Season after season, the message from the New York Rangers’ front office is that their objective is to build the team around goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Obviously when you have a superior netminder on your team, you want to form the roster so that he is comfortable. However, when you take into consideration what really hurt Lundqvist the most this season, you will realize that defense should not totally be general manager Glen Sather’s focus this summer.
In past years, it was true that the Blueshirts left their goaltender out to dry in the defensive zone. In fact, at times this year that was even true; I will give you that. But what really came back to bite Lundqvist in the behind all season long was the fact that the team in front of him struggled to produce offense. Lundqvist has a developing defensive squad to help him out (minus Redden and Rozsival), and honestly, they did not do a horrible job of protecting their all-star netminder in 2009-10. The problem was that if Hank did not play a near-perfect game, it would not be good enough for a victory since the offense could not score more than one, sometimes two goals.
The defense, as a whole, is moving in the right direction and all they need is a rough and tough, "old school" mentality defenseman that will clear the crease, and then they can be one of the better blue-lines in the National Hockey League. I truly believe so. With that, the focus needs to shift to the lack of skill and ability up front, and that means no longer building the roster around Lundqvist, but building it around the club’s top forward in Marian Gaborik.
Continue reading after the jump.
Erik Christensen and Vinny Prospal were arguably the only players that gelled with Gaborik on the first line this season. And really, that was just pure luck since Prospal was pulled randomly from the free agent market and Christensen the waiver wire, both being given a chance just for the sake of doing so. These guys were not brought to New York to center and wing a line with Gaborik. In fact, at the time of the acquisitions, I can almost guarantee you that the thought of either of these individuals playing with Gaborik did not even cross Glen Sather’s mind.
Do not get me wrong, I was very impressed with what Prospal and Christensen added to the lineup, but let’s get real here. Gaborik needs to be playing with legitimate first line players. The Rangers have a very limited amount of assets on offense, and by having all of those on the first line, the wealth is not being spread. Besides the first six games of the season, and the last six or seven games of the season, it was extremely rare to see multiple forward trios heat up at the same time. It just never seemed to work out that way.
By getting Gaborik a real center, Prospal and/or Christensen are then enabled to drop down to the second and third lines, where they can produce with players like Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. That is, of course, if Prospal and Christensen are both re-signed in the offseason. Anyway, now you would have a solid first line, depending on who that center is that Gaborik is playing with, and then two capable lines as secondary scoring under that. Now you can begin to see how building around Gaborik and having him as the nucleus of the offense can improve this lineup from a broader angle.
Now comes the question, the one that always causes debate, of who? Who does Glen Sather bring in? How does he acquire him? When does he make his move? Draft? Free agency? Trade? Clearly there are many options here, but you really can only go down one path and stick with it. That is where Sather usually makes his mistakes that cost the team.
Out west, you have young stars in Joe Pavelski and Sam Gagner as free agents who play the centerman position, but both are restricted free agents, meaning it will be very tough to pry their rights from their respective teams. It was rumored that the Blueshirts were interested in Mike Comrie, who will also be a free agent come July 1st, but if I were the general manager, I would stay clear of that potential mess. Comrie’s time has come and gone in my opinion.
Tomas Plekanec, who is red hot for the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs, is an affordable free agent center. Plekanec recorded 24 goals and 70 points and did not miss one single game the entire season with the Habs. Believe it or not, that makes a player’s value automatically go up. He would probably be the Rangers best option at 27 years of age.
It’s not going to be easy, it is not going to happen overnight, but it is certainly possible. With three, even two moves that positively affect the Rangers offense, they can automatically improve their production drastically. Just think of Gaborik’s point totals if he had a legitimate playmaker to feed him every time they took the ice. The offense, and the team for that matter, needs to start being built around Gaborik, because that will also be aiding the team’s other star, Henrik Lundqvist, in addition to increasing the production of the secondary scoring.