The battle for the final roster spots on the 2010/2011 version of the New York Rangers appears to be going down to the wire. After saying that he would make cuts after Wednesday night’s game against Detroit, Coach John Tortorella has pushed off the final decision until at least after the pre-season concludes with the Blueshirts home-and-home series with the Ottawa Senators.

This delay in making the final cuts is a good thing because it means that the Rangers have a lot of depth to sift through. Unfortunately for them, a lot of that depth is of the third and fourth line variety.

On the plus side, the play of a couple of prospects has made training camp an interesting place to be. Derek Stepan’s outstanding performance at the Traverse City Tournament has continued in Rangers training camp and might make him the favorite to win the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award as best rookie in camp.

Stepan’s play has been matched by a pair of defensemen – Wisconsin teammate Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko.

In sorting out the final cuts, Todd White’s chances are tenuous at best given his $2.375 million cap hit. White already served his purpose as his acquisition allowed the Rangers to clear Donald Brashear and Pat Rissmiller from the cap.

If what has been written in the newspapers is true, then Tortorella is giving serious consideration to carrying the maximum 23 players on the roster. if that were the case, and White is traded/waived/reassigned, then the Rangers would have to cut only one more forward assuming Chris Drury is not placed on IR to start the season.

On defense, the Rangers are still carrying nine defensemen and are expected to to drop two blueliners. Things are a bit tougher when it comes to making these cuts. Michael Sauer has to clear waivers in order to be assigned to Hartford – and given his steady play in training camp and $500,000 salary – he is not too likely to clear waivers.

Steve Eminger (he of the five NHL teams in the last four years) and his $1.125 salary do not make him a solid candidate to be the seventh defenseman and his limited playing time due to a groin injury is jeopardizing his chances at making the team.

It seems to me that two of the Rangers cuts are going to come down to a pair of players who can be assigned to the minors without clearing waivers – Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh. Both players deserve to stick with the Rangers, but one has to wonder if the team has concerns about them hitting the wall the same way Matt Gilroy did last year when he tried to jump from college directly to the NHL.

Worst things could happen than sending Stepan and McDonagh to the minors. The two former Badgers along with Mats Zuccarello would give the Rangers bonafide NHL depth in Hartford that is just a phone call away.

If we accept that Eminger and White are off the Rangers roster and Stepan and McDonagh are sent to Hartford then the Rangers 23-man roster is set. The next chore is deciding what the forward lines and defensive pairings are.

An interesting development is one reported by Andrew Gross on his NorthJersey.com blog. He wrote that Vinny Prospal will make his training camp debut Friday night as the center for Alexander Frolov and Marian Gaborik.

If the Rangers are going use Prospal as the number one center (and it is a big if given the problems he has with his knee), then the Rangers lines start to take shape and might look something like this – with the fourth line tailored to match the opponent:

Frolov-Prospal-Gaborik
Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan
Avery-Drury-Fedotenko
Pick 3: Boogaard/Kennedy/Boyle/Christensen/Prust

I wrote these lines out on Thursday and as I checked the Internet on Friday, the first three lines for the Ottawa game are spot on except that Stepan is playing in place of Drury. As an FYI, the fourth line on Friday night is Boogaard, Boyle and Prust.

The defensive pairings come into focus a little more easily if you subtract Eminger and reassign McDonagh:

Staal-Girardi
Del Zotto-Rozsival
Valentenko-Gilroy
Sauer

Ordinarily, I do not like have a prospect sit as an extra forward or defenseman. However, in Sauer’s case I am willing to make an exception for two reasons. First off, I do not want to expose Sauer to waivers in order to send him to Hartford and the second reason is that I don’t think Eminger is worth the cap hit as the seventh defenseman. Truth be told, I would be much happier with a Jason Strudwick type as the seventh blueliner – someone who can sit for games at a time and them slip into the lineup and produce.

The one place where there is no question is in goal with The King set to make 60-65 starts and Martin Biron ready to step in when Henrik Lundqvist needs a rest. There should be no reason for Lundqvist to have to play on back-to-back nights. The result should be a more rested and sharper King at the end of the season and into the playoffs.

I had another thought as to how to help ease the Rangers cap problems as early as next season.

Does a Rozy for Ed Jovanovski trade make sense? The cap hit for Jovanovski is more than Rozsival’s this season, but Jovo Cop comes off the books this year – even though it adds an additional $1.1 million to the Rangers cap hit. I read that Phoenix might be a spot for Mike Sauer (which would unite him with his brother Kurt).
The question is why would Phoenix make the deal? There is some madness to a potential deal between the Rangers and Coyotes. There are still some players in the Rangers organization that Don Maloney has a connection to. Depending on their standing within the Rangers, a couple of those prospects could sweeten the deal.

Remember, the Coyotes ownership situation in still up in the air, so if they get a chance to save some money all deals could still be on the table.

While Rozy’s cap hit is $5 million, nhlnumbers.com lists his salary as $4 mil this year and $3 mil next year – pretty reasonable numbers – especially if the Rangers send some Cablevision cash to Phoenix.

Is the deal truly possible – probably not. However, stranger things have happened. Who would have thought Glen Sather would not only be able to move Scott Gomez, but get two valuable assets on defense (McDonagh and Valentenko).

The only positive aspect to having Sather around as the GM is that he has built up a lot of cache in the NHL and he has the ability to cash in some of the IOUs he has accumulated through the years.

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