By Brian Monzo
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New York, N.Y (WFAN) – The 2011-2012 Rangers season ended in disappointing fashion. I don’t know if anyone expected the Rangers to lose to the Devils. But it happened, and the Devils have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, where the LA Kings are waiting (and are chomping on trees waiting to get started).
For the Rangers, it’s time to keep their heads up and get ready to put together the pieces of a disappointing ending to an otherwise excellent season.
Just looking at this series against the Devils, it was evident to me that the team needed a sixth defenseman, a meaner edge as well as more pressure on Martin Brodeur.
The Rangers were very capable of beating the Devils, and perhaps even the Kings if they were able to get to the Cup Finals.
John Tortorella was adamant that the team was not fatigued from playing two hard fought rounds before the Devils. Based on how they played, especially their starts, that could be debated. Henrik Lundqvist was the only reason the Rangers were able to get to the Conference Final, and when he wasn’t near perfect, the team faltered.
Ryan Callahan’s first season as captain was a memorable one. The team won 51 games, advanced to the Conference Final and Callahan scored a career high 29 goals.
Marian Gaborik, though many people would argue, is not a problem on the team. He was signed to be a goal scorer. Two of his first three seasons with the Rangers, he scored 40+ goals. In an injury plagued second season, he scored over 20 goals. The question mark has been the playoff performance. I think the biggest key has been the players he has been surrounded by. He isn’t a physical player, and doesn’t create room for himself. Playing with Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin in a physical series was pointless. He needed to play with someone like Callahan or even Mike Rupp to get some room to shoot the puck.
Brad Richards first season with the Rangers was an up and down season. He turned it on late in regular season and was pivotal in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but struggled against the Devils. Overall, I would give Richards a ‘B’ grade on the season.
The Rangers have a handful of unrestricted free agents to worry about. The five I would not expect back are John Mitchell, Stu Bickel, Steve Eminger, Jeff Woywitka and John Scott. I think Mitchell may have earned a contract on another team looking for depth, and perhaps even Bickel did as well for a team seeking a depth on the blueline. Eminger might get signed somewhere else, too.
I would expect Marty Biron to return on the cheap as the backup goalie, and Brandon Prust to be back at the right price. Ruslan Fedotenko is a Torts guy, but will be looking for something in the $1.5 million range, and the Rangers may be looking to move on. I could see him signing elsewhere.
Michael Del Zotto, Mats Zuccarello and Anton Stralman are all restricted free agents. Reports have indicated Zuccarello will sign in Europe, and I think Stralman will do the same. Del Zotto is the wild card. The Rangers have a lot of depth and with Tim Erixon and Dylan McIlrath knocking on the door, Del Zotto could be traded.
Del Zotto will be 22 at the start of next season and is coming off his best regular season. There is good value for the former first round pick.
I would expect Tim Erixon to be a full time defenseman next season, while players like prospects JT Miller (2011 first-round pick), Dylan McIlrath (2010 first-round pick), Christian Thomas (2010 second-round pick), Michael St. Croix (2011 fourth- round pick) and Jesper Fasth (2012 six-round pick) could get serious looks next season.
It’s very possible the Rangers go hard and heavy after defenseman Justin Schultz. Schultz has not signed with the Ducks and will be eligible for free agency. Schultz has played three seasons at Wisconsin, with his two last seasons being worthy of All-American status. He has a huge offensive upside and is projected to be a top pairing player. The potential acquisition of Schultz would be another factor into Del Zotto being available.
The Rangers have around $17 million available under the cap, so there is some room for the Rangers to make a splash in the free agent market. Zach Parise, Shane Doan and Ryan Suter are the premier free agents available.
Doan is 35-years-old, and is coming off a tremendous playoff with the Phoenix Coyotes. With the Coyotes ownership situation, no one is really sure what is going to happen there. Doan is still a power forward that brings a ton of leadership to a team. He is entering the latter stages of his career, is eager to win a Stanley Cup. I think he would be a great fit with the Rangers if he were to sign a two-year deal on the cheap.
Parise, currently the captain of the Devils, and playing in the Cup Final is the exact kind of player the Rangers are lacking. He can score, block shots and does all the little things that Tortorella loves. The Devils are a bit strapped for cash, but there is still a chance he re-signs with New Jersey. Detroit and Minnesota are two other possible destinations for Parise.
The first line of duty comes on June 22nd when the Rangers select 28th in the 2012 NHL draft in Pittsburgh. However, they could chose to trade that draft pick in a trade, perhaps re-visiting the Rick Nash situation with Columbus.
I am also looking forward to Chris Kreider getting a full training camp under his umbrella and a full NHL regular season. We saw some promising things from the youngster in the playoffs, so expectations will be relatively high for Kreider as the season gets underway.
Whatever the Rangers do, I would expect them to have another good season, as this is a win now team.
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