I, like most Ranger fans, shared a tremendous excitement going into the 2009-2010 NHL season. The additions of a "potential" star in Marian Gaborik and depth offense in Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik seemed to give Ranger fans a new sense of hope that the team was finally moving in the right direction. At the time of the signings, Glen Sather and company seemed to have things in perspective after a solid draft and not trading away youth in a deal for a certain former star Senator. The Rangers brass seems to be committed to building a young core of players from within, and trying to add to it. Brian Boyle was brought in to add some much needed size in the middle, and other players were flipped out for speedy youngsters unable to find their game.
The season started with a flurry of offense and the Rangers looked primed to be a top flight test for all comers. As we all witnessed the Rangers identity lost itself amidst the rigors of a long season. Injuries here and there curtailed what was a promising start and the Rangers found themselves mired in a struggle to remain competitive. The positives were the continued stellar play from Henrik Lundqvist, who in my eyes is the team MVP. Henrik continues to assert himself as one of the best goaltenders in the world, and one could find little argument from anyone. The additions of Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik were at most times positive, but at times, in big moments the Rangers top players let the team down. Michael Del Zotto made his chances to play pay off huge for his future and for the Rangers future as he looks to be the real deal. Marc Staal has also cemented himself as a top flight defenseman, and he could end up being one of the finest defenseman in New York before all is said and done.
As the season went on we continued to see some exciting moments and heart wrenching moments as well. The Rangers just could not find the consistency they needed to secure a playoff berth. Great stories like Erik Christensen and the emergence of Artem Anisimov...and Glen Sather's brilliant deadline flip with Calgary, the Rangers just simply could not find big plays from big time players when it counted. Coaching aside the players are the ones that must prove they deserve it. Deserve the chance to be in the spotlight, the chance to win games.
I have been a fan of the Rangers for nearly 30 years. I have never been more excitied about the future of my favorite sports franchise. The Rangers have a solid core of youth, and more on the way. I am excitied for the future and the Rangers are finally in a position to win....and win long term. All in all I look at the 09-10 season as a tutorial for what needs to be. A wakeup call to not only the management and ownership, but anyone who wears the Rangers jersey. The time for this franchise to become a team that no one wants to play is here.
There is really no need for any of these guys to return. Prospal had a nice year for the Rangers and quickly became a fan favorite. However, the Rangers are going to have a glut of forwards going into camp, outside of free agency. Jokinen will seek a veteran like contract, and the Rangers cannot invest in a player like him. They need to reserve resources for players that fit the system. The Rangers already have too many "centers" and need to find legitimate pivots, not blended winger/centers. Redden must be bought out or traded. I believe he will.
Dan Girardi proved that he can be a dependable defenseman and with his up and down season, perhaps Sather can get him signed for a similar contract. I expect a 2 year deal, around 1.9 million per season. Marc Staal is without question the Rangers current "franchise player" and will command a significant raise. 5 years, 2.75 million per.
Christensen played very well for the Rangers and deserves a new contract, but I would opt for an incentive laden deal, with a team option. Anything to motivate Erik. Prust and Shelley were downright awesome for the Rangers down the stretch. They obviously were excited to be Rangers, and the Rangers should reward that with new contracts for both. I believe they both inspired Boyle and Boyle played somewhat better towards the end.
Byers, Potter and Dupont....the long time farm hands provide depth for the Rangers, and all three of them seem to still have some upside.
ON THE RISE:
The Rangers have so many exciting young players on the rise. The signing of Mats Zuccarello-Aasen has just added to an already impressive array of young players...namely forwards. Artem Anisimov has cemented himself as an NHL center, and we can only guess as to how high his ceiling may be. Bobby Sanguinetti has two productive seasons with the Wolf Pack under his belt and will likely get a long look in training camp. Bobby has kind of an enigma persona it seems as no one seems to know what will become of him. A defenseman with good size, a good right handed shot and offensive awareness are not players that grow on trees. The Rangers could use Bobby in a trade to land a center, but I feel that the Rangers may use him next season. Evgeny Grachev finished his first pro season with the Wolf Pack and he spent that time learning the pro game. Grachev responded with decent numbers after a switch to wing. Grachev can line up at both wing and center and will likely get another long look by the Rangers coaches.
The Rangers system is overall deep and talented. There are some holes, such as a physical defenseman that projects as a top 4 blueliner. The Rangers have some depth defenseman prospects, but lack that true potential impact rearguard. The Rangers could also use a speedy winger / sniper in the system and that could very well be addressed in the draft. Another focus will likely be at center, as the Rangers continue to add depth.
WHO TO TARGET:
The Rangers need a true top center. A guy who can set up plays, win faceoffs and help a struggling power play. Whether or not the Rangers are able to get out of Redden's contract, the Rangers need help here. Joe Pavelski is a solid, American born center, and could be available if the Rangers are willing to cough up picks or prospects. Pavelski will be a restricted free agent and the Sharks may opt to retain Patrick Marleau, costing them a pretty penny. Pavelski, after a 50+ point season, will likely command in the 3 million range per season, and the Rangers could easily afford him. He would be a dynamic presence setting up Gaborik and perhaps Aasen, or maybe Dubinsky. Joe Pavelski is a dynamic player, and has a tremendous respect and love for the game. The Rangers need players like him, and regardless of his size, Pavelski would be a huge favorite at the Garden.
Addressing the defense. I had spoken on a radio show recently about the Rangers lack of defensive stalwarts. Guys that make the opponent pay a price for getting close to the crease. The Rangers also have too many lanes open in the defensive end, and although that may be a by-product of Tortorella's system, the Rangers can find a defenseman to lock down these gaffes and improve the overall team defense. I think upcoming UFA Willie Mitchell could be a good addition, that is if he is 100% healthy following his concussion. When Mitchell is healthy, he is an excellent defensive player...and a leader. Other notables - Toni Lydman (awesome skater, solid D) - Shaone Morrison (young, physical, underused).
Overall the Rangers should always be on the hunt for character players. Players who care first about the team and winning.
I have spoken on several occassions about Forbort, the giant American defenseman.
From Chief Scout - Kyle Woodlief Red Line Report -
Forbort is still raw, as he was playing Minnesota high school hockey just last year. But he has come so far, so fast in his first half season with the U.S. National U-18 Team. And with his size, strength, skating ability, and physical tools, Forbort may just present the highest upside of any defender in this class.”
U.S. Under-18 head coach Kurt Kleinendorst on Forbort -
“He’s a kid that has only been with us a year and that’s not the easiest thing to do because everyone else understands what it takes to compete at this level, but he has come in and done extremely well with the demands placed on him. He’s probably one of our most skilled defensemen. He will go to North Dakota and help immediately. He’s more offensive, but he’s very capable defensively. He can carry the puck out of the zone and set up an offense.
A kid this big and this talented of a skater is just too good to pass up.
It seems that everyone on BB has some love for this speedy, gifted Swiss national.
Nino played his way into North America through the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL. The WHL is by far my favorite junior league as the play seems to be more physical and also seems to produce bigger, more NHL sized players.
Niederreiter would be an excellent pickup, and whether or not it's him or Forbort, I would be thrilled. Nino adds size, stickhandling and awesome offensive acumen. A natural right winger, Nino would immediately upgrade the Rangers prospect pool to the top of the NHL. Nino is a balanced winger, and can play both side of the center effectively.
I expect the Rangers to use some of their remaining picks on a center and wing, and I expect them to take chances on raw players, ones with high ceilings.
Overall the Rangers are in a good position. If the Rangers can somehow get out of the Redden contract, they will be in an even better position. The Rangers have good talent in place and I expect them to be a much better team in 2010-2011.
Predicting lines at this point is pointless. We have no idea what Slats has planned for the draft and free agency. I will expect lots of changes, and hopefully the changes are limited to youth and restricted free agents.