New York Rangers 2010-2011 Season Preview

If you guys have been wondering why I haven't posted a story in a week or so, it's because I've been working on this. Below the jump I wrote Blueshirt Banter's 2010-2011 NHL Season preview! Although I warn you: this is the longest article I have ever written here. It's long, but it's chock full of information. No better way to get your hockey season started than with a full pie, not a slice, the whole thing. 

What Happened Last Year: 

Last year the New York Rangers figured to be a more explosive team offensively, mainly due to the additions of Marian Gaborik, Christopher Higgins, Ales Kotalik and Vaclav Prospal. John Tortorella was also entering his first full year as the Head Coach of the team, and would get a chance to put his own spin on the team, instead of just reacting to what Tom Renney left him the year before. 

Artem Anisimov, Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto made the team out of camp, the only rookies to do so. Ryan Callahan was coming off a breakout 20-goal season, and Brandon Dubinsky seemed poised for a breakout year as well. Kotalik, Gaborik and even Del Zotto figured to help round out the power play, a problem of the Rangers since Jaromir Jagr walked out the door. 

Henrik Lundqvist was still the man between the pipes, which automatically gave the Rangers a chance night in and night out. Donald Brashear was also brought in to keep the flies off of Gaborik, and keep other teams from taking liberties on the Rangers. Expectations were high come opening night, and they remained that was for a few weeks. 

Regardless the Rangers got off to a blistering start--going 7-1 in their first eight games--but the luster wore off quickly, and the Rangers turned into a .500 team by December. The wheels of consistency really fell off the bus at this point in the season, and the Rangers quickly starting losing their identity. 

Kotalik and Higgins turned into complete nightmares. Kotalik rarely hit the net when he did shoot, and when he wasn't shooting he was usually on the ice for goals against. His defense was atrocious at best and he threw temper-tantrums when Tortorella benched him during the season. Higgins was not much better, only scoring six goals for the Rangers, and missing countless quality opportunities.

There were some positives however:

Anisimov had a solid year and got some valuable experience at the NHL level, and figures to have a much better year this go around. Dubinsky did have a breakout year, finally cracking the 20 goal mark. Del Zotto made serious strides, and still put up 37 points on an offensively starved team as a 19-year-old. Gilroy had a rough transition (but coming right from college that's expected, at least at the juniors level Del Zotto played in 60+ games not 30+ games) but showed a ton of potential.

Dubinsky had a breakout year, finally eclipsing the 20-goal mark, and doing it while missing 13 games due to a broken wrist. Callahan also had a solid year, with his 19 goals standing pat with the expectations that the Rangers had for him at the start of the year. Gaborik scored 42 goals and added 44 assists for 86 points, and played in 76 games to finally quiet questions about his injuries.

Anyway, as you all know the Rangers missed the playoffs by a single point, thanks to a shootout loss in which Tortorella opted to use Olli Jokinen as the final shooter. 

 

Who's In: 

Alexander FrolovThe Rangers had one big problem last year, guys not named Marian Gaborik scoring goals. With Frolov, the Rangers will have another scoring outlet who should help alleviate the scoring pressures put on Gaborik. Frolov should also help the power play stay more constant, and his presence should crate more space for guys like Michael Del Zotto, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan to utilize.   

Martin Brion: Since he wrestled the starting goaltender job away from Kevin Weeks, Henrik Lundqvist has not had a reliable back-up goaltender to give him some breaks during the NHL season. As a result Lundqvist has been playing in 70 games a year, and has been dead tired towards the end of the season and the playoffs. With Biron the Rangers have a reliable back-up who can play in 20 games and keep Lundqvist fresh for the entire season. Biron was the best goalie on the market this year, and he was a great addition to the Rangers squad. 

Derek Boogaard: Yes, you can complain about his contract. But the fact remains that Boogaard is one of the scariest players in the NHL, and he will certainly help the Rangers become a tougher team to play against, literally. 

Steve EmingerEminger fills another role that the Rangers haven't had for a few years, the 7th defenseman position. Although Eminger could very well impress the Rangers brass in camp and find his way into a starting role for the Rangers, Eminger seems like a depth player at this point. But, that's a vital role as well, because having a reliable defenseman at the back can help spell breaks for the Rangers younger defenseman who aren't used to the rigors and length of an NHL season. Guys like Del Zotto, McDonagh and Matt Gilroy can only benefit from a 7th defenseman. 

Todd WhiteWhite, who was acquired in the Donald Brashear trade, figures to be a depth move by Sather; along with removing Brashear from the team. And although most Rangers fans didn't like White when his acquisition was first announced he brings a lot of versatility to the table. he is a center who can pivot at wing, he brings playoff experience to the table and he can be a mentor to some of the younger guys on the team. His position with the team isn't a lock, but I do expect him to make the Rangers out of camp. 

Tim KennedyAfter being bought out by the Buffalo Sabres the New York Rangers targeted and acquired Kennedy. Kennedy is a young center/left wing (sound familiar?) and has a ton of upside. Although his 10 goals and 16 assists don't blow you away, you have to realize that it was his rookie year and he has tons of room for improvement. he also scored one goal and added two assists in six playoff games for the Sabres last year as well. It will be interesting to see if he makes the team out of camp, but you should expect him to be a favorite for a spot on the team on opening night. 

 

Who's Out: 

Donald Brashear: After being waived last year it became apparent that the Rangers had no use for Brashear any longer. Signed to fill the shoes of Colton Orr as the enforcer of the Rangers Brashear hardly played and when he did he was much less than effective. In the end, this was a big addition by subtraction by the Rangers and he won't be missed. 

Aaron VorosAnother guy that the Rangers brought in to add some snarl to the team. Although Voros was a great guy, and a fantastic presence in the locker room, he never really translated any of that into results on the ice. Although he was favored with Tom Renney he barley saw any ice time under Tortorella and his removal wasn't surprising. 

Christopher Higgins: Higgins was by far the biggest disappointment of last year. Expected to come in and help take some of the scoring pressures off of Gaborik, Higgins ended up having the worst year of his NHL career. His six goals and eight assists in 54 games were atrocious numbers, and his constantly missed scoring opportunities drove Rangers fans crazy. He did no better once he was traded to Calgary. Thankfully the Rangers got McDonagh out of this deal, because Higgins was a total bust. 

Ales KotalikWhat can really be said about Kotalik? He was suppose to come in and help the power play, and also become a scoring threat at even strength for the Rangers due to his heavy shot. He did neither, and ended up becoming a huge liability at both even strength and on the power play. Kotalik was probably the least favorite forward amongst Rangers fans last year, and deservedly so. He was traded with Higgins for Jokinen. 

Olli JokinenJokinen ended up being the Rangers biggest move during last year's season, but never really produced. His four goals and 11 assists in 24 games was less than expected. Int he end, he wasn't a problem in the locker room (which was one of the reasons why he was traded) but he also wasn't a big-time player on the ice either. His numbers are especially disappointing when you think about the fact that the Rangers didn't make any moves at the trade deadline because he was Sather's big move. His missed shoot-out attempt will forever leave a bad taste in Rangers fans' mouths. 

Enver LisinOut of all of the players who won't be back next year, Lisin figures to be the most missed. The guy has a ton of talent and wasn't given a great opportunity to prove himself under Tortorella. However, you have to look at Lisin objectively. Although he had tons of talent and speed, when he was playing, he was playing inconsistently. The Rangers had higher expectations for him, especially since they traded former 1st round pick Lauri Korpikoski for him. 

Jody ShelleyShelley was another late-season acquisition last year. He was brought into try and fill the shoes that Brashear left when he was waived, and Shelley lived up to the task. he bought into the Rangers system, he protected his teammates and was good in fights. Sather decided not to re-sign him, however, and now he is with the Flyers

 

Potential Rookies: 

Ryan McDonagh: Ryan McDonagh (who the Rangers acquired in the Scott Gomez trade) probably has the best chance to make the team out of camp. The Rangers were so impressed with him at their prospect camp back in June, that they tried to sign him to a professional contract. There was speculation that McDonagh wanted to remain in Wisconsin, but he decided to sign with the Rangers. The assumption is that his spot on the defense is his to lose, and his success at making the team out of camp will finally spell the end of Wade Redden. But that has yet to be seen. 

Derek Stepan: Although I don't personally see him making the team this year, Tortorella has made a variety of statements alluding to him getting all the chances in the world to make this team.  Wether he does get a spot or not he will get a long hard look. If he doesn't make the team he will go to the AHL to develop the rest of his game, mainly his face offs. 

Evgeny Grachev: Grachev is another prospect that I personally think needs another year of development at the AHL level, but with Grachev as well Tortorella has alluded to him getting a serious chance at cracking this team. Grachev had a rough adjustment year in the AHL last year, but that's to be expected. It will be interesting to see if he makes the team out of camp, although I'm expecting him to spend another year in the AHL. 

Dale Weise and Dane Byers: I'll bunch these two together because their chances are akin to one another. I don't see either guy making this team in anything more than a 4th line spot, if they make it at all. I see them both being mid-season and injury call-ups during the year. 

 

Three Strengths: 

Goaltending: Ever since he wrestled the starting job away from Kevin Weeks, Henrik Lundqvist has been a superstar for the Rangers. "Superstar" doesn't even begin to describe it, but I can't think of a better positive adjective. In his five years with the Rangers he has already won 177 games, boasting a career GAA of 2.33 and a .918 SV% and 24 shutouts. The biggest problem with Lundqvist is that the coaching staff overuses him in the season, and he isn't fresh for the end of the year or the playoffs. The addition of Martin Biron will help immensely, and keep Lundqvist fresh for the entire season (which will increase his quality of play) and keep him fresh for a playoff run. 

Penalty Kill: The penalty kill was one of the few things that survived the Tortorella-Renney transition. Last year the Rangers killed off 84.3 percent of other teams power play chances, good for 7th best in the NHL. Although the power play left a ton to be desired the penalty kill got the Rangers out of a ton of jams last season. A lot of the stability of the penalty kill is thanks to Lundqvist (the goalie is a team's best penalty killer) but Tortorella and his staff did a good job with this squad as well. 

In all honesty if a hockey team isn't scoring goals, then they need to keep them out of the net. And for the Rangers their penalty kill helped them out of more than a few jams last season. 

Youth: This is a weird strength to give, but I think that it fits with this fan bases wants and needs from this hockey team. I don't just mean the youth of the guys on the ice day in and day out, but the amount of potential that the Rangers have in their farm system. 

Del Zotto, Callahan, Dubinsky, Anisimov, Staal, Girardi and Gilroy are all 25-years-old or younger. Erik Christensen, Brandon Prust, Gaborik, Lundqvist and Boogaard are all 28-years-old or younger. And only Michal Rozsival, Wade Redden, Chris Drury, Martin Biron and Todd White are over 30-years-old.

The Rangers also have a TON of prospects in the system who might make a splash this year, but some of them will certianly be intergrated into the team next year. Guys like Ryan McDonagh, Ethan Werek, Evgeny Grachev, Chris Kreider, Dylan McIlrath, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello-Aasen (just to name a few) could all become household names in two years. 

 

Three Weaknesses: 

Scoring: When Tom Renney was the Head Coach of the New York Rangers his biggest flaw was not getting his team to score enough goals to win games. A ton of people blames this on his defense-first coaching system, but a lot of it had to do with his system not matching the players that Glen Sather brought into the team. When Tortorella took over at the helm this problem was expected to resolve itself due to his offensive system. It didn't. Only Marian Gaborik scored consistently, and the main guys who were brought in to help share the load (Higgins and Kotalik) scored 14 goals combined during their 100 games for the Rangers. To put things in perspective Gaborik scored 42 goals in his 76 games with the Rangers. In the end, this was the Rangers biggest problem last year, and hopefully Frolov has better results than Higgins and Kotalik.

Power Play Consistency: I put power play consistency because that was the main problem with the power play last year. There would be stretches where the Rangers looked like they could score with their eyes closed with the man advantage. They would have a guy in front of the net, Del Zotto would be riffling shots at goal and Gaborik and company would be cleaning house from the slot. Unfortunately these stretches did not come very often; what was more likely was a lack of shooting from the point, no one in front of the net and a maddening inability to maintain control in the offensive zone. This has to get better if the Rangers want to be successful this year, and with the addition of Frolov and the experience of Del Zotto it seems poised to. 

Consistency/Team Identity: When I say consistency I mean the entire team, every sing aspect, every single night. Last year the Ranger had a very hard time finding their identity all season, and it hurt them. They tried to be a tough team when they didn't have the assets, then they failed to be tough when they had the opportunity. They tried to be quick and simple, and then when they couldn't score they tried to be flashy and fun to watch.

They tried to shoot from the point, then they tried to go back-door, then they tried to go to the slot and then they stopped shooting altogether; often looking for the perfect shot, and passing up quality chances. They tried to pinch, but gave up a ton of odd-man rushes. So then they stopped pinching and no one forechecked. It was maddening, there's no other word for it.  

They would win a few games in a row, then lose a few games in a row. They would go through stretches where they were pumped up for every game, and then they would come out flat against teams like the Islanders, Devils and Penguins. They looked like a playoff team, they looked like a lottery team

A lot of this had to do with the overhaul that happened last season, and the completely new system. So last year's lack of identity can be excused. But with a year under their belt (and the team and Totorella more comfortable with each other) this has to be fixed. 

 

Pre-Camp Roster: 

I'm just going to take a shot in the dark here, so don't jump down my throat, obviously a lot more of this will have to do with what happens during camp. The defensive pairings are more to show who will make the team, not who works best with who. Here we go. 

 

Frolov-Prospal-Gaborik

Dubinsky-Christensen-Callahan

Avery-Anisimov-MZA

Boogaard-Drury-Prust  (White)

 

Staal-Girardi

Del Zotto-Gilroy

Rozsival-McDonagh (Garnet Exelby, Alexei Semenov?)

Eminger

 

Lundqvist

Biron

 

Predictions: 

Last year the Rangers only missed the playoffs by a single point. Glen Sather did a masterful job this off-season of keeping the good parts of last year, throwing away the bad ones and upgrading the teams needs. The additions of Biron and Frolov will help the Rangers immensely in three categories that they sorely needed. Biron will help keep Lundqvist fresh throughout the season, and for a long playoff run. Frolov will help alleviate some of the scoring pressure put on Gaborik and should also help make the power play more consistent. 

Artem Anisimov, Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy are all expected to have better years, using last year's vital experience as a steeping stone. Del Zotto in particular will be more used to the rigors of an NHL season (remember he jumped straight from juniors last year) and will be much more accustomed to quarterbacking the power play. I truly see him as being one of the future superstars of the New York Rangers; I mean the guy had 37 points as a 19-year-old rookie in the NHL, played 19 minutes a night and quarterbacked the power play from day one. Del Zotto was very impressive, and figures to improve this season.

Anisimov should also see a nice bump in his own development. He played his best hockey at the tail end of last season, and seemed to gain confidence in himself and his play as the year went on. And Gilroy should, hopefully, bounce back from a rough transition year, and become a solid force in the Rangers defensive corps this year. 

Also add the fact that Zucarello-Aasen might make the team, bringing blinding speed and fantastic vision to the table. Ryan McDonagh also seems to have a great shot at making team, something that may finally signify the end of Redden and his albatross of a contract, giving the Rangers some valuable cap space. 

Then you have the usual suspects. Gaborik, Callahan, Dubinsky and Prospal all figure to have similar years to last year, maybe even with some improvement in the case of Callahan and Dubinsky. You also have to add Christensen in the mix, a guy who finished with a blistering two goals and six assists in his final six games. Although the Rangers aren't looking for Christensen to be a game-breaker, they are expecting some offensive improvement out of him. 

Frolov is also expected to have a bounce-back year, from his disappointing year with the Kings last year. Expect Frolov to be given every opportunity to not only play with Gaborik, but be one of the premiere players on the top power play unit. If Frolov can score 25-30 goals and add 35-45 assists expect the Rangers to re-up him at the end of the year. Don't forget that last year the Los Angeles Kings had him working on his two way game last year, which hindered his offense, it also took away time on the power play for him. He won't find this problem on the Rangers. 

Staal, Girardi, Rozsival and Del Zotto make up a ver solid top-4 defensive pairings, with Gilroy and McDonagh (if he makes the team) rounding out the group. Don't underestimate how valuable having a 7th defenseman is either, someone who can give guys like Del Zotto, McDonagh and Gilroy some rest to keep them fresh and confident during the season. It also keeps a fire under the defenseman's butts to know that their jobs aren't automatically guaranteed just because they made the club out of camp. 

Personally (don't forget I picked the Rangers to come second in the division last year, so I'm an optimist) I see this being a big year for the Rangers. I'm not saying that the Rangers are cup contenders, however, but I am saying that they are a playoff team who might surprise some people. Glen Sather had a magnificent off-season, and it will be great to see this team finally get onto the ice. 

GO RANGERS!

 

We're also doing a Five Burning Questions with the main SB Nation website. I came up with five of the most burning questions on Rangers fans minds before the season kicks off. Visit SB Nation to see how people reacted to my questions/answers. 

 

Five Burning Questions: 

1. Will Marian Gaborik remain healthy this year?

This is probably the biggest question being asked around Rangers' nation right now. And the answer is a resounding yes. What a lot of people don't realize is that Marian Gaborik's injuries were caused because of a faulty hip. When he was evaluated two years ago by Wild doctors he was told that his groin injuries were occurring because of his faulty hip (and obviously so were his hip flexor injuries). The reason behind this was because he was skating differently to deal with the pain in his hip, and that was causing his injuries. So when Gaborik opted to get hip corrective surgery he was also decreasing the chances of him hurting his groin again.

2. Will the Rangers give the kids a shot?

All indications are that the kids will get a legitimate shot at making the team. John Tortorella has made it known that he wanted to give guys like Ryan McDonagh, Evgeny Grachev and Derek Stepan long looks in camp, with McDonagh being a fan favorite to make the team in place in Wade Redden. Dale Weise and Dane Byers will also get looks to fill role positions on the team. The Rangers also have guys like Chris Kreider, Ethan Werek, Ryan Bourque and many others waiting in the wings and developing nicely.

Don't forget, however, that the Rangers have a lot of home grown talent already integrated into the team. Guys like Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Artem Anisimov and Matt Gilroy are all Rangers prospects who are 25-years-old or younger.

3. Will the Rangers find a way to get scoring from a guy not named Marian Gaborik this year?

If any question trumps the concern of Rangers fans more so than Gaborik's health, it's the team's scoring as a whole. The Rangers made a huge addition, grabbing Alexander Frolov (the second best scorer on the open market in my opinion) on a one-year $3 million contract. Frolov figures to help create more space for Gaborik, while also alleviating the scoring pressure from the 42-goal scorer as well.

Dubinsky also figures to equate into the secondary scoring department, scoring a career high 20 goal last year. Callahan also figures to help out, scoring 19 goals himself last year; and the Rangers have high hopes for Erik Christensen to continue his hot play as well. There is also some level of expectation for guys like Anisimov, Del Zotto and Gilroy to all have much-improved years as well.

4. Which youngster figures to have the biggest improvement this upcoming season?

Although a ton of Rangers fans would argue that the answer to this question is probably Artem Anisimov, I would have to give the nod to Michael Del Zotto. The reason behind my choice is mainly because last year Del Zotto jumped right from the juniors to the NHL, and still put up fantastic numbers. As a 19-year-old he scored nine goals and finished with 37 points, while averaging 19 minutes of ice time a night for the Rangers. Oh yeah, he also quarterbacked the power play from game one. The addition of Alexander Frolov should help create some more space for Del Zotto on the power play. And with a year of NHL seasoning the Rangers future star seems poised for a breakout year. 

5. Will Wade Redden actually be demoted to the AHL?

I take back everything I said before; this is the biggest question that Rangers fans are asking before this season kicks off. Honestly, every Ranger fan has his/her own opinion about the Redden saga; but the general consensus seems to be that he will be sent down the Hartford. It's no so much his play, but his $6.5 million cap hit that seems to seal his fate. With the re-signing of Marc Staal, there really doesn't seem to be any room for Redden, especially if Ryan McDonagh impresses in camp. Personally, and that's really what the answer to this question comes down to at this point, I see him in Hartford. But that's just me. 

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