Guess who? (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The New York Rangers currently have 14 defensemen under contract and they will hopefully soon add Michael Del Zotto to that list. The Rangers saw John Scott and Jeff Woywitka depart via free agency and they dealt the top defensive prospect in the system, Tim Erixon, to Columbus in the Rick Nash deal. The top two defensive pairs are all but set in stone but there remains a serious question mark about the third defensive pair and who is going to play on Michael Del Zotto's right side.
The Rangers need someone who can cover for Del Zotto's aggressive play and perhaps even help him along in terms of development. I for one am not confident in Stu Bickel balancing out the third pair. I think the Rangers should take a second look at the free agent market and look at right-handed defensemen that are still available. Ladies and gentlemen of the Banter, I think the Rangers should take another look at Michal Rozsival.
After you're done booing join me for more after the jumpity jump...
With Mike Sauer's return still very much up in the air the team looks like it will turn to Stu Bickel to play on Del Zotto's right side. In an ideal world Bickel would be the 7th defenseman on this team and we could all be looking forward to the return of Mike Sauer, but reports on his recovery have been inconsistent and discouraging. The Rangers signed Bickel to a two-year deal this offseason to keep him in New York. Bickel brings size and plenty of toughness to the lineup but is not exactly what I would call reliable, even on the third pairing. If being a good defenseman meant punching people in the face repeatedly, Bicks would be well on his way to the Norris Trophy. However, having a zeal for fisticuffs isn't a necessary trait for a good, solid blueliner in the NHL.
In the playoffs Coach Tortorella gave Stu Bickel 5:09 TOI/G, which was an entire minute of ice time less than he gave Mike Rupp. Can the Rangers really and truly feel confident about plugging Bickel into the lineup and expect the third pair to look any better than it did in the playoffs last year? I don't know about you guys, but whenever it was MDZ and Bickel out there for the Rangers I felt like they were baby gazelles being toyed with by a pack of lions. To be fair to Bickel, he was a 25 year old rookie last year and did a fine job in his 51 regular season games.
So, why do I think the Rangers should take a look at Michal Rozsival? Take a minute here to boo again and get it out of your system. Last year Rozi played 54 games (he was concussed by a puck in the season opener last year and missed two months of hockey), managed 13 points, and averaged 19:19 TOI/G. He had a solid playoff performance for the Phoenix Coyotes and was on the ice more than all of Phoenix's skaters except Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Derek Morris.
Rozi will be 34 when the season starts and might welcome the idea of playing a smaller role on a team's blueline, he also happens to still be out of a job and the Rangers might want to entertain the idea of offering him a chance to play on a highly-competitive team. If he were to return things would be very different than they were when he was a Ranger two years ago before he was dealt for Wojtek Wolski. Without the pressure of running the powerplay, Rozsival could focus on helping to develop and cover for Michael Del Zotto and bring a veteran presence to the Rangers blueline.
Perhaps Rozsival isn't looking to play a minor role and perhaps he wants nothing to do with the New York Rangers and their fanbase (would you blame him?) but if he is still a free agent as the season draws nearer, the Rangers might want to consider seeing where he stands and if he'd like to return to New York. My guess is that Rozsival might not feel that he is at the stage in his career where he is a placeholder or even a third-pair defenseman. Rozsival, at this stage of his career, is probably still a second-pair defenseman and he certainly won't be getting that kind of ice time in New York. In the unlikely event that he is interested in returning to Broadway he would have to take a serious pay cut and be a much smaller hit on the salary cap than his previous contract (a four-year deal worth $20 million). Still, it's important to keep in mind that Rozsival is well-known by the coaching staff and several of the Rangers current players. He just might be a great fit if the price right and if he is open to the idea of playing a smaller role.
Another option for the Rangers would be to bring back Steve Eminger as an insurance policy and to give the blueline some depth. What can you say about Steve Eminger without using the phrase, "he's... alright I guess."? Emmy has been a good soldier for John Tortorella and has done whatever he has been asked to do; he has played the left side and the right side and has even played forward (as has Bickel) when the team needed him to. Eminger, 28, remains a UFA and was signed last summer by the Rangers to a one-year deal worth $800k. If the Rangers don't feel confident about one of blueliners from the AHL being capable of coming up and playing on the third pair in case of injury, they should certainly talk to Steve Eminger about returning to the club and filling the role of the 7th defenseman.
I am sure there are plenty of Ranger fans who think that the blueline is fine as it is and the club doesn't need to sign anyone. I am sure there are even more Ranger fans who think that the Rangers really should add an insurance policy in case Stu Bickel just isn't good enough but don't think that the team needs to go after Michal Rozsival (of all people) or pursue the mediocrity that is Steve Eminger. However, the blueliners who are still available, especially the right-handers, aren't exactly what I would call "desirable". Kurtis Foster, Matt Gilroy, Kurt Sauer, Radek Martinek, and Milan Jurcina are the remaining right-handed blueliners with NHL experience (not counting players who played overseas last year) still waiting for a team to give them a call. All of a sudden Steve Eminger and Michal Rozsival look a little bit more attractive, don't they?
If you still aren't sold I can't really blame you, I am not entirely sold myself. As a Ranger fan I can't honestly say that I envision success for Rozsival should he ever return to New York (maybe he can only play road games?) and I think that it is probably for the best to give some of the kids and the AHL-level defensemen we signed in the offseason a chance to impress the coaches and earn the 7th defenseman spot. Maybe I am worrying too much about the severity of Mike Sauer's injury and should be content with Bickel as a placeholder until we get him back. Then again, maybe the Rangers should see what it would cost to bring Rozsival or Eminger back to Broadway for one more year. It couldn't hurt, could it?
If neither of them picks up their cell phones does anyone still have
Alexei Semenov's Alexei Semenov's wife's number?
So what do you guys think? Are the Rangers all set with the players currently under contract (including MDZ) or do they need to go out and add an insurance policy to give the blueline some more depth?