Friday, January 30, 2009

Where do the Rangers go from here?

The Associated Press released a story this morning announcing that Peter Forsberg will not return to the NHL this season like he has the past few years since the lockout. After allowing five goals in the third period to Sidney Crosby and the Penguins Wednesday night that resulted in a 6-2 loss, the Rangers can take Forsberg, like they did with Mats Sundin earlier this month, off their radar.
They currently sit in fourth in the Eastern Conference with 62 points, but have more games played than any other team in the top 8. But inconsistent play from the defense coupled with an anemic offense have the Garden faithful concerened, especially when their all-star goaltender allows 5 goals in the third period of a previously tied game.

All this begs the question, where will the front office turn to find scoring, as the trade deadline looms just over a month away. Though no official negotiations ever took place, there is no doubting the fact that Tom Renney dreamed about the 2003 NHL MVP in Broadway Blue.

One would be hard pressed to think that the Rangers can compete with the alleged offers by Montreal and Edmonton for Vincent Lecavalier's services, and even if they were it would be nearly impossible to take on his salary and stay under the cap.

Other than the Tampa Bay captain, the trade market seems to be rather light this year on forwards, especially with Marian Gaborik out until Mid-March. Although, as Terry Frei writes, it may make sense to trade for the unrestricted free-agent to be for a playoff-bound team.

If there are no significant moves to be made, then clearly there needs to be some line juggling. A team with a below average blue line staff cannot be ranked 27th in scoring and make a run at the Cup.

Glen Sather parted ways with Dan Fritsche the other day, sending him to Minnesota for 26-year old defenseman Erik Reitz. Renney came out and said he wanted another defenseman in exchange for him, so he'll probably give Reitz a look immediately, perhaps with some of Dmitri Kalinen's ice time.

Next, in order to ignite the offense, Renney must reunite the three most skilled players he's got on the first line. Flank Scott Gomez with Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev, who've shown glimpses of dominance in their short stints together. Zherdev has been stuck playing with Brandon Dubinsky and Aaron Voros, who's nearly worn out his Broadway welcome, for most of the season, thus leading to a decline in his numbers.
Voros needs to be dealt with by the coaching staff. He is a hard-nosed player who cannot stay out of trouble. Not to mention, in two previous instances, Renney has benched him for Petr Prucha. Both times Prucha scored a game-tying goal in the third period. With Colton Orr on the fourth line, there is no place for Aaron Voros on this team.

That leaves Chris Drury to center Petr Prucha and Nigel Dawes. That trio works well together from inside the hash marks and could generate the most offensive zone takeaways.

The third line would be centered by Dubinsky with Lauri Korpikopski and Ryan Callahan on the wings. Korpikopski has shown at times he was worthy of the team's first-round selection in 2006, and his style of play coincides nicely with Dubinsky.
The fourth line, sadly, has been the most consistent line the team's had all year. Freddy Sjostrom and Blair Betts headline a checking line that gets most of its' time on the penalty kill, which is ranked first in the NHL. Shorthanded special teams have been the Rangers' savior to this point.
Going forward, these line combinations would enhance an offense that needs to be improved if the team expects to make a deep playoff run. Now, to get Tom Renney's attention...