New York Rangers Analysis: Is This The End Of Erik Christensen?

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: (L-R) Brian Boyle #22 and Erik Christensen #26 of the New York Rangers celebrate after Christensen scored a second period goal against the Washington Capitals in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 17, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Glen Sather walked into this off season with a plan. He hit every bullet point; getting coveted free agent Brad Richards, signing Mike Rupp to fill the tough-guy role and he got all five of the New York Rangers restricted free agents under contract without a single arbitration hearing. 

Today marks the beginning of a second buyout period lasting 48 hours for the Rangers. The team is not expected to buy out anyone though, according to Andrew Gross. That doesn't, however, mean that every player on the Rangers roster is safe. 

Currently, the Rangers are under the cap by roughly $702,116. That figure includes every Rangers player you would expect, including Mats Zuccarello and Tim Erixon (both coming in at $1.75 cap hits). The figure does not include Michael Del Zotto, however. 

For the purpose of this post, I will assume Erixon makes the team. The organization is astoundingly high on the top-flight defenseman, and by all indications the roster spot is his to lose at camp. Erixon has already played 20 minutes a night in the SEL, and has showed signs to be a very effective two-way defenseman, with the assets to potentially quarterback the power play. 

With that said, it's Del Zotto that might end Christensen's tenure with the Rangers. Join me after the jump to find out why.

While Erixon's spot on the team seems all but assured, Del Zotto's does not. Del Zotto started last year with the big club, but fell into the "sophomore slump" and never made much of an impact. He seemed to lose the confidence in his game he had from his rookie season, and was eventually sent down to the AHL to work on his game. 

I was lucky enough to get cedentialed to a few Connecticut Whale games this season, and I got to see Del Zotto play in three of them. Although his numbers (seven assists in 11 games) might not be jaw-dropping, he played with a confidence I hadn't seen since his rookie season with the Rangers. 

His attitude in the locker room was about as good as it could be. And he knew that he needed to take some time to find his game before he could expect to make a difference with the big club. I can't speak for eight of the other games he played in, but the times I got to see him play he was a brilliant distributor who created scoring chances constantly.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I believe Del Zotto will have a serious chance to make the team out of camp, moving Steve Eminger into the seventh defenseman spot. If Del Zotto does make the team though, the Rangers would be roughly $300,000 above the cap. 

Which brings us to Christensen. Christensen has a cap hit of $900,000, which, if removed, would give the Rangers plenty of room to fit Del Zotto under the cap. The Rangers wouldn't buy our Christensen, since there's no need to pay the buyout penalty, they would just send him down to the AHL. Sending him down would relieve the entire cap hit, with no penalty. 

While Christensen filled an important role for the Rangers the past two seasons, the Richards signing diminished his use significantly. While Christensen floated on and off the first line, responsible for dishing the puck to sniper Marian Gaborik, that role now belongs to Richards. 

Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan and Brian Boyle seem to have the other center positions locked down as well. And that's not even including Brandon Dubinsky, who many think might play on the other wing of the Richards-Gaborik line. 

Christensen also saw some time as a left winger last season, but that's a position that has names like Wojtek Wolski, Sean Avery, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust holding down roster spots. That, also, doesn't include Dubinsky if he ends up playing on the first line. 

On the right side the Rangers have Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik, both whom are the Rangers only true right wingers. But Boyle, Stepan and Zuccarello also saw time on the right side of the ice, and will probably see minutes there next season as well. 

While Christensen brings an enigma talent to the team, it would seem that his roster spot (and money) would be better suited on Del Zotto. Christensen did notch 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points in 63 games last year, but that's production Del Zotto can actually not only reach, but surpass as well. 

Obviously a lot of this depends on wether or not Del Zotto makes the team out of camp. Zuccarello not making the team would also allow the Rangers to keep both Del Zotto and Christensen on the roster. But that remains to be seen as of right now. 

Thoughts on all this guys? 

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