Thu 17 Feb 2011
Whoever came up with the term “fans are fickle” really hit the nail on the head. To experience the most recent example one only needs to read some of the Rangers beat writers’ blogs.
A year ago, Michael Del Zotto was the next best thing since sliced bread as the rookie made an impact on the Blueshirts. His sophomore season, not so much. Del Zotto might just be the poster boy for the dreaded “sophomore jinx”. You can probably split the reason for his struggles three ways: the NHL has done their homework on him, Del Zotto did not do his homework and step up his game, and Coach John Tortorella’s mixed signals have all contributed to the defensive’s woes this season.
On the opposite side, during the summer some Rangers fans were ready to tar and feather Steve Eminger before he ever laced on skates as a Ranger. Now, the 27-year-old stands as the “old man” of the blueliners and fans were ripping Tortorella for benching him for five consecutive games and are now questioning the coach’s reason for reinserting Del Zotto against the Los Angeles Kings.
Thankfully, owners do not let fans run teams because management would have to install a revolving door in the locker room to accommodate all of the changes – present company included.
As such, acquiring a defenseman seems to have replaced snaring Brad Richards as the fans number one deadline target. The luster has come off Richards for a variety of reasons. Fans might be realizing the Dallas Stars were not going to give him away. The Stars are in the midst of a tight playoff race in the Western Conference. His recent injury, an “upper body injury” (code for concussion), will see him miss at least a week of action. The final reason is fans are slowly realizing that he will be available in the off-season as an UFA. If the rangers do target him, it will hasten the end to Chris Drury’s career as a Ranger – which will make the majority of fans very happy.
With the focus centering on a defenseman (pun intended), the Rangers find themselves in a precarious position. President/GM Glen Sather has gone on record, for whatever that is worth, as saying he will not move any of his top prospects at the trade deadline. Unless someone makes him an offer he can’t refuse, this might be the smartest thing Sather has ever said in his tenure in New York.
The hardest thing to read is the current market for defensemen. As things stand now, each Conference has about a dozen teams fighting for eight playoff spots – and that does not include the hard charging New Jersey Devils in the East or the St. Louis Blues in the West. While the Blues are nine points behind eighth place Calgary, they do have a whopping five games in hand.
With so few teams ready to waive the white flag on the season, it should be a seller’s market. At the top of the buyer’s list has to be Vancouver. While the Canucks lead the NHL in points, they also lead the NHL in walking wounded when it comes to defensemen where they have five of their top d-men either on the injured list or out indefinitely.
Ideally, any trade the Rangers make should not include any top prospects, but it should be for a player who will be a RFA at the end of the year or does not carry a big price tag for next season.
The biggest prize that fits that bill is Tomas Kaberle. However, Lyle Richardson, aka Spector, writes that Darren Dreger of TSN is reporting the Toronto Maple Leafs are close to making yet another deal with the Boston Bruins.
Steve Zipay of Newsday came up with a list of UFA or reasonably priced d-men, but are Jan Hejda, Kurtis Foster, Brett Lebda or Jim Vandermeer really an improvement over what the Rangers have now? Two other names he mentioned, Brent Sopel (Atlanta) and Ruslan Salei (Detroit) are players whose teams are in the playoff mix.
Foster appears to intrigue the most people because he does have a big-time shot from the point and has only one year remaining at $1.8 million. Zipay points out that Foster could take Matt Gilroy’s salary slot next season. Quite frankly, I’d rather have Gilroy than Foster whose big shot does not make up for deficiencies in the defensive zone.
The one player Zipay did mention would garner much interest from the Rangers and the rest of the NHL. However, Bryan McCabe’s health status is in question. The Florida rearguard underwent facial surgery in mid-January and was expected to be out four-to-six weeks. It is difficult to judge just how effective, or healthy, McCabe will be during the final weeks of the season.
The situation is further complicated because the Panthers are seven points out of the eighth spot and have two games in hand on Carolina. As a result, Florida might not be willing to move McCabe on the cheap.
One other name that appeared this morning was offered by Larry Brooks of the NY Post. Brooks offered up Ottawa’s Filip Kuba as a solution to the Rangers. While it has been five years since Kuba’s career season (81-15-22-37), he is no stranger to Tortorella who coached him in his two seasons in Tampa Bay.
The Rangers need to stay away from Kuba for two reasons. First off, he played just 53 games last year due to injuries and missed 16 games with a broken leg this season.
The injuries could be overlooked, but the fact that he has one more year left on his contract at $3.7 million makes acquiring him a non-issue, even if Ottawa dealt him at a reduced rate.
Sather’s best strategy at the trade deadline would be to look to make an “under-the-radar” type move. Last season, no one would have expected Brandon Prust would be the best part of the deal with the Calgary Flames.
Even trading Michal Rozsival for Wojtech Wolski qualifies because it reduced the Rangers salary cap hit and set the Rangers up to eliminate more salary, at a reasonable rate, if they decide to buy out Wolski at the end of the season.