Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sather Giving False Hope On Possibility of Avery Being Recalled To Rangers

While some were shocked when the New York Rangers waived Sean Avery earlier this week, the writing has been on the wall for this move over the past year, at least.  In the best case scenario there is a lack of trust between coach John Tortorella and Avery and at worst it is a personal problem between the two men.  That is why Larry Brooks reporting in the New York Post that GM Glen Sather said that Avery could play his way back on the roster seems disingenuous.
“Of course we could recall him if he’s in Hartford and earns that,” Sather said as the Rangers skated on an NHL-sized rink for the first time in nine days. “You never know; somebody could play his way off this team.”

“I think Sean has been a good player for us but you have to get the perspective from the coaches on that.”
These just seems to be giving supporters of Avery false hope that he can find himself back on Broadway at some point this season.  Avery does have the ability to play himself into a position worthy of a recall from Hartford, but the issues with him and Tortorella seem to discount that as a real possibility of actually happening.  Beyond that the Rangers have younger players like Ryan Bourque and Carl Hagelin who could fill the roster spot without the potential headaches that Avery would bring to the roster.

Rangers Claim Jeff Woywitka To Help Defense Situation

The New York Rangers have been said to be in the market for a veteran defender for the past couple of months, even before the situation with Marc Staal got to the point where it is today.  To help remedy their situation on defense the Rangers claimed 28-year old defender Jeff Woywitka off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens. 

Woywitka spent the past two seasons with the Dallas Stars before signing with Montreal over the summer on a one-year, $650K contract, but failed to make their roster.  His contract makes him attractive to the Rangers because it is such a minimal commitment.  This move is similar to Steve Eminger last season as Woywitka is best suited as a player in a limited role without excessive exposure.

This move is clearly a stop-gap type move in hopes of Staal being able to return in relatively short order.  If Staal's situation continues to be up in the air or get worse, then the Rangers will have to make another move on defense.  The hope would be that Tim Erixon shows himself well enough to have him playing full time be that move, but that is still to be seen.   The immediate move would likely be Bell or Bickel being assigned to the Connecticut Whale (AHL) to make room for Woywitka on the active roster with the possibility of Erixon going down when the team returns following the season opening games in Sweden.

Would Leaving McDonagh-Sauer Together Be Better Move For Rangers Defense?

There is no way to prepare for the absence of an All-Star defender like Marc Staal from your lineup.  The combination of the level he plays at, the competition he shuts down and the sheer number of minutes that he eats makes him one of the most valuable New York Rangers.  However, that is the situation before the Rangers now and the question is not about if they have to cope without him, but which set of pairings is the best way to do so?

The plan for now is to have Ryan McDonagh move up and play with Dan Girardi on the first pair while Michael Del Zotto will partner with Michael Sauer on the second pairing.  There is no question that McDonagh is capable of playing against the top opposition around the league, but would the Rangers be better off leaving him with his regular defense partner, Michael Sauer, and letting them become the de-facto top pair? 

Argument For Girardi With McDonagh:

Dan Girardi has been playing excellent quality defense against the top lines in the league for the past three seasons.  That level of experience playing against the best in the league is exactly what the team needs on the top defensive pairing with Staal missing.  Girardi can impart what he knows to McDonagh and they would be ahead of where McDonagh-Sauer would be in knowing how to best limit the league’s elite players/lines.

In terms of the team, there is no defender on the club, including Staal, that epitomizes the character of the team like Girardi with how he sacrifices his body on a nightly basis blocking shots.  While Michael Sauer did an excellent job last season of making himself into an integral part of the defense, he has not done anything to warrant him moving ahead of Girardi on the depth chart.  There is also the consideration that the pairing of Girardi and Del Zotto had their struggles when together in parts of each of the past two seasons

Argument For Sauer Remaining With McDonagh:

Michael Sauer was the Rangers most consistent defender on a nightly basis last season and showed that he can handle any and all situations against every level of competition.  Sauer did not have significant time against top line competition, but he had some, playing with Staal, during the brief absence of Girardi last season.  Obviously he had some on the penalty kill and during different shifts throughout games last season. 

This is not an argument to say that Sauer is better than Dan Girardi or anything of that ilk.  Sauer has less experience in the NHL in totality than Girardi does in taking shifts as a top pair defender.  The difference for Sauer is the relationship he has with McDonagh on the ice.  The two are one of those pairings that has just clicked from the very beginning as they complement one another very well.  How quickly they developed the understanding of what one another were going to do on the ice was one the most impressive aspect of last season, so it seems strange to playing around with it.

Leaving the continuity of a tremendous pairing that knows exactly what one another are going to do on the ice is something that is appealing, especially with the flux that is the rest of the defense corps right now.  The decision came down to the fact that Tortorella is more comfortable with Girardi’s experience against top line competition.  There is no arguing against that experience, but maybe that experience was better served building Del Zotto’s confidence as he in thrown into playing against better competition than expected while leaving McDonagh-Sauer together.  It is tough to argue against having McDonagh rise and Girardi stay where he has earned his place in the lineup, but maybe a little continuity might not have been so bad when the ability differential in Sauer and Girardi’s game is so slim.