Monday, July 11, 2011

Rangers Close US Preseason Schedule Against Rival Flyers

While it has been known that the New York Rangers would play three preseason games stateside before playing three in Europe we did not know who the third game would be against or where it would be played.  Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly reports that the Rangers will play against the Flyers on September 26 in Philadelphia. 

This means the Rangers preseason schedule in the US will be:

Sept 21 against New Jersey in Albany

Sept. 23 against New Jersey in Newark

Sept. 26 against Philadelphia in Philly

Rangers Promote Gorton to Assistant GM, Maxwelll to Head of Pro Scouting

Today the New York Ranges made official what was reported last week in terms of changes within the front office.  Jeff Gorton goes from Assistant Director of Player Personnel where he worked closely with Gordie Clark on the draft and scouting side to Assistant General Manager.  In his new role Gorton will be working with Glen Sasther on player transactions and contract negotiations and has three big ones to get done in the next few weeks before arbitration hearings.
Gorton has experience in the top job as he was interim GM for the Boston Bruins in 2006 and during his tenure he played a role in the signing of Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to free agent deals along with the trade that sent Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for Tukka Rask.  Beyond that the draft that year saw the Bruins select Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand.  Those moves give Gorton a big stamp on what the Bruins accomplished this year as does his work with Gordie Clark the past four seasons in the Rangers rebuilding of the prospect system.  The Rangers are lucky to have Gorton as part of the decision making group of this organization and this was a smart hire to replace the departing Cam Hope.
Another move announced today was that Kevin Maxwell has taken over Director of Pro Scouting after being with the Rangers the past three years.

Does Boyle Line Remain Rangers Third Line This Season or Move Back Down?

Along with who will play on the other wing with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards one of the most interesting lineup questions for the New York Rangers this fall might be the role of Brian Boyle and his line.  Last season he and Brandon Prust started together on the fourth line with a rotation of players to be the third member of the line.  Quickly, in part due to injury and lineup juggling, Boyle, Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko became the team’s third line and it remained that way for the rest of the season.  The question that lingers now is whether with the signing of Brad Richards whether Boyle is now relegated back to being the fourth line center again behind Richards, Anisimov and Stepan or if Boyle will once again play a third line role and attempt to prove his offensive production last season was no fluke.

The combination of Boyle, Prust and Fedotenko was a large reason the Rangers were able to overcome the massive number of injuries last season and still make the playoffs.  The line epitomizes the system that coach John Tortorella wants the Rangers to play in how they outwork the opposition, are good on the forecheck and play defensively responsible hockey.  The issue is not what this line can do with their minutes, but if the Rangers, at their best, are better with this as their fourth line instead of as a third line.  Last season they were phenomenal in the first half of the year in adapting to their increased roles and massively increased ice time, but Boyle and Prust especially seemed to fade in the second half from the extra work and responsibility.  Their work on the penalty kill was still excellent, but their impact offensively was significantly lower in the second half and the number of games where they looked worn out increased drastically.

This likely wont be decided until training camp when the answer to what happens on the first line wing develops as that is the domino that can change the look of the rest of the lineup.  If Stepan is moved up there then it leaves open the space for Boyle and company to be the third line again with Tortorella deciding on who will fill out the fourth line spots.  If not, then Stepan is likely going to spot in the lineup on that third line and push Boyle’s group down to the fourth line where they will see a reduced role in certain aspects of the game, but it could leave them fresher throughout the year than they were after the massive increase in ice time last season.

Veteran Defenseman: True Need Or Luxury Want For Rangers?

Now that the New York Rangers have seemingly solved their issues finding a top line center with the signing of Brad Richards the talk has shifted to the rest of the roster.  The addition of Mike Rupp and retaining of Ruslan Fedotenko leaves the Rangers with an excess of forwards once the remaining three restricted free agents get their contracts.  Beyond discussing what to do with the excess and which player is most likely out, the main conversation about the roster has been about the need for the club to bring a veteran defenseman.

This conversation is not much different than the one that went on leading up to the trading deadline in which the Rangers dealt for Bryan McCabe in order to help out the young defensive unit.  There is little doubt that heading into training camp Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and newly extended Michael Sauer will be the top four defenders for the club this season.  The questions arise in discussing the third pair in which John Tortorella failed to find combinations he was comfortable with in the second half in order to reduce the workload on his top four defensemen.

As the roster stands currently, beyond those top four you are looking at a competition between Michael Del Zotto, Tim Erixon, Tomas Kundratek, Pavel Valentenko and possibly Dylan McIlrath for the final top spots in the defense corps.  The concern is not about talent, but about experience and the overall age of the group. 

If Del Zotto and Erixon are the third pair to go with the assumed top four, the New York Rangers will start the season with Marc Staal (24), Dan Girardi (27), Ryan McDonagh (22), Michael Sauer (24), Tim Erixon (21), Michael Del Zotto (21) for an average age of 23.16 on the blueline.  Beyond the average age you would be looking at a blueline with four players who had below two full seasons in the NHL and a combined game total of only 927 games at the NHL level.

There is no doubt that is a concern for the Rangers to potentially be relying on a group that is that young and lacks NHL experience as a group to that extent.  However, that does not mean the organization has to sign or trade for someone just because they are older or have played a lot of games in the NHL.  That failed with McCabe.  Beyond that, at least with respect to the top four, Staal and Girardi regardless of age are veterans at this point while Sauer and McDonagh showed last season they can be relied on as a second shutdown pair regardless of the number of games of experience.

This is not to say the Rangers could not use another defender who has more experience to add to the young defense corps they have, but there is no urgency and it should be done either to deal off an excess forward or as a tryout in training camp as opposed to making a signing now.  As I suggested earlier in the weak, Erik Christensen would be a prime candidate for such a trade to bring in a bottom pair defender with a reasonable contract that has some NHL experience and swap out contracts/roster spots.

Unless there is real doubt within the organization about the ability of Del Zotto to rebound from last season or Erixon to make the transition to the NHL, adding a veteran defender is more of a luxury than a true need.  In essence that defender is an insurance policy in case of injury or struggle with the expectation that they will spend the majority of the year wearing a suit instead of a sweater on the ice.