Friday, June 10, 2011

What Signing Brad Richards Could Mean To Rangers Other Centers

When looking at the offseason it is natural to focus on the pieces that need to be added to the New York Rangers in order for them to make the next step in their progression to hopefully winning a championship.  What sometimes gets lost in that discussion is the domino effect that certain signings would have on the rest of the roster.  If the Rangers do go out and sign Brad Richards this summer to the long-term, big dollar contract that he wants, then he obviously becomes the top center on the roster and plays with Marian Gaborik next season. The question left is what happens to the other three main centers that were on last year’s roster?

Artem Anisimov spent much of his second season in the NHL playing with Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky.  There are those who discount Anisimov in much of the discussion about the Rangers center position, and he does have areas of needed improvement, but his progression on the scoreboard playing with Callahan and Dubinsky cannot be ignored.  The trio was the Rangers most consistent offensive threat and carried the team early in the season.  Anisimov and the line as a whole tailed off as the season progressed, but one would think that coach John Tortorella would attempt to keep that line together to begin camp. 

Derek Stepan stepped in as a rookie and had a very solid 45 point campaign shuffling up and down the lineup depending on the level of his play at any given time.  Coming into his second year, Stepan should be more consistent with his play at this level and thus could use a more consistent role and linemates.  There are hopes for Stepan to develop into a top line player down the road, but with Richards and Anisimov possibly ahead of him on the depth chart, will he get that same development playing on the third line with potentially less talented partners.

Brian Boyle had a career season during the 2010-11 campaign on the offensive side of the puck.  His defensive skills and penalty killing were always there, but the change in his skating allowed him to pick up his physicality, and speed which led to him being much more impactful on the game, especially offensively.  There are questions as to whether Boyle can repeat his season next year, but the more interesting question if Richards, Anisimov and Stepan are all on the roster at center is can you relegate Boyle back to being a fourth line player?  If he does move back down the lineup to his former role as a fourth line player, then it is very difficult to see him repeating his offensive numbers from this past season.

There is always the possibility that the Rangers will actually role four lines next season, but do the Rangers have the talent on the wing to really staff a four line rotation?  No. Would you want to be paying huge money to Richards and Gaborik to have them not play huge minutes?  No. The more likely scenarios would involve someone changing position, someone getting squeezed into a lesser role, or one of the centers being dealt if Richards does indeed bring his talents to Broadway.