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Toughness and physicality could become a concern for the Rangers

(Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America)

(Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America)

The Rangers are a very deep team this season, especially at forward. They are in a position where –when fully healthy– they have three scoring lines and a solid defensive fourth line. However there is one glaring weakness (on paper); the apparent lack of physicality and toughness on the roster. Even with a healthy Ryan Callahan, the Rangers are at risk of being surprisingly vanilla, with just three forwards (Callahan, Brian Boyle, Derek Dorsett) slated to play who regularly throw their body around. Arron Asham is a fourth, but he seems destined for the 13th/14th forward role.

On defense, it doesn’t get much easier. The club doesn’t have a “nasty” defenseman who makes life hard on players who go to the front of the net. Ryan McDonagh is the closest thing they have, but he doesn’t have a history of beating people down in front of the net at the NHL level. Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi led the team in hits for defensemen, and we saw them being more physical in front in the preseason, but they still don’t qualify as that “nasty” player.

The Metropolitan Division is going to be a tough division. Teams like the Devils, Flyers, Caps, and Isles all have their own “tough guys” who could run amok if not kept in check by the Rangers. Of course very few of these guys around the division can actually play the game of hockey, but they could catch someone with their head down. It is going to be up to Dorsett and maybe Boyle to keep these guys in check.

One thing should be made very clear: This is not about the makeup of the team and using their bodies to outwork the opposition. It is about making the Rangers a tough team to play against, one that will make you pay for going to high-priced areas. It’s why a guy like Asham is a necessity for this team, especially if Dorsett struggles at the get-go. Both Asham and Dorsett are physical guys who can actually –you know– play hockey.

The Red Wings are a team that have won, and won consistently, without deploying a fighter. However, they’ve consistently dressed guys who can play physical hockey and, when needed drop the gloves. Can the Rangers follow in that mold? They don’t need a “fighter” at all, they just need to play physical as a team, and ensure they won’t be walked over as a soft team.

70 Responses to “Toughness and physicality could become a concern for the Rangers”

  1. daowl says:

    Great write up! Finally somedody who says it out loud.
    Looking forward to all the comments on this article!

  2. Mikeyyy says:

    Dave if you could add one player that fits this nasty mold that can play, who is it?

    • Walt says:

      McIlrath!!!!!

    • Dave says:

      Right now, Asham. I don’t know much about Dorsett though.

    • Puck Luck (@Centerman21) says:

      For this reason I thought they should have kept Mashinter around. He looked like he got more comfortable as camp went on. Spot duty may help him become comfortable being the big, energetic, nasty player the Rangers need. Or Bickell, who plays both forward and defense. I like him at forward better.

  3. jack says:

    The Rangers will be manhandled all year long…we might be the softest team in the league…the league is getting bigger and nastier and we decide to get smaller and softer…it is going to be a very long year…Rangers don’t make the playoffs this year.

    • Dave says:

      Not entirely true. The Red Wings never use enforcers. But they do have guys who are tough that can do more than fight.

  4. rwa says:

    Finally, it’s in print. Going back to early last year, Don Cherry call us soft. How true. No real change outside of Dorsett since. I look for someone new to come in once we get started.

    • Dave says:

      I’d guess Dorsett and Asham will get time to prove they can act as policemen while not letting their on-ice performance slip.

  5. AD says:

    Steve Ott would be my choice but he told the Rangers several years ago he would never play for a team with Sean Avery on it.

  6. AD says:

    Steve Ott would be my choice.

  7. jack says:

    Steve Ott is a punching bag. They need a Kevin Beiska type on defense and a Tom Wilson/Lucic type forward.

    • AD says:

      Michael Sauer is sorely missed.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      Guys like Lucic are rare. Tough, physical players who score – and play on their team’s top line. Not as easy as saying “we need a guy like that”. Every team in the league would love a guy like that.

  8. Mikeyyy says:

    beuk.

  9. Steven says:

    McIlrath would be a nice option for 10 minutes of playing time a game, mostly in the defensive zone draws.

    Let’s face it, we have a bunch of mobile, offensively capable lefty defensemen. See: McD, Del Zotto, Stralman, and Moore. Don’t get me wrong, I think their presence is a strength on our team. But in relation to the concern brought here, they aren’t the ideal guys to clear space in front of Hank.

    • AD says:

      As John Moore continues to develop, he marginalizes Del Zotto and makes a trade for a bruising right-handed defenseman, or bruising LW plausible.

      Personally, I believe Moore is on par with Del Zotto right now on the depth chart, maybe slightly ahead. Whatever edge MDZ has offensively, he gives it up and then some defensively vis-a-vis Moore.

    • Dave says:

      McIlrath is nowhere near NHL ready, based on preseason play.

  10. rjcy says:

    Been saying this on sites till I sound like a broken record. Can’t win one dimensionally. This team is now one dimensional. Think 94 Cup. All that skill PLUS Kocur, Beuke, Wells, Matteau (who could really go but didn’t enjoy it), Mess…. Think the Amonte trade and the Gartner trade late season that Keenan begged for and simply HAD to be….2013 team is going to get hurt. Dorsett an eh middleweight. Asham a good middleweight. Doesn’t cut it……

    • Dave says:

      But remember: Kocur, Beuk, Wells, etc could all do stuff other than fight.

    • HARLEMBLUES says:

      I agree rjcy.Every team needs a heavyweight,middleweight and a lightweight that can play.Dorsett for my taste is a lightweight.Your points on the 94 team are right on.I don’t think the team is soft but it does need fighters,protectors.JTMiller,JFast,Zucc are not soft, fighters no.Dylan Mc is coming soon and i do like Mashinter and Bickle.Sauer is so missed.

  11. Bloomer says:

    Dorsett isn’t the answer if he continues to take stupid penalties. Cherry is out to lunch this team does have some grit and has players who aren’t afraid to play the body. However, with the exception of Asham, no one who stand up throw punches. I thought they should of kept Bickle around for the 7th. defenceman as a nuclear deterrent. He may be brought back up if other teams run amok and take liberties on the Rangers players.

  12. WilliamW says:

    Valid concern and probably a key question down the road

    There isn’t really a tough 2 way line unless Callahan-Stepan-Hagelin are paired up

    Nash, Boyle and Pouliot are big guys who don’t fight but can be tough to play against

    Miller, D Moore, Richards and Brassard are all average size and Zuc is tiny

    This is one potential area where some of the skilled prospect depth could be moved to address

  13. Steven says:

    Also worth noting that we are in a new era where enforcers aren’t necessarily a must-have.

    http://www.hockey-reference.com/teams/CHI/2013.html

    In terms of PIM (e.g. fighting, standing up for your teammates), notice that it’s basically Brandon Bollig (who played in half the games) and then it’s all of their stars like Keith and Toews. If we’re good enough offensively, we could still get by without having 3-4 goons.

  14. WilliamW says:

    In an ideal world, Lucic. He’s the best skilled/tough forward combination

    A healthy Ryan Clowe would’ve been a good one, but we’ve discussed that + contract before

    Dubinsky / Jared Stoll are other guys, but both come with question marks

  15. Rangers Fan in Boston says:

    Well said. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s not necessarily about a having a fighter or goon or about who wins and loses fights.
    It’s about being physically engaged and not backing down. Fights happen, but in today’s NHL you don’t need a goon to play regular minutes, but rather physical players that throw their weight around, fight for the puck, check, and play tough in the crease.

  16. Scully says:

    I’ve got to be honest, as long as we play our system properly, the lack of outright intimidators is ok, in my opinion. The Red Wings have been winning for years with team toughness and tremendous skill without a true enforcer.

    You did mention 3 (4 if you count Asham) guys in the lineup who love to throw the body and/or fight. That’s an average of one guy per line, which seems like it’d be around the same as every other team in the league.

    If we’re winning games no one will care, if we’re losing there’ll be 100 reasons why we’re losing based on popular opinion.

  17. rjcy says:

    Isn’t it ironic that its the Ranger fan in Boston who sums it up perfectly !?
    Bloggers and commentators have to stop speaking and interpreting in extremes. Toughness doesn’t mean goons (or certainly not more than one), just as skill doesn’t mean Gene Carr (NYR early 70’s) ice ballet.
    Balance is necessary. Detroit was an anomaly.

  18. BobM says:

    You wanna know how to stop other teams from gooning it up against the Rangers?

    The best deterrent is to have a phenomenal power play.

    Teams would think twice about doing anything if they know your PP is lethal.

    Easy solution, doesn’t cost anything or anybody, and it helps to win games.

    Case closed.

    • Walt says:

      Great point, let’s see if we improved over last season.

    • Mark says:

      Well mostly case closed. There have been some pretty talented Ranger teams from the past that have had to deal with tough guys from the Flyers/Islanders etc over the years. Always seems that the Rangers are in search for the tough defenseman or will wind up needing a good fighter on the team eventually. I would be a perfect world where the player can play meaningful minutes like Lucic does or Erskine does, but i would take Orr back.

  19. AD says:

    Wasn’t toughness (not replacing Prust) and, more accurately, scoring goals, the issues for last season’s disappointment?

    These areas were addressed in the off-season with the additions of…….AV?

    Really? Do GMs have a shelf life?

  20. Evan M says:

    I think this team is still reeling from a few offseasons ago. We lost Prust and traded Dubinsky. Those were some physical guys who played aggressively. I don’t think we need a goon or people to drop the gloves. We need players to be aggressive, get in front of the net, clear the crease and take the body.

    Callahan coming back will be huge, a healthy Staal adds good blue line physicality. Too bad Clowe couldn’t stick around.

    However, I don’t think that a slightly less physical team is the end of Playoff or Cup dreams. As long as the scoring touch improves, we should be good.

  21. Charles says:

    Anybody think that Haley can be this kind of player for us? He fights and plays pretty tough…

  22. Mikeyyy says:

    Here’s a thought everyone fights. Once a game someone has to fight. That’s 4 fights per player per season. Show you care, drop the gloves.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      We saw what happened to Callahan last season when he tried to show he “cares”. Nice example by the captain, but that’s not the path to victory.

    • Dave says:

      You don’t show you care by dropping the gloves. You show you care by, you know, playing hard.

  23. Manny says:

    The lack of physicality on this team is a “Humaingous big” problem. Dorsett is a good middle weight but he can’t bang with the big boys. Season after Season the Rangers get pushed around, and out of the playoffs, by an opposing teams 4th line. This season will be no different if they can’t get someone on this squad that can actually protect the players on the ice.

    I love Callahan but I don’t need him separating his shoulder in a scrum with Maxim Talbot, or similar player, again. He has to stay healthy.

    Haley and Bickel are the only two in house answers to the problem and apparently the coaching staff just doesn’t think either can handle it.

    Have to make a move for Parros, Westgarth or McLaren. Have to.

    • RangerSmurf says:

      The Devils 4th line that gave us fits did it with speed, not toughness.

      The problem lately has not been that our team got pushed around, it’s that there was no skill to go with the toughness we have iced.

      Toughness with skill >>> Toughness without skill.

      • Dave says:

        Toughness =/= fighting. Toughness = clean physical play that is a part of the game.

        Sooner or later people will realize this.

        • Evan M says:

          Thank you! Seeing the other comments echoing this sentiment reaffirms my faith in the general populace of BSB

    • Jim says:

      I agree this team will be pushed around. Other than Dorsett a middleweight, and Asham, who will probably be a healthy scratch most games, the Rangers have no one on the NHL roster to handle the rough stuff. Would like to see Bickel, Haley or Mashinter called up and playing on the 4th line. Would love to see McLaren, he may be expendable with Orr also on Toronto’s roster. I do believe the area will be addressed if the Rangers are pushed around and teams are constantly running Lundqvist

  24. Rob says:

    Practically every post on this thread makes sense…So..how much would it take to pry Dustin Brown from LA lol? Can you imagine him on line two w Cally on line one?

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      Pipe dreams my friend. I can’t allow myself to imagine that, I’ll just be disapointed that it will never happen.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      By the way, Dustin Brown is the PERFECT example of the difference between toughness and fighting. A player that plays with a physical edge without fighting. Those are the types you want, skaters that can play the game.

    • Dave says:

      That will never happen. Would be cool though.

  25. Rob says:

    Yup wishful thinking on my part guys. But he is the “type” of player this team desperately needs with the current lineup.

  26. Rangers Fan in Boston says:

    Rick Nash: Not physical enough for me. He seemed play a real tentative game in the playoffs last season. He’s the type I’d like to see play with more of an edge, he has the size to make waves, but seems like he may be missing that mentality. Agree?

    • Dave says:

      Nash is the type of player that simply uses his body to shield the puck, much like Jagr. He doesn’t need to play with an edge.

      • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

        I thought he needed to ramp it up a little in the playoffs. When the intensity picked up, it seemed he didn’t pick up his play with the flow of the game.
        Maybe it was just a 12 game sample, but I came away thinking he needed to pick up the physicality/intensity a little. Kind of ties into this thread.

        • Erixon20 says:

          Nash was not physically engaged against Boston. He’d reach in with his stick to get a puck, not throw his body in there. Maybe he was afraid of getting concussed again by a Bruin. Please recall how no one went after Lucic after he drilled Nash during the season. Boston is a tough team, NYR are not. Too bad Clowe’s contract was insane, as he would have been perfect (minus the concussions). And still no crease-clearing Dman, and Dorsett and Asham – both middleweights – are the only guys who will stand up for the team. NYR are sadly the softest team in the league. Wait until someone runs Hank….

  27. Greg B says:

    Guys, I only see Staal’s name mentioned once in the comments. I remember some intense battles he had with Ovechkin in the playoffs from 2 and 3 years ago. He is not a fighter, but a healthy Marc Staal can throw a big hit and be an intimidating D-man.

  28. Jakki says:

    Everyone seems to forget we have John Moore! 2 out of 2 so far:))

  29. Frank Cerbone says:

    Dorsett was a bloodied punching bag against Simmonds of Phila. Dorsett is an average middleweight…not a threat against a middleweight like Zach Rinaldi.

    Both McIlrath & Mashinter had very good success, high winning fight %s last season in the AHL.

    Haley & Bickel are tough, very good fighters, a notch below McIlrath & Mashinter. McIlrath is
    only 21, keeps getting thicker, stronger.

    Mathew Corrente and Ryan Stanton, both young,right handed defensemen are willing middleweights in the 195-205 lb range and were both on waivers recently

    6-4, 225 Joel (the Wrecker) Rechilicz on 9/23
    fought Milan Lucic to a draw in a LONG, LONG fight. Lucic probably landed more punches, but definitely hit Lucic a whole bunch of times in the face to where Lucic left the ice repeatedly touching his nose to see what was wrong…last time Lucic was hit in the face was by a guy named Colotion Orr
    defensemen are

    Haley, although tough as nails, is an untalented version of Asham who is after all is said and done…just a middleweight.

    Asham can definitely throw a punch…he’s not a
    wrestler like Prust.

  30. Frank Cerbone says:

    Sather had a chance at getting either Lucic or Claude Giroux but Gordie Clark convinced Sather
    that Sanguinetti was a better player. As is always the case, Sather was booed after announcing his choice of Sanguinetti who was not highly rated. Clark does not like to scout players outside the New England area ie. Jessiman, Sanguinetti, Kreider.

    Sather also had a chance to draft Dustin Brown, although his head scout Maloney wanted Parise. Instead, Clark went behind Maloney’s back, got Sather’s ear and had sather pick Jessiman in what may have been the deepest 1st round in the history of the NHL.

    • Al says:

      I think the first time this team gets run out of building you’ll see Sather make a move for a Wrecker or if he wants the best Steve MacIntyer 6-7 270 lbs.. The sad thing is the Hartford Wolfpack has a tuff team

  31. Steve V says:

    Gotta have a nuclear deterrent to the rough stuff, or the Rangers will get run out of the building.

  32. Frank Cerbone says:

    Boogard, McIntyre types don’t work in NY.

    Other teams are allowed to beat up our Gaboriks, Rick Middletons,Fairbarns, Rustallainen, etc..

    However, the minute our tough guys get on the ice, the officials automatically give the Ranger enforcer a delay of game, roughing, misconduct penalty, and finally a game misconduct.

    Sather needed to draft players who are both talented and tough, but passed on guys like Lucic,Clifford, and a host of others