Despite the early playoff exit, the incredibly frustrating powerplay, the inability of the top guys to take this team over the hump, and the severe ups and downs of the season (among other things), it's nearly impossible not to be excited about the future of this young team. In fact, the Rangers haven't been this young and promising in a very long time.
Moving into the offseason (I know it's still too early for some of us), I think it's time to be honest and direct about our roster. It's important to take a look at what we have currently (before July 1), and peg certain spots where upgrades are needed. Below, very simply, is my non-expert take on who we should keep, and who needs to be replaced. The "how to's" can come in the comments section... I don't have the answers for how to upgrade the roster, but I'll take a shot at some suggestions.
What we have (not necessarily in the best line combinations):
Prospal - EC - Gaborik
Dubi - AA - Cally
Avery - Stepan - Wolski
Feds - Boyle - Prust
Drury, Boogaard, and Frolov (no way he's coming back) need to be forgotten, in my opinion, for this team to take the next step. Now, ignoring Torts' line juggling, this may look like a reasonable line-up, even though we know it rarely looked just like this throughout the season.
Let's start from the bottom up. Personally, I believe that if we're going to contend for the Cup, that 4th line has to be just that: a 4th line. This team cannot use any more grinders; we need more skill up front.The 4th line that I have above was a great combination for much of the year. I would prefer to bring Fedex back for a year and keep them together, but we really can't rely on them for 3rd line duties and expect to contend.
Moving to the third line, the only person I'd prefer to keep in that role would be Stepan. Wolski has a ton of upside, we know... but we just didn't see the results; we need an upgrade in that position. I've made my thoughts on Avery clear through comments in the past, but considering the chemistry he showed with Boyle/Prust in the playoffs, I'd consider him as a 4th line option in place of Fedex.
The second line could develop into something special. I'd like to keep them there
The only true first liner we have is Gaborik (maybe Dubinsky, but I like him on the 2nd). We need to upgrade there, and badly. With the changes I've made, we see this:
( ) - ( ) - Gabby
Dubi - AA - Cally
( ) - Step - ( )
Feds/Avery - Boyle - Prust.
It is my belief, that if we truly want to take the next step, the team needs to find upgrades over Prospal, EC, Drury, Wolski, and maybe Avery. I'm leaving Boogaard and Frolov out of the equation for obvious reasons.
I know Drury as a NMC, so it's impossible to figure out a move there. There's talk of him retiring, but I'll buy that when I see it. Maybe Slats can convince him to take on a different role within the organization, or maybe they can buy him out. If not, maybe he plays third/fourth line minutes, and we are stuck with cheap stop-gaps in the holes.
Maybe Wolski can finish out his contract and have a solid year on the third line. If not, I see us needing at least another legit first liner for this team to improve even slightly next season. I get that EC is a cheap option, but really, where does he fit if not as a 13th forward?
If we can upgrade in at least 3 of these spots, we'll have a solid team.
I know that Louie posted something similar - I've worked on this a bit throughout the day, and his was posted before I could finish up after work. Either way, I like to see things like this above, in terms of lines, and which positions need an upgrade, so I'll post this anyway. And since Louie covered the D, I'll just say a few words there:
Staal - Girardi & McD - Sauer are pretty solid pairs. I'd like to keep them. If we can upgrade over McCabe - Gilroy/Eminger, then we gotta go for it.
However, I think we need to consider trading anybody, if it'll help fill out the D-core. For instance, trading one of our defensive minded D-men (and prospects?), for a legit puck mover to help mentor DelZotto. I don't think McCabe is that guy at this point in his career. What that'll do is give us a more well-rounded defense. We're grooming some serious shutdown guys, but the puck movement coming out of our own end is atrocious. What can we do to upgrade there?
Anyways... just some thoughts. I'm sure there will be plenty of discussion on free agents/trades over the next two months. I'm still sore from the loss, but also too excited to just stop thinking about the team and what can be done to improve it. If you took the time to read this... thanks.