Monday, June 13, 2011

Which Veteran Should Get Another Year: Ruslan Fedotenko Or Vinny Prospal?

The focus for the New York Rangers this offseason on bringing back their key restricted free agents and added top offensive talent to the foundation this team built last season.  Beyond the contracts for Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Michael Sauer, Brian Boyle and the chase for Brad Richards the Rangers have a very interesting decision to make in regards to two of their unrestricted free agents.  It is likely that the Rangers will only have a spot for either Ruslan Fedotenko or Vinny Prospal, so which one should the Rangers give another year?

The Case for Fedotenko:

Ruslan Fedotenko came to the Rangers last season on a professional tryout looking to catch back on with his former coach John Tortorella.  The move was one of those under the radar moves by Glen Sather that seem to work out better than his flashy ones.  Under the radar is very apt way to describe the season that Fedotenko had for the Blueshirts as well.  He did not light up the scoreboard 10 goals, 15 assists season in 66 games, but that does not mean he was not a critical component to the Rangers this past season.  After starting the season with Sean Avery and Derek Stepan, Fedotenko was put with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust to form arguably the most consistent lines the Rangers had during the 2010-11 season.  The line was tremendous on both ends of the ice between their ability to slow down the opposition and work the Rangers grinding system in the offensive zone.

The key for Fedotenko was his play away from the puck.  Going largely unrecognized for much of the season for his tremendous work on the forecheck, the contributions of Fedotenko were felt significantly during his absence from a shoulder injury and subsequent appendectomy.   The inability of the team to establish the forecheck game in his absence is what made most take notice of just how impactful he had been for the club.

After returning from the injury he was as impactful away from the puck, but his offense fell off with only one goal and five assists in the final 17 regular season games.  In the playoffs however he showed flashes of offense and was the Rangers most impactful forward during their series against the Capitals.

Case for Prospal:

Prospal has his 2010-11 season marred by a bad knee that caused him to be able to play in 29 games.   On the ice however, Prospal produced at an excellent clip scoring nine goals and having 14 assists in those 29 games.  Over an 82 game season that is an extremely respectable 65 point pace.  There were certainly games where you could see that the knee was an issue for Prospal in the way he was skating, but the veteran knows how to produce and used his experience to make himself effective.

Despite the overall down year from Gaborik, there was still chemistry between Prospal and Gaborik, even if not at the same level as 2009-10 season.  The combination of his veteran presence, leadership, enthusiasm and skill is something that cannot be discounted for a largely young Rangers team that if Chris Drury is bought out would currently have only one forward under contract that is over 30 years of age.  The other huge plus that Prospal has going for him is his versatility.  He has the ability to play on the wing or in the middle which gives John Tortorella and his constant line juggling even more options to play with.
The Decision:

Much of the decision between the two of them comes down to the health of Prospal’s knee and not the final outcome of the Brad Richards chase.  The assumption for many is that if Richards does come that means Wojtek Wolski would get a chance to play with Richards and Marian Gaborik on the top line.  That is an intriguing combination of players and for some would rule out the need for Prospal.  For me the inconsistency of Wolski and the combination of experience and skill Prospal brings makes Prospal valuable not only as insurance for Wolski but in his ability to aid a potential third line with Derek Stepan.  The other thing to factor into this equation is that Sean Avery played very well during the 2010-11 regular season and playoffs when paired with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust.  If Avery can fill that role Fedotenko had with those two, then the Rangers can take the gamble on the offensive production Prospal could potentially provide on a one year deal.