The news broke yesterday that the New York Rangers had signed defenseman Anton Stralman to a one year, $900,000 contract to fill out the blue line with Marc Staal out indefinitely. The Rangers are using the old method of “throwing stuff at the wall and see what sticks” to fill out the bottom pairing. People thrown at the wall include rookie Tim Erixon (now in the AHL), Brendan Bell (AHL), Steve Eminger (rough start), and Jeff Woywitka (four games).
None of the top four will sit, as all four have been playing extremely well. So it’s clearly between Eminger and Woywitka. Woywitka had a rough first couple of games, but played a very good game last night, and definitely has been showing improvement as each game progresses. That is a very good sign, as it shows Woywitka is learning coach John Tortorella’s system, and growing more comfortable with his transition to New York.
As for Eminger, well he has been somewhat atrocious. Without rehashing the entire post from last week, Eminger has not been able to help his team maintain possession of the puck while he is on the ice, despite facing mediocre competition at best. He has been out of position, and lacked the “jam” that made him somewhat effective last season. Simply put, he has regressed, while Woywitka has progressed. Not a good sign for Eminger.
Add to the picture that Stralman and Eminger are both righties (Woywitka is a lefty), and the cards just don’t play out for Eminger at the moment. Assuming Woywitka keeps up his strong play, it’s going to be tough to argue against sitting Eminger when Stralman joins the team. Having a spare defenseman on the roster isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it will keep those bottom guys playing hard, knowing they could be in the press box at any given moment.
Of course, the Rangers could always try some sort of rotation with Eminger, Woywitka, and Stralman at first, and see who emerges as a legitimate bottom pairing player. It’s the same method the Rangers used last year with Eminger, Mike Sauer, and Matt Gilroy. The rotation worked well, as the Rangers discovered they had a defense beast in Sauer. That’s not to say it will happen again this year, but getting them all playing time could really help identify which player –or pairing– is most effective.