April 5, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) handles the puck under pressure from Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Before we get into this article, I just want to begin by saying this: What happened to Michael Sauer is a tragedy, and we wish him the quickest recovery possible. This article is written from the "business" side of hockey, but the important thing for Sauer is to get his life -- not his playing career -- back in shape. So while the topics we will discuss might seem raw, it's a discussion the New York Rangers simply need to have. However, it is my biggest hope that Sauer can reclaim his life first, and then his career with the Rangers. With that being said, here we go:
It might be less than a week since the Rangers' season was ended by the New Jersey Devils, but the offseason has already kicked into high-gear, with the Rangers signing both Jesper Fast and Marek Hrivik over the past two days. And while it's clear what the Rangers will be targeting when the 2012 NHL Free Agency season opens on July 1st -- scoring reinforcements -- what's unclear is what the Rangers will do on the back end.
Join me after the jump for more.
The reality of the situation is that the Sauer news is grim, at best. Since his injury in early December (and his setback in January) there has been no news about his injury. That's not an exaggeration, there has literally been no news on his status. And with a head injury, that's only a bad thing.
At this stage in the game, it doesn't seem like a comeback for next season is likely. This from Andrew Gross:
Defenseman Michael Sauer was at the facility today and did meet with coach John Tortorella, though not with the media. Tortorella said Sauer was not where he needed to be to begin offseason training so, as such, the Rangers can't count on Sauer for the start of next season.
So the real question becomes: Should the Rangers look for top-four help at the back? Since the Rangers can't count on Sauer to be back for the start of the season, can they count on him to be back at all? Can the team afford to risk him coming back mid-season?
There are a ton of factors at play here, and with one of the biggest free agent names in the pond available -- Ryan Suter -- it should be interesting to see who the Rangers target, and where they're pooling their resources.
On a personal level, I wouldn't put any trust in Sauer being back next season. I think the Rangers should shut him down -- as they have been doing -- and keep him away from the ice until he gets back to 100% health. He needs to worry about his life first and his hockey career second. With that being said, the Rangers do have three top-four defenseman now (Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh) and a defenseman who was relied on for top-four duty last year (Michael Del Zotto) but regressed a little towards the end of the playoffs.
There is an ideology that the Rangers are going to want to bring back Anton Stralman, although as of right now it doesn't seem as though both sides are on the same page -- Stralman has said it would be a "family decision." It's also expected that highly-touted defensive prospect Tim Erixon will make the team out of camp, giving the Rangers five defenseman (six if Stralman signs) they can worth with as their top-five. There's also Stu Bickel to consider, a rookie who seemed to find his way onto John Tortorella's good side despite his very, very limited playoff minutes.
Are you comfortable with the Rangers running this at the back:
Bickel (Rotating as the 7th defenseman)
I wouldn't say it's bad. I also wouldn't say that third pairing (with two players who most likely wouldn't be paired at all) instills a ton of confidence.
So, understanding that the main priority is on Sauer's health, what do you think the Rangers should do? Should they make a move for Suter? Look for a veteran presence to shore up the defense? Or stick with what they have? Don't forget the Rangers have 2010 first-round pick Dylan McIlrath waiting in the wings -- although I wouldn't say he's ready for an NHL position just yet.