The New York Rangers made a big splash in the free-agent market with the 9-year, $60 million signing of Brad Richards. Richards is an elite player at the center position in the NHL, and his talent is obvious. Over the past few days, weeks, and even months, Rangers fans everywhere have been doing their research and analyzing his ability. The general consensus seems to be that the signing of Brad Richards, although expensive, was a necessary addition to the Rangers organization. The feeling is deserved, as he is a unique player whose skills are needed in New York. He is a major aspect of building a Stanley Cup contender out of the New York Rangers.
However, the Brad Richards signing does not cure all of the Rangers ailments. It was made evident last year that the Rangers wanted a veteran presence on the blueline to complement to young group of homegrown defensemen working their way through the system. The addition of a veteran defenseman would aid in the development of the young corps, as well as provide a viable option to plug into the line-up in case one of the youngsters would struggle at the highest level of hockey in the world. Thus, the acquisition of Steve Eminger last July, acquired via trade with the Anaheim Ducks for Aaron Voros and Ryan Hillier. Eminger proved to be a competent option on the blueline, a functioning cog in the defensive machinery. Unfortunately, as the season progressed, Eminger began to falter and lose a step, eventually losing his spot in the line-up at an increasing pace.
The need for a solid veteran defenseman was palpable in the organization. Luckily, the Rangers seemed to have found the perfect match at the trade-deadline. That match was Bryan McCabe, traded to the New York Rangers from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Tim Kennedy and a 3rd-round pick. A heavy hitter with an even heavier shot, McCabe was seen as the solution to the Rangers inexperinced defense as well as a stagnant powerplay. As the season wound down and the Rangers made a push for the playoffs, McCabe was at times both brilliant and frustrating. He immediately became the biggest hitter and designated crease-clearer for the Blueshirts, and he even provided a few goals and assists from his big shot on the point. However, he showed signs of lethargy and indecisiveness during key moments in games. After the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs at the hands of the Washington Capitals, it seemed McCabe had seen his last days as a Ranger.
So the Rangers entered the 2011 free-agency market back at square one, with an abundance of talented, albeit young defenseman. Again, questions have arisen regarding the Ranger blueline. Do the Rangers REALLY need another defenseman? Aren't our youngsters good? Does a veteran defenseman actually DO anything for a team? The answer to all 3 questions is amazingly... yes.
Although it seems rather obvious that the Rangers have depth at defense, another defenseman is not a luxury, it is a necessity. The youngsters we have seen have shown fantastic potential, such as Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, and Michael Del Zotto. Also, names such as Tim Erixon, Dylan McIlrath, Pavel Valentenko, and several others pop-up frequently as potential Rangers when the 2011-2012 season comes around. The young Rangers defenseman are good, but they all lack a vital part of a winning team: experience. There's a reason why veteran defenseman are gems during the trade-deadline and free agency. They can provide a critical boost to a team making a playoff push or looking for a team that wants that final piece in the puzzle to bolster their defense to win the Stanley Cup. This is exactly what the Rangers need. I know, I know... YOUTH MOVEMENT!!! We all want to see the rookies show up at training camp and earn their spots. We have created a flourishing system of young, talented hockey players that we all love to see and want to keep. However, not all of these players can make the team and the necessity of a veteran blueliner is prevalent. Let's take a look at the last 5 Stanley Cup Champions since the lockout.
Note: Players who played significant games during the regular season or played during the Stanley Cup Playoffs
Carolina Hurricanes (2006) - Anton Babchuk (22), Mike Commodore (26), Bret Hedican (35), Andrew Hutchinson (26), Frantisek Kaberle (32), Oleg Tverdovsky (30), Niclas Wallin (31), Aaron Ward (33), Glen Wesley (37). AVERAGE AGE = 30.23
Anaheim Ducks (2007) - Francois Beachemin (27), Joe DiPenta (28), Kent Huskins (28), Richard Jackman (29), Scott Niedermayer (33), Sean O'Donnell (35), Chris Pronger (32), Aaron Rome (23). AVERAGE AGE = 29.38
Detroit Red Wings (2008) - Chris Chelios (46), Jonathon Ericsson (24), Nicklas Kronwall (27), Brett Lebda (26), Nicklas Lidstrom (38), Andreas Lilja (32), Derek Meech (24), Kyle Quincey (23), Brian Rafalski (34), Garret Stafford (28), Brad Stuart (28). AVERAGE AGE = 30
Pittsburgh Penguins (2009) - Philippe Boucher (36), Mark Eaton (32), Hal Gill (34), Alex Goligoski (23), Sergei Gonchar (35), Kristopher Letang (22), Ben Lovejoy (25), Brooks Orpik (28), Rob Scuderi (30). AVERAGE AGE = 29.44
Chicago Blackhawks (2010) - Nick Boynton (31), Brian Campbell (31), Jordan Hendry (26), Nickal Hjalmarsson (22), Kim Johnsson (34), Duncan Keith (26), Brent Seabrook (25), Brent Sopel (33). AVERAGE AGE = 28.5
Boston Bruins (2011) - Johnny Boychuck (27), Zdeno Chara (34), Andrew Ference (32), Matt Hunwick (26), Tomas Kaberle (33), Steven Kampfer (22), Adam McQuaid (24), Dennis Seidenberg (29), Mark Stuart (27). AVERAGE AGE = 28.22
Now, as it can be seen in the data, the average age of the defensemen on the Stanley Cup winning teams hovers right around 30 years old. Also, it can be seen that several of these teams have young defensemen, much like our beloved New York Rangers. However, each and every team which has won the Stanley Cup in the past 5 years has AT LEAST 2 major veterans on the blueline. The Carolina Hurricanes had Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican. The Anaheim Ducks had Scott Niedermayer and Sean O'Donnell. The Detroit Red WIngs had Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, and Brian Rafalski. The Pittsburgh Penguins had Sergei Gonchar and Hal Gill. The Chicago Blackhawks had Kim Johnsson and Brent Sopel. The Boston Bruins had Zdeno Chara and Tomas Kaberle. The importance of these defensemen for these teams can't be understated due to a quality they had that simply can't be taught: experience.
The New York Rangers currently only have 5 defensemen signed who have played at the NHL level. I do not count Wade Redden in this group, as his days as a New York Ranger seem to be all but officially over. These defensemen are as follows:
Michael Del Zotto (21), Daniel Girardi (27), Ryan McDonagh (22), Michael Sauer (23), and Marc Staal (24). AVERAGE AGE = 23.4
23.4 years old... that is what the New York Rangers have on defense. A staggeringly low number which seems wonderful due to its implications of a bright future, but startling due to its implications of an inexperienced and unpredictable present. The Rangers made a big move by signing Brad Richards, but their attention should now be towards the blueline again. A veteran defenseman can change the look and, especially, the mentality of a team. The Rangers are a team that could use that kind of a makeover on defense. I love the young group of defensemen currently in the system as much as the next guy, but adding a veteran for a good price could be huge. Whether it is through trade or free agency (Although the market has been thinned as an abundance of the UFA veteran defenseman have been signed. See what I mean? They go quickly!) the Rangers should look to add some veteran depth on the blueline to stabilize the team. It could mean the difference between a summer spent playing golf or parading through the city.