Fri 15 Oct 2010
As the New York Rangers prepare for the home opener against Colton Orr and his Toronto Maple Leafs, today’s Ranger Ramblings subject comes from a question posed by a reader of Andrew Gross’s NorthJersey.com Ranger Rants blog.
A fan named “Rogan” basically asked if a left-handed shot (i.e. a lefty) has to play left defense and if a right-handed shot (i.e. a righty) has to play right defense and are they mutually exclusive?
It is an interesting question given that the Rangers are in an unusual position of having five of seven defensemen who are right-handed shots. While I do not have any figures on hand, I would say it is safe to guess that there are more left-handed shooting defenseman than right-handed shooting defensemen.
It is common to see a lefty playing the right side – a lot more common than the situation the Rangers find themselves in. As far as I see it, I don’t think it is all that much of a big deal. Gun to my head, the only time I can see it being a major problem is keeping the puck in at the point. A righty playing the left point would have to go to his backhand in order to keep the puck in along the boards and vice-versa for a lefty on the right side.
In the long run, it comes down to experience and comfort level. While I never played defense in ice hockey, I played a lot of it during street hockey and, more often than not, played on the right side a lot. I always felt that I was better able to defend cross ice passes when I was on the right side as opposed to the left. Whether that was true or not really didn’t matter. What did matter was that I was comfortable enough playing the right side as a lefty – and I had a lot of experience doing it.
There is the rub in the Rangers scenario. Steve Eminger, Matt Gilroy and Michael Sauer are all right-handed shots who have played the large (if not vast) majority of their careers on the right side. Shifting over to the left side is problematic for them because they have not done it much, I would guess, outside of shifts on the power play.
The question to ask is why didn’t the Rangers just keep another left-handed shooting defenseman? Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko both had solid training camps, but were sent to Hartford in the end. Unfortunately, NHL teams (and MLB teams) both have an added level of decision-making when it comes to building a roster.
All teams have to factor in salary cap constraints and contract issues, but hockey teams and baseball teams also have the additional burden of managing player moves within a system that includes optioning players to the minors.
While McDonagh and Valentenko would solve the problem of the lack of left-handed blueliners, they did solve another problem – one that might be more glaring than carrying too many righty d-men.
Eminger, Gilroy and Sauer all would have to clear waivers in order to be assigned to Hartford. Given Sauer’s low cap hit ($500,000), it is doubtful he would clear waivers. Eminger’s ($1.125 million) and Gilroy’s ($1.75 million) cap hits make them possibilities to clear waivers, both of them are subject to clearing re-entry waivers to return to the Rangers and odds are one or both would be claimed with the Rangers having to take half the cap hit.
Odds are this situation will not be rectified until Glen Sather makes a deal. It may come down to the Rangers claiming Sheldon Souray on re-entry waivers from Edmonton (a prospect that we all know Slats is probably salivating at) or trading off one of the right-handed shooters for a left-handed shooting d-man.
As things stand now, the Rangers have about $1.6 million in cap space. That does give them enough cap room to bring up McDonagh ($1.3 million) or Valentenko ($875,000) while moving Sauer. However, they would be cutting tings close cap-wise if they are not willing to “Redden” Todd White to Hartford.
If I were a betting man, we will see a lot of Eminger and Gilroy in the next couple of games as Sather tries to showcase one of his right-handed shooting defenders in an attempt to add a left-handed shooting defenseman who has some experience.
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