Recent reports from radio color commentator Dave Maloney and from Jess Rubenstein at The Prospect Park that Michael Sauer has made “tremendous progress” have added to what has been a spectacular late-July for the New York Rangers.
Though Tim Erixon was a necessary piece to acquire Rick Nash, trading him left the Blueshirts woefully thin on the blueline. The top-four of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto rates among the best in the league, but after them New York was left with only Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel.
Bickel was a decent fill-in for the Rangers, but it became very clear that Coach John Tortorella just didn’t trust him in big situations. As a seventh defenseman Bickel would be tolerable, but there’s simply no way New York would have been willing to pencil him into the top-six heading into the fall.
However, it now seems that Sauer, who 18 months ago was the third-best defenseman on the club and a critical piece of the puzzle, may indeed have a shot at resuming his career in New York at the start of the season.
As we learned with Staal, it’s still unwise to bank on steady concussion recovery, but if all goes well then Sauer could have enough time to recover and condition by October (or later if there’s a lockout).
It still seems probable that the Blueshirts will add another NHL-worthy defenseman prior to the start of training camp. Last year, New York has as many as 11 blueliners that had a reasonable chance of earning a roster spot on Broadway (McDonagh, Girardi, Staal, Del Zotto, Sauer, Bickel, Erixon, Steve Eminger, Brendan Bell, Tomas Kundratek and Pavel Valentenko).
This year, you could really only make the case for seven, if you include Sauer.
But perhaps the recent positive reports regarding Sauer’s health mean that the Rangers will only be looking for a decent short-term substitute as opposed to investing in a long-term replacement. If Sauer can return to his previous level of play, it will make New York’s defense three pairs deep and unquestionably the best unit in the league.