Season Turning Point: The Steve Eminger injury

March 26, 2012, by

With a playoff spot clinched, we are running a new series about turning points in the season. These posts will focus on moves the Rangers made that effectively turned their season from mediocre to great. Part one: Calling up Hagelin and Mitchell.

The Rangers started the season shorthanded on the blue line. Marc Staal was out indefinitely with a concussion to start the season, so the Rangers were already short a top pairing defenseman. A rotation of Anton Stralman, Steve Eminger, and Jeff Woywitka was being used to fill the bottom pairing, and had been doing so with minimal success.

Fast forward to December 5, when Mike Sauer hit the boards awkwardly after a thunderous Dion Phaneuf hit. Sauer was diagnosed with a concussion, and hasn’t been seen since. Now, the Rangers are down two top-four defensemen. Just like he had last year, Eminger filled in nicely on the top four while paired with Michael Del Zotto. He made the injuries to Sauer and Staal easier to manage.

Then the world seemed to come crashing down for the Rangers. On December 17, the Rangers lost Eminger to a separated shoulder. In that same game, the Rangers also lost Woywitka, albeit for a short period of time. With Eminger out of the lineup, and Tim Erixon not ready for the show at that time, the Rangers called up their last cut in preseason: Stu Bickel.

Acquired in a deal with Anaheim for Nigel Williams, Bickel wasn’t garnering much attention until he was the last man cut in Europe. The Rangers blue line was in shambles, with four players lost to injury, three long term. Bickel and Erixon would play on the third pairing for the next week until Woywitka returned from injury, but Bickel was the attention grabber.

With four assists in his first three NHL games, Bickel was creating a stir in New York. Add in his physical presence that the Rangers sorely needed with Sauer injured, and Bickel instantly became a favorite of the coaching staff. Now, even though the Rangers are close to full strength on defense, Bickel still remains with the club.

The Steve Eminger injury paved the way for Stu Bickel to make his mark in the organization. Bickel may not have had the affect that Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell did (in terms of puck possession), but don’t underestimate how important it is to have a steady presence on that bottom pairing. Bickel’s call up was the beginning of the end for the revolving door that was the bottom pairing.

Four months later, none of Eminger, Woywitka, or even Stralman are coming close to dressing for a game. And it can all be traced back to a separated shoulder in December. Sometimes injuries are blessings in disguise.

Categories : Defense


  1. Chris says:

    Eminger is gone after this season. He had his uses though.

    Crazy to think we’re carrying two former first round picks as spare blue liners as well as a guy (Stralman) who has close to 100 NHL points in less than 300 games. That is some impressive depth… and all achieved without a top 4 guy like Sauer.

    • Dave says:

      Eminger, Woywitka, and Stralman are all gone after this year. It’s nice to see that the roster turnover is with spare parts, and not core players.

  2. The Suit says:

    Love me some Stu Bickel. I wonder what happens next year if Sauer returns. It would be nice to have some serious depth on defense.

    • Chris says:

      The depth is already there. The scary part is Girardi aside, you can argue that no other member of defense has peaked yet (I think Girardi is as good as he’ll ever be which is very good).

      I wasn’t a huge Bickel fan. I liked him at first and then began to grow sceptical, thought he was going backwards but now he is getting better. Looks more confident and usually his positioning is pretty sound.

      • The Suit says:

        Indeed, if our bottom pair is any iteration of Sauer/Bickel/Erixon we are in good shape. I dont think Eminger or Stralman will be on the roster come Sept.

        • Chris says:

          I think Stralman, on the whole, has done enough to get another NHL gig, it just wont be with us. Same goes for Eminger. You’d have to imagine they have enough quality for other clubs.

          • The Suit says:

            Eminger is a good utility guy, he’ll def end up somewhere. Stralman is a wild card. He was ready to play in Europe till we came calling, so I wonder what he will do.

            If I had to guess I’m sure he’d get a good contract offer across the pond to play big minutes. Over here though it’s hard to say what kind of money he will get or what kind of mins he’s promised if he remains a healthy scratch.

    • Jess says:


      Bickel buys the NYR time to let McIlrath season in the AHL. His chemistry plus Tortorella’s man crush on him help him stay a NYR.

      I also have to wonder if Sauer will return at the start of next season. I really hate saying this but this is exactly how his older brother’s career was ended.

      You also can keep Bickel for under 700K since he is a RFA with little wiggle room. Considering what the NYR paid for Stralman (900K) and Emminger (800K) then Bickel also saves them money.

      IF it was my team I tell Bickel to spend time this summer working on playing forward to increase his own value

  3. Walt says:

    Stu has been very steady as the third pair D-man, and he plays a physical game as well. The bonus for us is that he has dropped the gloves for his team mates on numerious occasions, and for that reason he should be given an opportunity to play again next season for the Rangers!

  4. Leatherneckinlv says:

    Stu Bickel has done this Ranger organization a huge favor, he increased his value as a player for play and depth. He has become an asset that can be used in various means and should be signed for next season. One other fact is his progress allows for McIlrath to continue his development and not be rushed into the line up

  5. KC says:

    While I like the toughness he brings to the lineup, he’s being exposed the more he plays. Come playoff time I’d take Stralman or Eminger over him easily.
    Stralman averaged 17 minutes night, playing on the second pair, Bickel’s only reached that number a couple times, and the outcome wasn’t good(-3 against Pitt)Scary watching Crosby coming down against Bickel.
    Bickel has helped the Rangers, but was he part of any ‘turning point’, I’d disagree with that.

    • Dave says:

      Scary watching Crosby coming down against anyone really.

      • The Suit says:

        Emy and Stralman were spending too much time in their own end zone and were benched because of it. Not sure I’d be quick to reinsert those two.

        • Bluesboy says:

          Stralman’s prior history was as a purely offensive defenseman. He loved to skate, rush the puck out of his zone and shoot whenever he crossed the blue line… He, literally, lost his last two jobs because of defensive zone inadequacy. I believe he is trying to stay back more because he believes that is what Tort’s wants. Given his druthers, I think Stralman would rather be leading the charge up the ice.