Even though things have slowed down terribly in the hockey world as far as UFA signings and trades go, it only takes a spark to set off some genuine interest again. I’m sure that most of us have talked of our favorite team’s off-seasons to date ad nauseam. We all have a good idea of where our team is strong and where it is weak. For me at least, there have been a couple of recent moves that have made available a couple of potentially useful players for a team like the New York Rangers and this has sparked my interest.
Look, I try very hard to be a realist. I understand that the Rangers are not a strong Stanley Cup contender. As the roster is currently constituted, the Rangers are likely going to be in a battle with the New Jersey Devils for 3rd place in the Atlantic. Given the strength of the Eastern Conference, that may translate to a 5th or 6th seed at best. Clearly Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are both better than the Rangers at this point in time. Looking at the Rangers available cap space, their roster and the names of the players available I don’t see any quick-fix additions that would turn this squad into anything more than what they are now.
However, come playoff time, almost anything can happen. If a team with the stellar goaltending that the Rangers have gets hot at the right time, they can certainly go deep into the playoffs. While there may not be anyone available to the Rangers right now to help us finish in the upper echelon of the East, there are a couple of players that could help increase our chances of making the playoffs and potentially going deep into them.
As presently constructed, the Rangers roster has two glaring holes to me; Center and Defense. Chris Drury has never been a number 1 Center and is probably better off as either the #2 or as a Wing on a scoring line. Brandon Dubinsky may not have the top-shelf offensive skill to be a true #1 either. He’s a gamer and will do anything to help the team succeed though so he could fill in as a #1. Conceivably, rookie Artem Anisimov could develop into a more ideal top pivot but it would be expecting a lot for him to perform at that level this year. Certainly the need for an experienced, offensive-minded pivot does exist on this roster.
On Defense, the Rangers have 2 vacancies among their top 6 after letting both Derek Morris and Paul Mara exit via free agency. Last year’s Hobey Baker award winner, Matt Gilroy, is expected to fill one of those slots. The other slot will be filled from a pool of candidates that include: Bobby Sanguineti, Michael Del Zotto, Michael Sauer, Corey Potter, or Iikka Heikinen. There are several good prospects on this list and Gilroy looked good at the prospect camp but remember how poorly Rozsival and Redden played last year. Essentially, the Rangers have only 2 returning defensemen that performed well at the NHL level last season; Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. If Rozsival and/or Redden don’t ramp up their games this season and even if a couple of the rookies step in and perform well, team defense will still be a weakness.
It’s possible that our solution(s) just hit the open market last week as the Tampa Bay Lightning bought out the final 3 years on the contract of C Vinny Prospal and the Carolin Hurricanes did the same with the final year of D Frankie Kaberle. Since both players will receive at least a portion of the salaries in their bough out contracts, they may be amenable to signing short-term, low-cost deals with new clubs.
Prospal, in particular, is an interesting player. He seems to alternate good seasons with bad seasons and if that holds true then he is due for a good year. Regardless of his inconsistencies, Prospal has averaged 0.77 points-per-game in the 4 seasons since the lock-out (91 goals, 160 assists, and 251 points in 325 games). He has also appeared in no fewer than 80 contests in each of the last seven seasons. Prospal’s On-Ice/Off-Ice +/- rating for the last two seasons were -0.75 in 2008-2009 and +0.83 in 2007-2008. The low rating from last year is somewhat scary given how poor the entire team as a whole was. However given his track record, it’s a good possibility Prospal will rebound. Another factor to keep in mind is that Prospal had some of his best seasons playing for Rangers Head Coach Jon Tortorella in Tampa, including the Stanley Cup season. It would seem worth calling Prospal’s agent to see if Vinny would like to set-up for Marian Gaborik next season.
Kaberle might be a tougher sell as he is 35 years old and has had injury problem in 2 of the last 3 seasons. Over that time, Kaberle has missed 109 of a possible 246 games. As recently as 2005-2006 though, Kaberle recorded a line of 6g – 38a – 44pts in 77 games for the Carolina Hurricanes. He has never been a physical player but has been a solid puck mover throughout his career. Given the Rangers hopeful reliance on returns to respectability by Wade Reden and Michal Rozsival and the expected addition of two rookies to the lineup, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a reliable vet like Kaberle around if Sather’s plans/hopes do not come to fruition.
As I stated earlier in this post; neither Prospal nor Kaberle can be expected to carry this team anywhere but either addition could make this team better and could help this squad qualify for the playoffs more easily. Once in the playoffs…….. anything can happen.