This is Part Three of the Breaking the Silence series on the Rangers overview of last season.
We already discussed how last year, the Rangers management and head coach went into the season with a new approach; how a few moves by GM Glen Sather and how head coach John Tortorella's new game plan turned this whole team around.
We discussed how the goalies played superbly and how their defense was greatly improved.
Here in Part Three, we will discuss the New York Rangers forwards, who shocked and rocked last year and who needs to go.
One of the players the Rangers really need to rid themselves of more than anyone else is Chris Drury. Riding on his $7 million a year contract, he played in 24 games last year and managed one goal and four assists.
Drury has a no-move clause in his contract. This means he cannot be traded and he cannot be sent down to the minors. But even in the offseason, where teams make big moves and/or buy out players' contracts, this guy is still a thorn in the side.
We all heard how Glen Sather might be trying to buy out Drury. However, the NHL has a rule where no player can be bought out if injured. So due to his injury last year, Sather cannot do that until Drury is placed on the long-term injured reserved list in September.
This does not make any sense at all—it is the offseason. Why does a team have to wait just to place a player on the IR list? If Drury is injured going into the offseason, the team should have that option to place him on the long-term IR. I feel a team should have the right to buy out any player's contract regardless of injury or not.
I have no issues with protecting a player's rights and contract. But that contract was also based on the player meeting certain expectations which, in this case, Drury did not do.
This NHL rule also makes no sense because Drury did come back and play towards the end of the season and he did play all five games in the playoffs. Hopefully, the Rangers can use that to their advantage and be rid of the failing captain.
Drury should man up and realize he is hurting this team and city he claims he loves so much and waive all rights in his contract so Sather can buy him out or trade him.
When it comes to goal scoring, the Rangers rely on one man more than the rest. Last year, Marion Gaborik was injured early in the season and when he returned he found it difficult to find his game. He missed a total of 20 games last season and scored a low 48 points, which includes 22 goals and 26 assists.
There is no question that Gabby’s injury was a setback for him. When he returned to the ice, you could tell it was not the same Gaborik. He was passing the puck more in areas where a healthy Gabby would have taken the shot. His shifts were short and he was missing the net more often than not. Both his speed and the speed of his awesome wrist shot were just not there.
The offseason could not have come any sooner for Marion Gaborik. He will use this time to heal up and get ready for next season. Gabby will be back and in top form. Fast skating, awesome dekes and that super-quick wrist shot of his will find the mark again.
Like many fans out there, I too felt this Rangers team was doomed when Gabby was hurt. With no true goal scorers to count on and no real word on when Gabby would return, how could they win if they could not score?
The season just got real interesting!
However, this was not the case. In fact, the injury to Gabby turned out to be one of the best things to happen to this team. Players we never expected to step up were right there doing their thing. Players were given more ice time and improved as the season went on.
There are four players who really took charge of this team last year, and all four of them are restricted free agents this year: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle.
There is nothing negative that you can say about Ryan Callahan. He is destined to be the next Rangers captain and is considered to be the heart and soul of this Rangers team.
Setting career highs in all three categories, Callahan had 23 goals with 25 assists for 48 points last season. He also had a career high of 10 power-play goals and five game-winning goals.
Callahan is a power-play killer. He is by far one of the best penalty killers in the league. This guy does it all. He is 5’11", 190 lbs and he goes after players like Zdeno Chara who is 6’9" and 255 lbs. He is like a pit bull on the ice. He missed 22 games due to an injury and he still came away in second on the team in hits with 224.
He scored some really nice goals last season and you have to expect him to continue getting better. He is going into his fifth season and he has improved every season so far.
Callahan is an RFA and now come the big questions: How much does he want and how much is he worth? He is not a big-time goal scorer—we know that already. I personally think there is more to come from him. But we can not go on what we think.
With everything he does for this team, from little things to big, you have to put Cally at right around the $3-3.5 million mark and I would try to add some years to that as well. If Sather can sign him to a five-year deal, I would even throw in a little more like $3.8 million but would not go over $4 million.
One Ranger who really matured as a player last season was Brandon Dubinsky. His game improved, as he was not Mr. Predictable with the puck as he was for the three years prior. He had an edge to his game last year that helped him set career highs in goal scoring (24), assists (30) and points (54).
With Gabby out, Brandon’s game improved immediately. Playing the first line with Cally and Artem Anisimov, this line started scoring goals and winning games for their team.
He is a huge part of that awesome penalty-killing unit and Dubs knocked in two short-handed goals. His physical play increased as well and, overall, he had a good season.
Brandon is an RFA this year and, although he had a better year than previous seasons, he still has yet to have that breakout season that everyone has been waiting for. Dubs is a keeper though, and like Callahan his game has improved each year.
This past season is something for him to look back on and use to better himself next season. Dubs, too, will be in that $3-3.5 million and, again, Sather needs to get years on that deal as well.
Artem Anisimov played great last season. In his second year, he stepped up to that first-line center position and he did an awesome job all season. I love when this guy has the puck. He goes full speed at the defense and the goalie and plows over whoever is in the way, goalies included.
He is so accurate with his wrist shot, and his slap shot is no joke either. He nearly doubled his points from two seasons ago (28) this past season (44). If there is one player who will break out this season, it will be him.
Artem is just so explosive with the puck. It is exciting to watch him move into the offensive zone. You do not know if he will take off and attack the net or move in slow and fake the goalie out. Or maybe he’ll just wind up and fly one past the goalie.
Another thing Artem is so very good at is fighting for the puck along the boards. Here is a guy who fights off two or sometimes three defenders and comes away with the puck or manages somehow to move the puck through the defenders to a teammate.
Artem is beyond his years when it comes to fighting for and moving the puck. He dominates the offensive zone.
He totaled career highs of 18 goals and 26 assists for 44 points.
Artem is another RFA. By no means should Sather even think about trading him for anyone. When you think about the future of this team, Artem is at the top of the list of players who should be around on this team for a long time. Look for a two-year $1.5-2 million deal for him.
Brian Boyle is the fourth player on this team who really took off last season. I always liked the way he charged the net with the puck but I never expected such a turnaround like this from him.
Brian Boyle showed he has what it takes to make it in the NHL. Here is a guy who, just two seasons ago, played an average of eight minutes a game. There were a lot of games where he only saw four minutes a game. This past season, Boyle averaged almost 16 minutes a game.
His physical play has always disappointed me. I felt he would be a real presence on the ice with his size, but he wasn’t.
Last season, that part of his game increased along with his confidence. He was checking harder and he was the main reason that fourth line did so well.
He was placed on the power play, where he scored four goals and had a short-handed goal for the PK unit. He was by far the biggest surprise for the season.
He was physical and blocked shots while playing the PP and the PK.
Brian, like the three players previously mentioned, also set career highs in all categories, registering 21 goals and 14 assists for 35 points. Compared to the 2009/10 season, where he totaled six points for the entire season, he has to be considered the most valuable player of last season.
Boyle is an RFA as well. This last season was really his second full year of play and he surpassed Dubinsky and Callahan in goals scored in terms of years it has taken to get there. Boyle might look for a nice pay day. A two-year deal for $2 million a year will do it.
Derek Stepan was awesome as well. You could tell right away this kid was going to have a great rookie season.
In his first NHL game in Buffalo, against one of the league's best goalies, Stepan nabbed a hat-trick. There are only three other players who have ever scored a hat-trick in their first NHL game: Alex Smart back in the '40s, Real Cloutier in the '70s and Fabian Brunnstrom in 2008.
Derek Stepan looked like the real deal his rookie season and he was. He totaled 21 goals with 24 assists for 45 points. You have to expect great things from this kid in years to come.
I said this last year and I will say it again this year: Brandon Prust is not your average fourth-line player. Prust is a player who Tortorella can play on any line and he and that line will produce.
He hustles his butt off, he fights when needed, he protects his teammates and he very rarely takes bad penalties. Prust is a solid player who never takes a shift off.
Brandon also set career highs with 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points. He had five short-handed goals and even added a game-winner to the stats.
Sean Avery has been a total disappointment for two years straight now. I no longer believe that Tortorella has a tight leash around Avery’s neck. Avery’s failure is on his own inconsistencies—from taking bad penalties to being non-existent on the ice.
I know Avery is a cheap winger, but that $2 million he is going to be getting next season can go towards someone that can actually help the team.
Out of the 76 games Avery played, I would give him a handful of those games in which he made a difference or made his presence known. I think I am being nice by giving him that handful because he was a total flop.
I happen to like Avery and the role he plays—or should I say used to play? He cannot place blame on the head coach. I mean, Tortorella placed him on that top line when he was playing well. Then he disappeared.
Avery, however, like Artem, is one of the best at controlling and moving the puck along the boards. This part of his game has been top-notch. But as he set a career low when everyone else around was setting career highs, I feel it is time for him to part ways with the Rangers.
Another disappointment was Erik Christensen. The chemistry between him and Gabby was not there. Maybe it was the Gabby injury and maybe it was the fact that Vinny Prospal was not out there with them. Prospal missed 53 games due to surgery.
Whatever the case was, Christensen’s game was nowhere to be found. He did not find that chemistry with other teammates that he had with Gabby and Prospal two seasons ago.
Christensen was dynamic when it came to the shootout. Without question, he was one of, if not the, best on the team in the shootout. But I am not going to say we should keep a player just because he scores in the shootout.
If Sather can trade him for a better center, I say go for it.
Vinny Prospal came back all fired up. He looked good, skated hard and, for a guy who missed 53 games, Prospal did OK. He came away with 23 points after playing 29 games. Not the greatest, but not bad. It takes a while to get back to full potential after surgery and missing so many games. So I give Vinny two thumbs up on his comeback.
Vinny is a UFA this season. He is 36 years old and he will have injury issues. I have mixed feelings on Prospal because I like him as a player and a leader. You see so many times where he is talking to the younger players and trying to teach them. Like Jagr and Shanahan back in the day, Prospal is a true leader.
But I do not show favoritism and I will not start here. I am sure Prospal will come cheap, probably $1 million for the year, but Sather needs to let Prospal go and continue on with the game plan of looking for younger talent. I wouldn’t mind seeing Prospal brought in as an assistant coach, but Vinny is not ready to call it quits.
Wojtek Wolski is a big question mark. He played 37 games with the Rangers and tallied 19 points last season. Even though I thought he played OK, Wolski’s having issues finding the back of the net. He did play well in the playoffs, where he registered three points in the five games, but they need more from him.
He is still a young player at age 25, and I think he should be given one more year. I think coming from the Phoenix Coyotes and learning a completely new system with a new coach and new teammates may have taken a toll on him. Now, he should be settled in and he can definitely make a difference on this team.
Give him a full year with Tortorella and if nothing improves, then let him go.
Alex Frolov: Wow, how was everyone so happy? Was I the only voice of reason last season when I said this guy should not have been signed? Um, yes, I do believe I was!
Well, all I will say about him is thanks for stopping by, don’t let the door hit you in the rear on your way out.
I thought Mats Zuccarella played very well. He did not score a lot of goals, but he most definitely played a good game. He was aggressive with the puck and for a player who is only 5’7" and 174 lbs, Zuc was very physical.
He is a speedy winger who was extremely good in the shootout.
I do not think Tortorella will use Zuc next year though. There are other players who are ready to come up who Tort will most likely go with.
Two years ago, the fans cried when the Rangers traded Blair Betts, saying, "There goes our PK unit." Then last year, again the Ranger fans cried when Sather let Jody Shelly walk to Philly when really it was Shelly who left for the higher bidder. Fans said, "Well damn, that line clicked, we're never going to have another fourth line click like that."
This year, the tears are about bringing back Ruslan Fedotenko.
Well, although the PK was a tad better, the Rangers have been in the top 10 every season, killing penalties since Betts was let go. Although Shelly, Boyle and Prust clicked and played well together, last year's fourth line was even better. All three forwards on the fourth line scored in double digits.
What is my point, right? Forget Fedotenko because whoever Tortorella places on that line, they will produce. Stop crying for players who can and should be replaced!
Fedotenko had a career-low 10 goals with 15 assists for 25 points. He will be turning 33 years old midway through the season.
He is wanted by the fans because he plays hard, busts his butt and is a decent defensive forward. Wow, I guess that just excludes every other player on this Rangers team.
The last thing the Rangers need is a defensive forward who cannot score. I mean, when and what will it take for fans to realize that we have been losing for years because of poor defense and a lack of goal scorers?
The defense is almost complete, whereas the offense is still having major issues. Why in the world do the Rangers need a player like Fedotenko?
We were able to see several rookies play last year due to all the injuries the team had: Brodie Dupont, Chad Kolarik, Evgeny Grachev, Jeremy Williams and Dale Weise. All these players looked extremely good and could easily replace Fedotenko and the Rangers would not have to spend any additional money for them. Let's not forget Carl Hagelin, who will most likely see playing time.
The goal and the game plan are, and should be, to go younger, not older—to start using the players they have available and not continue to spend money on players they do not need.
This will lower the cap to the point where the Rangers can go out and sign a top-notch player without killing their cap. This, in turn, forces them to make horrible trades and or release players they should not release.
Is this all news to fans of the New York Rangers? Have we not been bitching about the cap and signing players on their way down in their careers? Trading away top prospects and getting nothing in return for over a decade?
Let's keep bringing in guys like Fedotenko so that young players can sit and rot in the minors just to be traded away later on—the way it has been for way too long. Let's keep signing older vets who cannot score goals and help the team where the team needs it most: scoring goals.
Let's keep signing older vets like Fedotenko, who is not needed, when you have 15 other players who do the same thing he does and will not help the team score goals or win games. So the Rangers can repeat what they have been doing: not winning the Cup—not even being a threat to win the Cup.
You have Cally, Dubs, Boyle, Gabby, Prust, Stepan, Wolski, Avery, Christensen, Zuc and, as of right now, Drury. That’s 12 forwards. Add Hagelin to that and that is 13. Even if Drury is bought out, we still have 12 forwards. So now, no room to bring up a player, so who do we sit so 32-year-old Fedotenko can play? Which rookie should not get the experience so we can play Fedotenko?
Let's not forget that Brad Richards is on everyone’s list. Again, another 31-year-old player who has not played a full season since when, five or six years ago? Mixed feelings on whether or not the Rangers should pursue him.
Brad will be looking for a long-term deal where he can retire from the team that signs him. He will also be looking for $7-8 million. For a player who scores around 20-25 goals a year and is more of an assist man than goal scorer, I would stay away from him.
But of course, we need that center for Gabby though. A center just like Richards. A center that will give you 50 or 60 assists with 20-25 goals.
But when he drops off the charts like a Drury, we will again be stuck with a player with a huge contract with a no-move clause with the NHL saying, "You cannot buy him out, he is injured." He is not worth it—not for a long-term contract, he's not.
The Rangers need to work on the players they have and those who are due to break out: Dubs, Artem and Stepan. They need to figure out what to do with Del Zotto. The Rangers need to find out who exactly they have in the minors who has what it takes.
This team is not far away from having the team that will run for the Cup. They need a few tweaks here and there and to get some goals scored. But other than that, they are indeed looking better than they have been in a long time. That would be my focus as a GM.
Someone asked me last year, "What do you want to do, have a whole team filled with rookies?" This is the reason why the Rangers have not improved for years, because we do not give these players the chance and experience. The Rangers keep signing players we should stay away from. I would jump on that deal in a heartbeat if I had this team.
There are so many players down in the minors who are ready to come up. If they are not, I want to know. I want to see them at this level playing with Gabby and Prospal. I want to see them play against the best of the best. I want to see who has it and who doesn’t.
It is not by any means a throwaway season. It is a season to improve who you have and sort out the trash. That is how you can progress, and keep your cap low.
We've already seen that these players are being taught very well in each of their leagues. Not one rookie played poorly last year. I would run with that this year like crazy and, as deep as they are in every position except centers, they have nothing to lose but everything to gain.