Musings: Nash, more moves, the bottom defense pairingJuly 26, 2012, by
Today is one of those rare offseason musings days where there was a big move that has been rocking the airwaves. That move of course was the Rangers acquisition of Rick Nash for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon, and a first round pick. We’ve dedicated the past few days discussing Nash, including how John Tortorella might adjust for his arrival, how the Rangers can replace Dubinsky and Anisimov in the lineup, how the powerplay might improve, and how the finances work out to fit Nash under the cap. There are other smaller points, so let’s get to it.
Nash may not have been the perennial 40-goal scorer in Columbus, but it’s tough to score 40 a year when Vinny Prospal and RJ Umberger are your primary linemates. Nash will play with Brad Richards and potentially Marian Gaborik. This line has Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson potential to it. All three players might hit 80 points for the next one or two seasons. That’s the high end of potential, but in all likelihood, they will all hit at least 70 points.
As for the secondary scoring, right now the Rangers have a second line of Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan, which clicked in the playoffs. Barring more roster moves (see: Doan, Shane), is this line enough to take some of the stress off that talent heavy top line? Personally, I think the Rangers need to make one more move to add a top-six forward to really solidify their top two lines, especially with Gaborik out until November.
Carl Hagelin will likely slide into the third line, where he belongs, and provide much more skill and equal defensive ability alongside Brian Boyle. He may have found chemistry with the top line last season, but Hagelin on the third line shows just how deep the Rangers are at LW.
Shane Doan is likely the last target on Glen Sather’s offseason plans, and his addition would really make the Rangers a force to be reckoned with. Doan’s presence pushes Cally to a third line role (when Gaborik returns). Even if Cally sticks on the second line, then Doan slides into a third line. Either way, the third line becomes a significant scoring threat with either Cally or Doan on it. Depth was a key problem for the Rangers in the playoffs, and one more top-six forward addresses that depth issue.
Moving away from the forwards for a second, the bottom pairing on defense is now a focal point. Currently the Rangers have Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, and Anton Stralman slotted for top-five roles. With Stu Bickel likely playing at least the seventh defenseman role, that leaves the Rangers with one hole left to fill on defense. If the plan is to have Bickel play regular minutes, then the Rangers will likely go out and acquire a depth defenseman, one who will not be hindered by sitting in the press box. That may mean one more year of Steve Eminger, but it wouldn’t shock me to see the Rangers go in another direction.
If the coaching staff sees Bickel as a matchup type of player, then they will need to acquire a defenseman who can eat 12-15 minutes per game without being a liability. That defenseman also needs to be a right handed shot, as the three left-handed shots (MDZ, Staal, McDonagh) clearly won’t be sitting anytime soon. There aren’t many right-handed shots available though, and the only serviceable one (Michal Rozsival) is unlikely to return to Broadway, considering how he was treated (albeit unfairly) the last time he was here.
The wildcard in all this is Mike Sauer, who is still out with a concussion. We haven’t heard much about Sauer, but it’s Torts said he doesn’t expect him to be in camp in September. If Sauer somehow comes back and returns to his usual form, then the Rangers could possibly have the best defense pairings in the league. The thought of McDonagh-Girardi, Staal-Stralman, MDZ-Sauer, with Bickel as the spare sure is nice, isn’t it?
The Rangers may have overachieved last year, but this year they are built for success. They have the skill, they have the depth, and they have the hunger. Last year wasn’t a fluke. It’s the trend.