New York Rangers Must Shore Up Defense to Ensure Return to Playoffs

New York Rangers Must Shore Up Defense to Ensure Return to Playoffs For the first time in four years the New York Rangers were playoff spectators last spring, but only just barely. New York was eliminated in the final game of the season, losing in a shootout to Philadelphia. Watching the Flyers go on to reach the Cup finals had to be painful for the Rangers, but New York didn’t make a major overhaul this offseason.

Constrained by cap issues after recent summer spending sprees, the Rangers couldn’t make a big splash in free agency, though they did manage to create quite a stir when they used much of their limited cap space to sign mammoth fourth-line enforcer Derek Boogaard to a four-year, $6.5-million deal.

2009-10 Record: 38-33-11, 87 points (4th Atlantic Division; 9th Eastern Conference; did not qualify for playoffs)

Bruins record vs. Rangers: Boston leads the all-time series 282-235-97-6, but went 1-3-0 last year. The Rangers won 1-0 on Nov. 1 and 3-2 on Jan. 4 in New York and 3-1 at Boston on Jan. 9 before the Bruins avoided the sweep with a 2-1 win at home on March 21.

When to watch: Boston hosts the Rangers on Saturday, Oct. 23 and Saturday, March 26, while traveling to New York on Wednesday, Nov. 17 and Monday, April 4.

Familiar faces: Rangers forward Dane Byers is the cousin of former Bruins tough guy Lyndon Byers, while 2009 third-round pick Ryan Bourque (Boxford, Mass.) is the son of Bruins great Ray Bourque. There are plenty of other local ties as well, with Chris Drury (Trumbull, Conn./Boston University), Brian Boyle (Hingham, Mass./Boston College), Matt Gilroy (Boston University) and prospect Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass./Boston College) also in the Rangers system.

Key additions: F Derek Boogaard (free agent); F Alexander Frolov (free agent); F Todd White (trade with Atlanta); F Jeremy Williams (free agent); D Steve Eminger (trade with Aaheim); G Martin Biron (free agent); F Mats Zuccarello-Aasen (free agent)

Key losses:
F Jody Shelley (signed with Philadelphia); F Olli Jokinen (signed with Calgary); G Alex Auld (signed with Montreal); F Aaron Voros (traded to Anaheim); F Patrick Rissmiller (traded to Atlanta); F P.A. Parenteau (signed with N.Y. Islanders); F Donald Brashear (traded to Atlanta); G Stephen Valiquette (signed with CSKA Moscow, KHL); D Bobby Sanguinetti (traded to Carolina); F Enver Lisin (free agent); D Corey Potter (signed with Pittsburgh)

Burning question:
What will the Rangers do on defense?

There are actually two huge questions facing the Rangers on the blue line. First, will they be able to re-sign restricted free agent Marc Staal? Staal, 23, was arguably the Rangers’ best all-around defenseman last year, as his 8-19-27 totals trailed only Michael Del Zotto (9-28-37) among the blueliners, but Staal was a plus-11, while Del Zotto was a minus-20. Staal had an $826,667 cap hit last season in the final year of his entry-level deal, but is looking for a sizable raise. The Rangers don’t have the cap space to pay him too much, at least until they find an answer for their second key question: What do they do with Wade Redden? The veteran was signed to a six-year, $39-million deal in 2008, but posted his lowest point totals in over a decade in his first season in New York (3-23-26 and a career-worst minus-5), then declined even further to just 2-12-14 last year. The Rangers are reportedly considering burying that contract in minors to free up space, but $6.5 million a year through 2013-14 is a lot of money to send to the AHL.

2010-11 outlook: While the defense has plenty of questions, the Rangers appear solid up front and in goal. Marian Gaborik (42-44-86) leads the offense, which also features Vaclav Prospal (20-38-58), Brandon Dubinsky (20-24-44), Ryan Callahan (19-18-37) and agitator Sean Avery (11-20-31, 160 PIMs). They also have veteran Drury (14-18-32), albeit on a bloated contract of his own with a $7.05 million cap hit. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist (35-27-10, 2.38 GAA, .921 save percentage) is more worthy of his $6.875 million cap hit, and he’ll get some help this year with the addition of backup Martin Biron. The Rangers also won’t be a fun team to play against with the 6-foot-8, 258-pound Boogaard added to a lineup already featuring Brandon Prust (25 fighting majors last year) and Avery.

Did you know? It’s safe to say when the Bruins and Rangers get together, things won’t get settled early. Ever since the Rangers throttled Boston 7-0 in the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre in New York on March 17, 2007, every subsequent meeting has gone down to the wire. Of the last 13 games between the Original Six rivals, 11 have been decided by one goal, with the other two both two-goal games. Five of the contests have been 1-0 affairs and five have gone to overtime or a shootout. The Bruins have fared well since that embarrassing St. Pat’s loss, going 6-4-3 in those nail-biters.

Next: We’ll stir up some bad memories for Bruins fans as we check in on the defending Eastern Conference champions in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Yardbarker

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