It's that time where in years past, people complain about the turnover on the Rangers roster. The 2009-2010 squad saw just 11 players (Drury, Callahan, Dubinsky, Rozsival, Voros, Avery, Girardi, Redden, Staal, Lundqvist, Valliquette) return from the previous year. 2008-2009 saw 17 (Gomez, Drury, Callahan, Dubinsky, Rozsival, Voros, Avery, Girardi, Redden, Staal, Dawes, Prucha, Sjostrom, Betts, Orr, Lundqvist, Valliquette) and 2007-2008 saw 12(jagr, Straka, Shanahan, Prucha, Rozsival, Hossa, Betts, Malik, Tyutin, Orr, Hollweg, Lundqvist) I am trying to only compare opening rosters to opening rosters, or at least guys who played more than half a season.
(I could be off by a name or two, but you get thew general gist of the message)
This year, the Rangers appear to be heading into camp with only 4 changes, Eminger, a potential 7th D-Man or Redden demoter, Biron, a serious upgrade over the backup situation from last year, MZA, the SLE MVP, who should bring scoring and playmaking ability, and Boogaard, what would appear to be a decline in offensive capabilities and upgrade in toughness. As a whole, this is not a huge change, but it does signal something important to the current roster:
We think we can win with the lineup we finished the season with.
The Rangers did finish strong with the current lineup (minus Shelley) and there is something to be said for continuity. How many times do people here post that Torts should stop messing with the lines and let players play with each other so they can develop chemistry? That goes to continuity and chemistry as a team as well. Torts pushes the team concept, and, he has the same team to develop from last year. If they do not improve, than blaming the coach I think is a fair option.
Yes, someone from Hartford, or the minors, or college will in all likihood make the team this year as well. perhaps a few. Here is how I think the Rangers will be a better team than last year with essentially the same squad:
1. Development of the core youth
Dubi, Cally, Anisimov, Del Zotto, Staal, Girardi, Gilroy
All have less than 4 full years in the NHL. All SHOULD continue to improve. That is 35% of the roster that should be noticeably better than last year, wether it be offensive stats of defensive shutdown. If each scores just 2 more goals, not a lot to expect, and Anisimov can hit the 20 mark, a good improvement, but not unrealistic, they have essentially added a 20 goal scorer to the lineup without adding another player (6*2+8=20). Del Zotto and Gilroy should make big improvements on the D end as well, as last year was both of their rookie campaigns. It is said that making the transition to D in the NHL is a lot harder than O for a winger. A stronger D means less goals against. Lets not forget that MDZ had that gross injury just prior to the olympics. I am sure that affected his play a little come year end.
2. Significantly better Backup in net
I know Biron thinks he will push Hank to be better (I doubt that) but at least we have an NHL caliber goalie in net, and therefore a legitimate chance to win, when Hank is not playing. This plus the fact that there is no condensed schedule this year due to the Olympics, will enable Torts to rest Hank more. More rest equals healthier knees. There will also be more confidence int he play in front of Biron than there was in front of Valli. More confidence equals more relaxed played equals better play. It will also enable them to take more chances on offense that they certainly could not afford to in front of Valli. Will we finally see safe is death play? I hope so. We certainly have the goaltending to do it.
3. A better Gabby
Gabby had a great year, but come Olympic time, he was injured and his play suffered post olympics. The Rangers were winning down the stretch WITHOUT the usual contributions from Gabby. He was easily on a +50 goal season until the injury, as he was competing for tops in the league until the injury. I think he is a 50 goal guy.
4. More Toughness
I know everyone hates the Boogaard signing, but he is here. For 4 years. Lets look at what he does bring (there is something) since he will be lucky to see many points on the stat sheet (I think he will score early in the season)
Lets face it. The guy is big. He beats the snot out of just about everyone he fights. I am a very big man myself. (If I was in the NHL I would be the biggest player in the league, 6'9" 280#) I would not fight the guy unless I HAD to. (getting hit hurts) I know people make the argumant that a Carcillo is not stupid enough to fight him, so no one will challenge him, therefore he will be wasted because he does not fight. I disagree entirely. It is not the actual quantities of fights that determines a guy's toughness or usefulness in terms of being an enforcer. It is the THREAT of being beaten to a bloody stump that prevents guys from stepping up to challenge him. I recall Scott Stevens serving this role in a way for the Devils.
Let me try and use some analogies to get my point across. Lets say you are sitting in a bar next to a hot gal. Big tough guy walks over and says you are in his seat, move! Youcan act tough and get your face shattered, or you can quietly walk away. Most people walk away and avoid confrontation. Now, pest player (insert any name you choose) may not be on the ice opposite tough guy enforcer. But he knows, if he lays a cheap shot, runs the goalie, whatever, he WILL have to answer for it later. At some point, Torts is gonna through Boogie in there, at a faceoff (at home) change on the fly (away games). one way or another, tough guy will be on the ice with you and you will have to answer. There is also the case where, if you avoid tough guy, he just takes it out on your friends. Lets say you are at the bar again, you decided to walk away to your friends, now you yell insults from behind the protection of your friends. At some point, Big guy will just take out your friends. Your friends will probably not let you stand behind them and shout insults at a big dude again. The same hold for professional sport. If you are the "victim" your teammamtes will stand up for you. After a while, if you are always the one instigating and playing dirty, your teammates are going to get tired of defending you when they are the ones getting hit.
This is the belief of management anyway in preventing people from running Hank or spraying him with ice. You do it to Hank, we send out our goon to take care of your guy. At some point, people will stop spraying Hank and Running him.
I don't want to leave out Prust. I didn't count him as a core youth player since he was a midseason aquisition, but he is young, showed some promiss of scoring, and also brought a level of toughness that Ranger fans warmed up to real fast. I think a full season of Prust will keep the other forwards hitting as well
5. Unknown element that a new young player brings. Does Stepan make the roster? Byers? McDonough? someone else? Someone will make it, if not 2 players. MZA should be on the roster opening night and based on his experience, playing against men, not boys, he should tally at least 15 goals, more likely in the 20's. The youth will bring spark and competition for playing time. There truly is a competition for playing time. A player may get paid the same sitting in the press box, but it doesn't help them get that next contract. Even Wade Redden threw a fit when he was benched for a game last year. That is exactly what the Rangers want. A few youthful guys competing for playing time, and those Veterans have to step up their game. Same for the young guys. EC has his contract, but what if Stepan or someone else just flat out outplays him? EC has been waived before, he knows he needs to keep his level of play high or he will see the press box. The organisation has stated on numerous occasions that the best will play this year regardless of contract. Camp will be an open tryout. I will give them the benefit of the doubt until Day 1 of the season, but I think it is a safe bet that someone will be upset come opening day (as in a vet player)
6. Wade Redden
Huh? If Redden gets demoted, the Rangers are better. If Redden gets inspired to actually play to a percentage of what he is paid based on fear of benching or demotion, the Rangers are better. Wether its Eminger or McDonough pushing him, or someone else, if Wade realizes that he needs to put up or disappear forever, he will at least try his best to step up his game (he will try, we shall see if it works). He threw a fit when he was benched last year. The reaction that Management wanted. He needs to carry that emotion onto the ice, every game. So, wether he gets buried in Hartford (still wishful thinking) or inspired to play better, it is a win win for the team.
I think the Rangers will be improved over last year and will get my money's worth from my center ice package (lets hope I can watch MSG in HD this year?) I also think the future is bright, in spite of some bad contracts that we are waiting to expire.