A majority of the talk amongst Ranger fans this summer has been centered around the re-vamped offensive squad that will take the ice for the Blueshirts in 2009-10. At the same time, the 2009-10 defense, which will hold a new third pairing, has been somewhat neglected in conversation as of late. With the departure of Paul Mara and Derek Morris, two spots on the blueline have opened for the Rangers, and there is a whole pool of prospects that have their eyes on those spots as we approach training camp and pre-season.
First, I will start with the number one pairing for the Blueshirts this season. In my opinion, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were tremendous while playing together on the first pairing in the playoff series against the Capitals. Every time Alex Ovechkin hit the ice, so did Staal and Girardi, and they did an acceptable job of keeping him off of the score sheet. They are both young and cheap, but are also the best pairing for the Rangers in the back-end.
Staal is superior to any of the other defensemen on this team, and can be considered a "shut-down" defenseman. Marc is an excellent hitter, he can skate very well, and has great vision when making passes on the break-out. The only area that needs improvement in Staal's game is his offense. Once Marc can start getting the puck on net, he will be used in every situation possible, including the powerplay, and will be a more complete defenseman, and one of the better in the league.
As for Girardi, he has the ability to be a threat offensively, but it always seems like his offensive game disappears mid-way through the season. Defensively, Dan was solid for the Rangers in 2008-09, especially when paired with Staal. Sure, he makes some mistakes here and there, but eight out of ten times he will shut a player down when they come down on him. Girardi's plus/minus was not the best last year, but people seem to forget that he was paired with Redden most often while Renney was coach, and that brought both Dan's offensive and defensive statistics down.
Now moving on to the second pairing, where I would put Redden and Rozsival together. Many will disagree with that pairing, but I will do my best to explain why they should be together. Both players have been solid defensemen earlier in their career, but once the big bucks came along, it all seemed to vanish.
The way I see Redden's situation is that he is a pure offensive-defenseman, and he proved that in his years with the Ottawa Senators. Wade was brought here to run our powerplay, and be the "QB" with the man-advantage. Well, that obviously was not the case last season with Rangers. As I mentioned earlier, Wade is a pure offensive-defenseman, so when he is not producing offensively, he is not being effective at all. At times last season, Wade just seemed simply lost out there. With that said, Redden is not a shut-down defensemen, so he must be stronger in other areas to make up for that. There is no doubt that he needs to be more physical on the ice, he needs to shoot the puck much more often on the powerplay, and he needs to make smarter plays on the breakout. Each of the three areas of the game that I just mentioned do not take much skill, just hard work and dedication to improving them. Now Wade will never be worth his $6.5 million contract, but if he can improve on those three areas of the game that were mentioned, he can be a much more effective player.
Now to look at Wade's partner, Michal Rozsival. Rozsival is a good player. I may be ripped apart for that statement, but it is the truth, and many do not want to admit it. Rozsival, again, is overpaid, but before his big raise, he was well worth his contract and was great for the Rangers. After he had problems with his knees and some other injuries, his game went downhill. He can change that, but he cannot be timid from the point, and has to be stronger defensively. I put him and Redden together for two reasons. One is because they can help and learn from one another, and the second is because no one else should be dragged down with them, especially rookies. Redden and Rozsival both had below average seasons last year, but if they both are dedicated to improving their game, it can be done, and they can work with each other and become a solid pairing.
Now when looking at the third and final pairing, assuming no other acquisitions are made, you are looking at two rookie call-ups in my opinion. My picks would be Matt Gilroy and whoever of Mike Del Zotto and Bobby Sanguinetti prove to be better in camp. Gilroy is older, and will need to be put into the lineup very soon, so he can learn the ropes of the NHL while he is still young. As for Sangs and DZ, they are still very young, but if they are played in the NHL at this age, they can be developed into very solid defensemen. This will obviously be a young pairing, but both players will be hungry, and will be wanting to stay in the NHL, so you can count on them giving it their all.
All things considered, the 2009-10 Ranger defense may not be the strongest, but it can be stronger than last season with some improvement. There is no better type of coach than John Tortorella to bring that improvement because of the way he will push his players to the limit, and get everything he possibly can out of them, and that was the main reason why Glen Sather brought him to New York.