As Camp begins, Center still area of concern for Rangers

Desjardins, another underwhelming addition by Jeff Gorton

Bobby Farnham and Andrew Desjardins. Read those names back to yourself. Neither of the Rangers recent PTO signings generate excitement, do they?

It’s hard to be anything but underwhelmed at the Rangers attempts to address the center position toward the end of this offseason. Hoping a prospect (such as Andersson or Nieves) wins a spot is fine – after all the team needs to continue with its transition period. Inviting PTO’s to compete for spots and potentially earn a depth spot is also the right thing to do.

However, the Rangers choices are both confusing and disappointing given the calibre of depth free agent candidates that could have been had this offseason. Let’s consider just a handful of names below.

Most players that are currently unsigned, are free agents for a reason; they have warts to their games, flaws in their skill sets or past their prime. Players such as winger Jack Skille are headed to the KHL because maybe they cannot get NHL interest.  Jaromir Jagr is probably still too pricy for some, and too slow for others. However I cannot help feeling the Rangers have failed to bring in viable alternatives to compete at camp.

As speculated on the Blog recently, could Detroit’s Athanasiou not be had for a reasonable cost given the Red Wings’ cap constraints? Could the Rangers not ask Columbus what Josh Anderson would cost? Would he really be such an extreme cost?

If the team wanted to retain assets and stick with the free agency route, would the familiar John Mitchell (now on a PTO in Chicago) not be a better PTO option than Farnham? Mitchell knows the organisation and could surely be a short-term solution at worst. Wouldn’t potential third/fourth line depth options such as Teddy Purcell, Jiri Hudler and even Chris Kelly represent even slightly more upside than Farnham or Desjardins?

It’s hard not to be disappointed by the Rangers “attempts” to rectify their center depth. Of course, wingers such as Purcell aren’t ideal – the Rangers want a center after all, even if Purcell’s skill level is appealing as a PTO.

Jiri Hudler’s game may not suit the Rangers style and a guy such as Kelly (now 36 and on a PTO in Edmonton) is certainly not the defensive role player he once was. But I keep coming back to the same original point: wouldn’t all of these once established NHL’ers be better camp invites, alternatives and potential depth additions than those so far invited by Jeff Gorton?

Gorton has had a solid offseason. Thanks to some savvy moves, the defense looks better equipped for both now and the future while the Rangers helped address their long term future (and their cap situation) with the Stepan to Arizona deal. However Gorton’s handling of the center spot deserves scrutiny. It’s almost reckless to go into a new season, one in which the Rangers expect to be a playoff team, and have such little center ice depth.

Of course, we all hope a prospect earns a job at center during camp and makes Jeff Gorton look like he knows better than all of us. However as of right now, Rangers fans have the right to be confused, frustrated and slightly concerned as the season approaches.