specialist would certainly be a nice addition for a team that wants to play a puck possession style game, but for now Drury really is that guy.  If they went after a player with more skill who was also good on draws that would be a different story, but to bring another guy for a low line to take draws would be redundant even if the need is relatively large.

Defensively the Rangers have been up and down this season with all of their defenders having their off periods this season but they do possess two stalwarts back there in Staal and Girardi along with the consistency of Michael Sauer to build the rest of the package around.  Another role the Rangers have struggled to fill over the recent past is that of a crease clearing defender and while Michael Sauer does his part that void still exists for this season. 

The Rangers also have a problem in terms of the handedness of their defense as they have as many as five right handed defenders in the lineup in a given game which while not fatal can be detrimental to guys who are playing their unnatural side of the ice.  Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy have both played handled the move to the left side as well as can be expected, but there are still instances where you can see the difference in how plays can be made if there was a left handed player over there.

Finally the Rangers need for a power play quarterback has resurfaced after it appeared that Michael Del Zotto had solved that problem for good a season ago.  Obviously I am not giving up on Del Zotto long term, but to expect him to flip it around to the extent he can run the power play again this season is something while hopeful of cannot be counted on.  Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have certainly helped from the back end, but neither is particularly natural as the point man to run the man advantage at least not with a first unit.  The Rangers have used Derek Stepan to try and fill this role and while he has done well he is much more effective from down low on the man advantage.

If there is one player who might be available that I think could solve all of these issues for the Rangers being left handed, having somewhat of a mean streak and being experienced in running a power play it is Bryan McCabe of the Florida Panthers.  McCabe would be an excellent second pair defender on the left side, will clear the crease and has a huge shot from the point on the power play.  What McCabe would also do is allow Michael Del Zotto to come back and play against third line competition while adding a level of veteran leadership to the defense core that might be lacking.

The have numerous holes of varying depths to fill, but a massive overhaul is not called for in order to make a push this season instead a more “tinkering” approach is best to attempt to give the team an extra push without sacrificing anything particularly big from the future.  As always price is an important factor in any trade to determine whether it is worth making the move or not along with a comparative analysis of exactly how much better is the guy you are getting than what you already have. 

The move for a Richards is going to be too costly in my opinion to make during the season if Dallas does eventually put him on the market, which is not guaranteed with their season.  The Rangers have waited too long to build up their system and young core to decimate a good chunk of it on one player.  In the offseason if they can make the numbers work then I am all for it as he would be the Rangers best player. 

Smaller deals like a move for a Kulemin that I discussed yesterday or names of the ilk of Jamie Langenbrunner could be good enough to solidify the Rangers offense in their top lines to go with the consistency and production of their third unit.  Defensively while not the sexiest move I believe McCabe is the ideal type to fix the holes the team has back there and the cost should not be that high as Gilroy and a draft pick might intrigue Dale Tallon to pull the trigger if he decides to sell.

What do you think the Rangers biggest hole is right now?  Which is the most important to fix?  Who would you look to get to fix any of the holes and what would you give up to do it?