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2014 Report Cards: Justin Falk's Bad Audition

The brief experiment of Justin Falk as the Rangers 7th defenseman ended quite abruptly when the Rangers acquired Raphael Diaz who was, quite simply, better at this whole "hockey" thing.

Great smile Falky.
Great smile Falky.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

He Cost us Benn Ferriero and a 6th Round Pick!

The Rangers acquired Justin Falk from the Minnesota Wild on June 30th of 2013 and signed the big blueliner to a one-year deal worth $925,000 on July 10th, 2013. Falk, now 26 years-old, was brought in to replace Steve Eminger (and Stu Bickel) as the Rangers' seventh defenseman. In 21 regular season games  in 2013-14 Falk picked up two assists, 21 PIM, two fighting majors, and registered 10 shots on net. If you told me that you don't remember Falk playing as a New York Ranger in the 2013-14 regular season, I would believe you. Falk averaged just 11:55 TOI/G over his 21 regular season games with the Rangers and hardly left a glowing impression. However, he was quite a bit better than Stu Bickel... so there's that to keep in mind.

He was big, he was slow, he went to the penalty box more often than any of us liked, and he often appeared to be out of position or chasing the play. With all that being said, he was the Rangers seventh defenseman and it could have been a lot worse (it could have been Stu Bickel). Falk was physical as a Ranger, which was apparently something that he struggled with as a Minnesota Wild, and even though it was easy to pick up on his mistakes, he was hardly playing differently from what he was advertised as. Falk might have what it takes to crack a third pair somewhere in the league but on the Rangers blue line he was deservedly the guy left without a spot on the ice when the music stopped. His lack of speed and uninspiring play inspired Glen Sather to pull the trigger on deadline day to move someone in front of him on the Rangers' depth chart.

Replaced as the Seventh Defenseman

On deadline day the Rangers sent a 2015 5th round pick to the Vancouver Canucks for Raphael Diaz. The trade instantly gave the Rangers an enviable amount of blue line depth while effectively ending Justin Falk's 2013-14 season. After the Rangers acquired Diaz, Justin Falk never dressed another game in the regular season and he made no appearances with the Rangers in the 2014 NHL Playoffs. Diaz gave the Rangers a right-handed blueliner that could move the puck and skate and bring something to the second power play unit. The best that Falk could bring to the team was a big body that wasn't afraid to defend his teammates or get involved after the whistle. Glen Sather recognized that the Rangers needed something more on the blue line and he knew that Justin Falk wasn't it. Although he didn't get a very long audition for the role, it was apparently long enough for the Rangers to move on and look elsewhere for their seventh d-man. Quite the short-lived experiment for someone the Rangers went out of their way to get. Apparently Falk was a gamble that the Rangers were interested in taking during the 2013 offseason, it's a shame that he didn't make a better impression with his limited role while he had a chance to.

UFA Status

The Rangers didn't qualify Justin Falk, who was a restricted free agent, which means that Falk is now an unrestricted free agent that could end up signing and playing anywhere. With Mike Kostka signing with the Rangers and Diaz still available on the open market, I'd bet Joe Fortunato's life savings on Falk's career as a Ranger being over unless he is brought back to play in Hartford. And, to be honest, even that scenario is unlikely. My hope for Falk is that he finds a new home with a team that is currently rebuilding or has an organizational need for blue line depth and that he impresses with whatever ice time he is given. Maybe Falk will get another chance to prove that he belongs in the NHL next season. Falk is about as big as they come and he moves relatively well for a guy his size, but he stuck out like turtle racing a bunch of ferrets when he was playing with Vigneault's Rangers. Good luck with the rest of your career Falky.