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  Articles > NHL > Rangers
 Rangers Quiet at Trade Deadline, Ensure Youth is Top Priority

What, you were expecting Glen Sather to make blockbuster deals yesterday afternoon?

Many apologies to anyone disappointed by that statement. But the fact the Rangers maligned GM stood pat yesterday and decided against trading any of his young assets was the best decision for a franchise committed to its youth.

The Rangers passed on the chance to acquire playmaking C Brad Richards from Dallas. For weeks, it was reported that Richards to the Rangers was almost a certainty and he would only waive his no-trade clause to be reunited with John Tortorella, the coach he played with in Tampa Bay when they won the Stanley Cup in 2004 along with his Conn Smythe trophy.

However, Stars GM and former NHL great Joe Nieuwendyk, amongst season-long ownership strife, attempted to hold Glen Sather ransom by asking for the moon to acquire Richards. Sather never bit, Nieuwendyk never lowered his asking price for Richards, and a deal never took place; and for good reason. Had the Rangers pulled the trigger for Richards, the backlash from Rangers fans towards Sather would have been apocalyptic.

The rumored package Nieuwendyk asked for included names such as Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, Ryan McDonagh, and Brandon Dubinsky. Not to mention draft picks as well. If any of those names had be included in a deal to acquire a player still experiencing post-concussion symptoms, something mentioned rarely yesterday, the Rangers’ franchise would have been set back several seasons in their rebuilding process.

Don’t get me wrong; Richards is one of the elite centers in the NHL and could be the answer to Marian Gaborik’s scoring woes. He’s routinely in the top 10 in points for a center and one of the best passers in the league. Yet, he’s 31 years old, a $7.8 million cap hit, a free agent at season’s end and not likely to come down from that number in new contract negotiations.

Coupled with the news that Dallas will go hard after him in the offseason, it’s not a given Brad Richards will end up on Broadway for next season. And maybe that’s a good thing. For the Rangers to even entertain the notion of bringing Richards in, Sather will have to execute serious cap-space maneuvering considering Wade Redden’s $6.5 million cap-hit will return in the summer, Chris Drury is still on the hook for $7 million next year, and New York has 11 free agents to make decisions on.

New York had the opportunities to make several deals yesterday and decided against doing them. David Pagnotta, editor-in-chief over at the Fourth Period, had some interesting news about deals that didn’t go down at the deadline. Pagnotta wrote that Glen Sather apparently dangled Michael Del Zotto as “bait” in an effort to acquire F Ales Hemsky from Edmonton. It really is true that sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

Looking at what the Rangers did do at the deadline and leading up to it, you have to be pleased. They acquired a veteran defenseman in Bryan McCabe for a young forward tolling in the AHL in Tim Kennedy and a 3rd round pick.

Several weeks ago I wrote the Rangers should pass on him because of the rumored price to acquire him and should go a cheaper route. And once again, this is why I write articles and the GM’s get paid to do their jobs. Sather was able to bring in McCabe without surrendering any valuable pieces, a win in any trade you execute.

To replace Kennedy at Connecticut, Sather acquired AHL center John Mitchell right at the deadline for a 7th round pick in 2012, a depth move at best considering Mitchell would have to clear re-entry waivers if the Rangers called him up.

All in all, it was a great deadline day for the Rangers. The saying “less is more” couldn’t be more relevant to the state the franchise is in. They’ve been saying to the media all season long that they’re committed to the kids developing and playing important minutes with the big club. Now that the trade deadline has come and gone and no reinforcements were brought in, it will be up to the kids to get the job done and make it to the postseason.

 Young Guns Sauer & McDonagh Impressive for Rangers

At the beginning of training camp this season, the names Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh were not atop the list of defenseman making the Rangers opening night roster in Buffalo and for good reason; they are rookies.

However, on Feb 24th, both Sauer and McDonagh are not only playing for the big club but also logging important minutes as a reliable defense pair and contributing to the overall success of the team. Although, both players have traveled different roads this season to arrive on Broadway.

Michael Sauer, a 2nd round draft pick in 2005, has been in the Rangers organization for 6 years, constantly working at his game to get his chance at playing in the NHL. Although, he’d be the first to tell you it hasn’t been easy. Sauer has dealt with a multitude of injuries that, from the outset, interfered with his young career from getting started.

Sauer has also been pushed down the depth chart from the emergence of other prospects as well as free agent signings. Players like Michael Del Zotto, drafted in 2009, exploded on to the scene. Hobey Baker award winner Matt Gilroy was signed to a 2-year contract in the same year with the hopes of adding offense and speed to the back line. We won’t mention what the Wade Redden signing has meant to the Rangers; it hurts too much.

All the obstacles in Sauer’s path didn’t stop him from developing his game down in Hartford and waiting patiently for his chance. A chance that came about in training camp this season.

With coach Tortorella steadfast in assimilating more youth into the Rangers, he was keen on seeing what Sauer’s game could bring to the team. After seeing his poise and penchant for making simple plays on defense, he felt Sauer was primed to make the team ahead of other players like Alexei Semenov, Pavel Valentenko, and Ryan McDonagh.

Since opening night, Sauer has progressed in each game he’s played in. He’s earned the trust of his head coach, meaning Sauer has played more minutes and in key situations. Plus, within the past 3-4 weeks, Sauer has arguably been one of the best Rangers defensemen – a bold assessment considering Marc Staal and Dan Girardi playing 26 minutes a night.

As for Ryan McDonagh, the St Paul, Minn. native has experienced a much different journey. McDonagh, originally drafted 12th overall in 2007, was part of the trade that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal and brought back Chris Higgins, defenseman Pavel Valentenko along with McDonagh. Rangers’ fans rejoiced, seeing a disappointing player and his bloated contract sent out for younger players. On the other hand, Montreal fans writhed in anger, watching a potential stud on defense leave for New York.

He signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers on July 6th, 2010, deciding to leave the University of Wisconsin to play professional hockey. His teammate at Wisconsin, Derek Stepan, did the same as well.

In training camp, Rangers management was happy with their observations of McDonagh. He possessed speed, a good first pass out of his zone and quick decision-making. However, they felt some time in Hartford would be good for his development in an effort to ease his way in to playing at the NHL level. He took the news in stride and went about his business.

On Jan. 7th, McDonagh’s chance came, he was recalled by the New York Rangers and played in his first NHL game against the Dallas Stars. The games to follow were a showcase to Rangers management to what McDonagh could handle at the NHL level. Seeing the team needed some scoring punch and feeling comfortable in McDonagh’s play, the team traded veteran Michal Rosival, the longest tenured Rangers defenseman, to Phoenix for Wojtek Wolski. The trade indicated that, despite having one of the youngest defense corps in the NHL, the Rangers were confident they could win with McDonagh playing every game. And so far, McDonagh has not disappointed.

Both Sauer and McDonagh were paired up and have formed a consistent, reliable pairing behind the shutdown Staal-Girardi tandem, helping Tortorella find defenseman who can play confidently while Del Zotto and Gilroy, in their 2nd seasons, try to find their games.

The successes of the Rangers for the rest of this season and for season’s beyond will be associated with their youth. They have committed to playing their young players and developing them in order to achieve long-term success and building a contender. With Sauer and McDonagh, the Rangers have found a young, dependable defense pairing that can play for the Rangers for the next decade.

 Is Del Zotto Being Mishandled by the Rangers?

Photo by Bari D

When the Rangers drafted Michael Del Zotto in the summer of 2008, they envisioned the first round pick quarterbacking their power play for the next decade, giving them an offensive talent similar to Brian Leetch. What they didn’t expect was for the defenseman’s young career to be in danger before it even gets truly started.

Del Zotto’s rookie campaign gave Rangers’ fans something to hope for. As the youngest defenseman ever (19) to start for the Rangers on Opening Night, Del Zotto scored 12 points in his first 14 games, coming out of nowhere to impress all onlookers. His poise and confidence on the power play gave coach Tortorella a dangerous weapon from the backline.

However, the brash rookie played in 80 of 82 games in his first season. That’s not the ideal situation for a young defenseman, which typically take longer to develop than forwards.

Ideally, Tortorella wanted Del Zotto in juniors to develop his game last season, but due to the lack of options and how well he played in the preseason, Del Zotto played his way on to the team.

In his second year on Broadway, Del Zotto hasn’t been able to match his production or his confidence from a season ago. He’s making the same mistakes consistently – a classic mistake for inexperienced players.

His signature “home run” pass out of his own end is not clicking like it was last season. His shot routinely misses the net. His lack of physical play is hampering his defensive positioning. His giveaways have cost the Rangers points, some in late-game situations.

The mismanagement, however, has come from the coaching staff. Despite turning his team into a hard-working, tenacious fore-checking unit this season, Tortorella has sent mixed messages to what Del Zotto’s role is on the team and what he needs to do to continue to develop.

When the Rangers initially sent down Del Zotto to Connecticut Jan. 3rd, it was to work on those exact things. He was only recalled due to an injury to Dan Girardi and not because Tortorella liked where his game had progressed. When Girardi returned from injury, Del Zotto surprisingly wasn’t sent back down and the problems began to escalate.

Del Zotto’s 2nd stint on the team has shown his confidence regress even further to the point where the coaching staff is hesitant to play him in all situations.

After a turnover that led to a penalty down in Atlanta last Friday, Del Zotto was seen on the bench being scolded by Tortorella and the look on Del Zotto’s face said it all; crippling fear of making a mistake and the consequences of them.

With other defenseman like Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy not playing any better and the team without any veteran options, the Rangers have hamstrung themselves; they have no alternative but to play Del Zotto.

The best course of action for the Rangers is to find a veteran defenseman between now and the trade deadline (Feb 28th). Players like Bryan McCabe Chris Phillips and Tomas Kaberle will command too much in a trade. Cheap, low-key defensemen like Jim Vandermeer (EDM), Hal Gill (MTL), or Steve Staois (CGY) should be brought in so Del Zotto can be sent down to Connecticut. There, he’ll be able to play 25-26 minutes a night and play in all situations to hopefully restore the confidence back in his game.

Whatever the decision the Rangers make on Del Zotto needs to be made quickly and must be carried out – it’s only for his benefit. If Del Zotto isn’t straightened out soon, he could very well turn into another Rangers 1st-round bust.

 Sather Willing to Listen to Offers for Gaborik, But Should He Pull the Trigger?

“The Rangers have traded RW Marian Gaborik to…” What would the reaction be by Rangers fans on Feb. 28th (Trade Deadline) to see a sentence start out like that? Some might be overjoyed considering how far Gaborik’s star has fallen this year. I’ll tell you what it should be: outrage and sheer panic.

Gaborik has not come close at all to matching his sensational output from a year ago, when he would step foot on the ice and immediately become a threat offensively. To date, the 28-year-old Slovakian only has 16 goals and 18 assists in 42 games – paltry numbers for a player of that caliber. Although, what’s troublesome about those numbers is that 10 of his goals have come in 3 games, including a 4-goal frenzy against the Toronto Maple Leafs a few weeks back. Gaborik also had an assist in each of those 3 games. An optimistic Rangers fan might be happy that Gaborik has 3 hat tricks this season. However, a realistic Rangers fan removes those games from his line and discovers Gaborik has collected a meager 6 goals and 15 assists in 39 games.

Despite the drop in production and what looks to be malaise on the ice occasionally from the gifted sniper, it doesn’t mean pull the panic button and close the book on him in only his 2nd year on Broadway. New York is an extremely tough city to perform in. The passionate fans and relentless media coverage can be overwhelming. Yet, Gaborik proved last year he could play here. On the other hand, GM Glen Sather wouldn’t be doing his job if wasn’t listening to offers for his players. But what is “listening” mean anyways in terms of being a GM?

New Jersey could call up and say “We’ll give you Rod Pelley and a 7-th round draft pick for Marian Gaborik. Whaddya say?” Obviously, Sather will listen for roughly 15 seconds before promptly hanging up the phone and erasing Lou Lamariello’s from his contacts forever. But what if the GM of the L.A. Kings, a young team with talent, struggling offensively and looking to make a huge push to the playoffs, offers an NHL ready player, or a highly touted prospect along with draft picks for Gaborik’s services? Sounds tempting, it frees up cap space and makes the team younger for the future. Sather would have due diligence to at least “listen” to the offer. One of his objectives is to see how he can improve the product he puts out on the ice as well.

Would he do a deal like that, with his own team mired in the same struggles and on the playoff bubble? Not a chance. If they were in 10 points out of the playoffs, going nowhere, and having no legitimate chance then Sather would be inclined to entertain a deal like that further. It would signal the Rangers are looking towards next season and beyond.

But the Rangers are still in the thick of things with less than 30 games to go. Which means Marian Gaborik is going nowhere. He is the lone game-changing talent on the team. To trade him away would be playoff suicide for the Rangers. It would prompt unmerciful hatred towards the already disliked Glen Sather.

Fans must be patient with Marian Gaborik. At some point, with the level of talent he possesses, he will turn things around. I hate to sound cliché but it’s warranted here: Ranger fans won’t know what they have in Gaborik until he’s gone.

 Rangers Passing on Souray Shows Commitment to Kids

These aren’t the Rangers of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

If they were, fans might see a line up full of over-the-hill, aging stars still trying to relive their glory days. Players still trying to hang on and collecting a rather generous paycheck. Such was the case for what seemed an eternity for the Rangers. Take a look at the 02-03’ team for example, a lineup that included Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, Mark Messier, Vladimir Malakhov, Darius Kasparaitis and would end up acquiring Alexei Kovalev for a 2nd stint. A virtual all-star game line up, which still had Ranger greats Mike Richter and Brain Leetch on it. It was a team that went nowhere for 7 straight seasons. However, as the adage goes, you can’t live in the past.

After watching Souray play, the Rangers decided to pass. Maybe they feel his $5.4 million dollar cap hit (if acquired on re-entry waivers, Rangers would be on the hook for $2.7) wasn’t worth it for the next season and a half for the 34-year-old. Maybe Ranger brass feels Souray has Wade Redden syndrome and didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. Whatever the case, passing on Souray is the best move for the Rangers at this point.

If this were the Rangers of old, Souray would have been here in half a heartbeat. And maybe he would help the Rangers power play and help turn things around. But, that’s a short-term, shortsighted viewpoint. In the new cap world of the NHL, Souray’s cap hit would be too detrimental considering the Rangers are too close to the cap and have numerous contracts expiring at season’s end. The Rangers aren’t willing to sacrifice potential long-term growth for short-term success. Thankfully to Rangers’ fans, Souray doesn’t fit in to their plans.

Having a defender quarterback a team’s power play is essential to making your offensive a threat. The Rangers believe they have that type of player in 20-year-old Michael Del Zotto. He isn’t there yet and his struggles with confidence and overall play this season show that. Not investing more time in acquiring Souray is an indicator that the Rangers believe Del Zotto is the future of their blueline.

The trade deadline is on February 28th. The Rangers boast one of the youngest defensive corps in the NHL. Since they lack a veteran with experience on the back end, a defenseman could still be added for the playoff run. However, it won’t come at the expense of the youth of the Rangers. If it does, New York will simply just have to pass on it.

 Prospal’s Return Key For Rangers Playoff Push

Amongst all the injury woes during the Rangers’ resilient season thus far, a silver lining will occur tonight on the 54th game of the season; Vinny Prospal makes his season debut at MSG against the New Jersey Devils tonight after being out year recovering from knee surgery. It couldn’t come any sooner for the Rangers, who have struggled offensively all season long.

The 35-year-old center (soon to be 36) will have Marian Gaborik, his partner in production last year, riding shotgun once again. After being put together at the beginning of last season by coach Tortorella, Prospal and Gaborik sparked instant chemistry, which propelled Gaborik to a 42-goal, 86-point campaign while Prospal scored 58 points of his own.

The same has not happened this season. With Prospal out, Gaborik has been searching for consistency all year, seeing time with Artem Anisimov, Erik Christensen, Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan, unable to find that missing piece to his offensive game. You can attribute the inconsistency to Gaborik being out nearly a month nursing a shoulder separation; losing that much time can really throw your timing and offensive flow. Although Gaborik has had 3 hat tricks this season, he’s been regrettably invisible in other games.

No one can quite put their finger on why Prospal and Gaborik work so well together. It could be Prospal’s playmaking ability, knowing where Gaborik likes to be in the offensive zone. Maybe it’s Prospal’s infectious enthusiasm and post-goal celebrations, the best in the NHL in my opinion. Maybe it’s nothing at all, the mentality of just going out there and playing hockey.

Prospal’s return to the lineup will also help an anemic power play that sits 23rd in the NHL at 16%. Last year, the Rangers were able to convert 18.3% of their chances, good for 13th best in the NHL. It’s not just Prospal’s absence that the Rangers PP is not working this year. Other than Gaborik’s sup-par season, Michael Del Zotto, rookie sensation last year, has gone through the classic “sophomore slump,” losing his spot on the PP and being demoted to the Connecticut Whale. Having your special teams perform well will help win in close games. Remarkably, the Blueshirts have survived so far without their PP converting chances, but that can only last for so long.

Prospal’s return with 29 games to go is nearly equivalent to acquiring a player at the trade deadline. The Rangers sit 7th in the East, 6 points away from being out of the playoff picture, meaning every possible point becomes crucial. Gaborik has the task now of finding a way to rekindle the same offensive prowess he had last year flanking Prospal. He must do so; the Rangers playoff hopes depend on it.

 Brian Boyle’s Renaissance Season

If I had told you coming out of the preseason that, at the All-Star break, Brian Boyle would be leading the Rangers with 18 goals, you would think I have as much hockey sense as a rock.

Well, I’m no pebble and Brian Boyle has done just that. A virtual castoff at the beginning of training camp, the 26-year-old former 1st’round pick made a commitment to himself and the New York Rangers to become a better player.

Part of that commitment was hiring former Olympic skater Barbara Underhill as his personal skating coach. Standing 6 foot 7 inches and 252 pounds, Boyle isn’t exactly the most nimble of skaters. However, under her tutelage, Boyle was able to completely transform his skating ability, including adding more explosiveness to his bruising game; explosiveness that gave Boyle the confidence needed to be more productive.

The offseason changes were necessary for Boyle. His career, not only with the Rangers, but also in the NHL, was on the brink. Head coach John Tortorella said at the outset of training camp that Boyle was on the outside looking in and that he needed to play with more consistency to earn ice-time. In spite of that, Boyle has made his head coach and teammates big time believers.

Back in the summer of 2009, the Rangers quietly traded for the young center in exchange for a 3rd-round draft pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. Originally property of the L.A. Kings, Boyle only appeared in 36 games for them and was considered an afterthought on a King’s team deep with young, offensive talent. The Rangers, needing help down the middle, figured Boyle’s size would be a welcomed addition to the team. Little did they know that in 2011 Boyle would be a crucial cog in their offensive scheme.

In more than half a season, Boyle has emerged as a team leader and as one of Tortorella’s “go to guys.” When the Rangers need a spark or need a penalty killed off in a crucial situation, Boyle is out there. When the Rangers need protection of one of its own from a harasser on the opposition, Boyle is there, backing them up 100%. It’s the team-first attitude that Boyle possesses that fits so well with this young, scrappy Rangers team.

His emergence as a goal scorer could not have come at a more opportune time for New York. Marian Gaborik, derailed nearly a month due to a shoulder injury, isn’t the same player as last year when he netted 42 goals. Vinny Prospal has been sidelined all season with a knee injury. Alex Frolov, a free agent signed out of L.A. to provide secondary goal scoring, could only muster a paltry 7 goals and 9 assists before suffering a season-ending knee injury Jan. 10th. Boyle’s resurgence is a key reason for their successes so far this season.

Boyle’s contract will expire at season’s end, making him a restricted free agent. If the production, leadership, and camaraderie continue throughout the season, the New York Rangers will gladly retain the services of Brian Boyle.

 Brandon Prust Defining What It Means To Be A Ranger

Immediately you’re thinking, Brandon Prust? What about Brandon Dubinsky, the homegrown talent showing grit, guile, and leadership in his breakout season? Or Ryan Callahan, the person most Ranger fans gravitate to as the “identity of the team” and want to see as Rangers Captain (whenever Chris Drury decides to hang up the skates.) Or Marc Staal, or his partner Dan Girardi, the Rangers standout shutdown pair on defense called upon to stymie the opponents’ best offensive talents on a nightly basis? All viable candidates and all whom are part of this young, talented core for the Rangers. However, it’s a newcomer that’s quickly changed the hearts and minds of his coaches and his teammates.

A 3rd-round draft pick for the Calgary Flames in 2004, Prust came into the NHL with a knack for toughness. Not noted as a goal scorer or someone who will intimidate you offensively, Prust used his hands for other things; fighting. Despite only standing 5′ 11” and 195 pounds, Prust wears his emotions on his game jersey sleeves and fights like a heavyweight, sticking up for his teammates at any cost. An attribute NHL teams desire for the makeup of their team. And, in February of the 2009-10 season, a team inquired for his services.

The New York Rangers, in the midst of battling for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, made a call to Calgary, a team in a similar position at the time and of changing landscape after trading away their young star captain Dion Phaneuf, for a trade. New York would send wingers Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins to Calgary for center Olli Jokinen, hoping a change of scenery would spark some offensive wizardry from the enigmatic Finn and Brandon Prust. Most in the media and amongst Ranger fans concentrated on how New York got rid of 2 players with less than reasonable contracts or how well Olli Jokinen would play on Broadway, and not on what type of player the Blueshirts acquired in Prust. It wouldn’t be long for everyone to find out just exactly who that was.

Upon his arrival, Prust made an immediate impact with the team. His toughness, willingness to give his body up to block shots, and heart meshed very well with John Tortorella’s aggressive, relentless team. Prust skated on a line with Artem Anisimov and Jody Shelley, another tough guy the Rangers acquired during the season, and sparked the Rangers playoff push at the end of the season with their consistent energetic shifts. Unfortunately, the Rangers would come up short, losing in a shootout on the final day of the regular season to the hated Philadelphia Flyers.

Fast-forward to the present, and the Rangers sit in 7th place in the Eastern Conference with 59 points, once again battling for a playoff spot. This season, the Blueshirts have exceeded expectations by playing remarkably well defensively. They are amongst the league leaders in hits, blocked shots, goals against, and shorthanded goals. They have stuck up for each other much more than in seasons past, not allowing opponents to push them around. Prust’s warrior-like mentality has to be credited as one of the reasons for the Rangers turnaround this season. His 3 shorthanded goals help a little as well.

However, unlike last year, Prust’s value to his team has not gone unnoticed. Earlier in the year, coach Tortorella said he felt Prust was “part of the core of this team.” One of the highest honors a coach can give one of his players; it shows the trust he has in his players. Tortorella also shows his faith in Prust by sending him out nearly 14 minutes a game and for a regular shift on the penalty kill, a spot on reserved for your best defensive forwards. Teammate Brian Boyle, who has also gone through a Renaissance-type season this year, emerging as one of the leaders of the Rangers and has formed a formidable tandem with Prust, said, “he’s a warrior and it’s an honor to play with him.”

So while players like Dubinsky, Callahan, Girardi and Staal receive most of the accolades for their contributions to the “core” of the team, you have to add Brandon Prust to the mix as well. Without him, New York would be without a player who has earned the right to call himself a “Ranger.”

 

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