OK, we have talked about the forwards, now it’s time for the defenseman and goalies. Let’s start with the easy one first…the goalies:
King Henrik this year posted his best Save Percentage, his most shutouts, and his second best Goals Against Average as a member of the Rangers. He was nominated for Vezinas twice before this, never posting numbers this good. Somehow, he doesn’t get a Vezina nod, that is a travesty, plain and simple. The Rangers, while dedicating themselves to be better defensively, still relied on their superstar goaltender to be the straw that stirred their drink. He was nothing short of spectacular this season. The problem is, Henrik is already 29 years old. He has what, 6…7 years left of being at his absolute peak? He’s a goaltender that relies on his athleticism and reaction time to make his saves, this isn’t a goalie who goes berserk and lunges out at players like Tim Thomas. He needs to be at his absolute physical peak to be at his best. So unlike Thomas, you have to expect Henrik to age a lot worse. Henrik needs to start getting this team deep into the playoffs, and for that, the Rangers better get their act together and get this man some help.
Stephen Valliquette, Kevin Weekes, and other pretenders have been put out for years now to spell Henrik Lundqvist. None of those goalies ever gave you a sense of being able to win you a game while giving Henrik a spell. Remember, the goalies that tend to go the deepest into the playoffs tend to play 50-60 games instead of 70+ like Henrik always seems to play. This past year Sather did something right and signed Martin Biron. At first I was a little hesitant, I mean, Biron has been a journeyman his entire career pretty much, never able to hold down a steady starters job. Instead he comes in and plays pretty much lights out every start outside of 2 or 3 starts tops. His injury, while it didn’t hurt the Rangers chances down the stretch certainly didn’t help. Henrik had to play hurt because the Rangers weren’t capable of putting an adequate backup between the pipes. Luckily we have Biron for another season here, a season where I hope he gets about 20-25 starts depending on how well he plays.
Ok, now time for the defenseman.
An All-Star berth, a step forward in all facets of the game. Staal became a true blue #1 pairing defenseman this year. Is he going to blow you away with his offensive ability? No, probably never, but there aren’t many defenseman in the league who can shut down a player the way Staal can, and that is why he’s the Rangers # 1 defenseman.
Dan Girardi is a strange kinda player. When he plays with Marc Staal, he plays like a legitimate top pairing defenseman. He blocks shots, he hits the opposition, and he brings a decent amount of offense to his game. But take Staal away from him, and all of a sudden Girardi starts running around, is out of position and looks like a 3rd pairing defenseman. Luckily we have Staal to pair him with and that let’s us get away with having a top defensive pair that only costs us a combined 7.3 million dollars (800k more than what Wade Redden makes by the way).
I was pretty disappointed in what McCabe brought to the table. Then again I wasn’t really all that enamored with him to begin with. I mean, he didn’t cost us much, and definitely was an improvement and brought something to our powerplay we didn’t have, a shot from the point. But, McCabe sucks in his own zone, and isn’t a good passer. Torts was forced to make McCabe both passer, and shooter on the point, and that didn’t work out well for us. McCabe wouldn’t be the worst option to bring in as a 7th defenseman, but he won’t play those kinds of minutes, and he won’t play for the kind of money we should offer him. Thanks for trying, but we’ll have to walk away.
I don’t get what anyone sees in this guy. You will never convince me he is even adequate in his own zone. He’s extremely soft, has no upper body strength whatsoever and doesn’t have an ounce of physicality in his game. So with all that said, you have to think the guy brings some offense to the table right? Uhh, no. 11 points in 58 games last season, a combined 26 points in 127 games played as a Ranger. Michael Sauer, a defensive defenseman through and through put up more points than Gilroy in his rookie season. Awful. Get rid of this guy. I’m not even interested in him as a 7th defenseman.
McDonagh was a revelation for us this season. In 40 games he put up an outstanding +16 (2nd best on the team), with 9 points, and 56 hits. He quite frankly looked like he was a 10 year vet rather than the rookie almost straight out of college that he was. The Rangers absolutely robbed him from the Canadiens, and you have to think they are pretty pissed at that trade right about now. I’d be shocked if McDonagh isn’t a staple on our 2nd pair for the next 15 years.
Michael Sauer kind of got hosed. He was really ready for the NHL 2 seasons before last year. He looked really good during that training camp and everyone except for Tom Renney thought he deserved to be on the team out of camp. Luckily this past season John Tortorella decided to give spots based on merit rather than age. (last season Sauer didn’t deserve a spot, period.) Sauer is an RFA this year, and he’s going to get a nice raise. You have to be happy with the chemistry he showed with McDonagh. While I’m not positive he’s a staple on this team for the next decade plus based on his health prior to this year, I am extremely happy to have him on this club for the foreseeable future so long as he remains healthy and steady in his own zone as he was this past season.
Eminger was brought here with a steal of a trade for Aaron Voros last summer. He served extremely well as a 6/7 defenseman who brought some snarl, and some good play to the Rangers. He’s not the best in his own zone, he’s not the best in the other teams zone, but he’s not a guy who hurts you when you give him minutes. However the Rangers have far better options coming, it’s time to cut bait.
Michael Del Zotto
MDZ had an awful season this year, plain and simple. His demotion was definitely deserved. However the kid is unquestionably talented. If he can get his skating up to par he could easily become a 2nd pairing defenseman who quarterbacks the power play. With all that said, the Rangers have so many other defenseman coming up that Del Zotto may have the highest value that other teams covet, and may be a player to move if the Rangers plan on making a big bang of a trade.
I really don’t know all that much about Erixon to be totally honest. I know this much, Gordie Clark thinks he’s NHL ready right now. If Gordie thinks so, I think so. The Rangers see Erixon as a top 10 pick this year, and made their move to get him. My guess is, Erixon takes over Matt Gilroys spot right out of camp. I did remember seeing Erixon at the World Junior Championships, and was quite impressed with him. He’s more like Ryan McDonagh than Matt Gilroy though. He’s not going to blow you away in any 1 facet the way Gilroy could with his speed, but he’s going to be much stronger in his own zone, and frankly, that’s enough for me right now. Pencil him in to the opening night roster as part of the 3rd pair.
Valentenko is a very intriguing kid. During camp last season I really liked what I saw from him. He’s what you would call a “toolsy” player. He’s got a monster of a shot, he’s physical, and he’s an outstanding shot blocker. Those are all things the Rangers can and do need. I see “Tank” battling the next player I list for the final roster spot on the Rangers.
Kundratek is more of a safer player than Valentenko. He’s probably the one who is “readier” of the 2 players, but he’s definitely not the one with the higher upside in my personal opinion. Valentenko could turn into a Volchenkov type player with a canon of a shot, or he could bust out easily, however you have to think Kundratek could make the NHL sooner, but won’t be much of an impact type player. Personally, I think Kundratek doesn’t make the Rangers this season, I think Valentenko does, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened the other way around.
Ok, that’s all for now. Part 3 in the next few days.