Thursday, May 26, 2011

Free Agent Preview: James Wisniewski Would Add Offense To Rangers Defense Core

Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
There is a little over a month left until the frenzy that is free agency begins and the New York Rangers will certainly be looking for offense when the market opens on July 1.  The fact that Brad Richards is going to be the number one priority outside of the organization is not surprising, but there are other ways the Rangers can help themselves in the free agent market.  With the Rangers offensive inconsistency much of the focus has been on how the team can sign forwards to give the team more scoring and there has been a look at Brad Richards fit for the Rangers already.  However, as the playoffs have shown, offensive help can come from the defense as well.  There are numerous viable defenseman that could boost the Rangers scoring from the blue line for next season available in the free agent market.  One such player is James Wisniewski as he can score for himself, facilitate for others and maybe most importantly add to the anemic power play the Blueshirts have possessed.
At first it might seem strange to look into spending significant money on the Rangers defense having an excellent top four as the Rangers do, but the unit severely lacks offensive threats right now. As a whole the Rangers defense only accounted for 27 goals and 106 assists in 494 combined games played this year.  The defensive core is one that is built around the four shutdown defenders they have and there is no questioning that the Rangers defense is set at four spots with Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer all entrenched and under 28-years old.  Having four defenders who are that good defensively is a great luxury for the organization, but it still needs to have some threats to score from the back end of the ice.
While the hope is that Michael Del Zotto will rebound from a subpar sophomore season and reclaim his spot permanently and add a puck-moving defenseman to the excellent defensive guys they already have, it is tough to rely on that happening right now.  Signing a Wisnewski, especially since he plays the right side, would not limit Del Zotto at all and would only add to the Rangers flexibility.  Wisniewski could either be used as a third pair player leaving the current top four together or be paired with a Ryan McDonagh, thus allowing coach John Tortorella to use Michael Sauer as a safety net of sorts with Del Zotto next year.
Wisniewski is coming off a career year in which he scored 10 goals and had 41 assists in 75 games, which were split between the Isles and Montreal this past season.  The 51 points would have ranked Wisniewski second on the Rangers, behind only Brandon Dubinsky’s 54 for the 2010-11 season.  More important than the overall numbers was what Wisniewski did both on the power play and when he was surrounded by better talent following the trade.  Wisniewski put up seven goals and 22 assists with the man advantage while no Rangers player, forward or defenseman, had more than 16 total points on the power play.  Wisniewski’s power play points alone would have tied him for second among defenders on the team with 29 points, two behind Dan Girardi.
With the NHL salary cap potentially increasing to as high as $63.5 million it is possible for the Rangers to sign Wisniewski in addition to Brad Richards and dramatically reshape their power play this summer.  Having Richards at the left point and Wisniewski on the right point would give the Rangers a dangerous pairing and allow the forwards to have tremendous space down low to work.  The moves would also allow Del Zotto to gain experience working the power play without the pressure of having to be the man running the first unit.  Signing Wisniewski for $4-4.5 million would lock down the Rangers defense for years to come and give them an excellent balance of bother shutdown defenders and offensive threats assuming Del Zotto returns to form and the gradual addition of offense to the others.