McDonagh, Staal, Girardi, and Del Zotto collectively make up arguably the best top-four defensemen that any team in the NHL has to work with. Anton Stralman, who filed for salary arbitration, is likely to return to the team and find his home on the third pairing. But one spot on the blue-line is still available and there is, at this time, a lot of uncertainty as to who willl fill the spot. So let’s look at some potential options.
Stu Bickel- The incumbent, of sorts. Bickel was in the lineup for most of the postseason. Stuuuuu averaged an underwhelming 5:10 of icetime during the playoffs and famously sat on the bench for almost all of a triple overtime victory against the Capitals. It’s pretty safe to say that John Tortorella does not have much faith in Bickel. Injuries are what forced Bickel into the lineup during the regular season. And although he lasted longer than many (including Bickel himself) probably anticipated Torts will surely want someone he can depend on to play a regular shift. Bickel will likely see some icetime over the course of the season but he’s going to have to put a lot of work in and impress the coaching staff immensely during training camp if he’s going to earn a consistent spot in the lineup.
Tim Erixon- Probably the favorite at this point, though he should not be apartment searching anytime soon. Erixon is not even a guarantee to be a part of the organization come September, as he could be included in a trade for Rick Nash or Bobby Ryan. Still, management put a lot of effort into acquiring Tim Erixon and his potential is through the roof. He showed signs of being a solid NHL defenseman during his first few stints with the big boys last season, but he simply was not consistent enough. Surely the coaching staff sat down with Timmy at the end of the season and informed him that he needed to get stronger and play with more confidence in order to stick at the NHL level. It’s no guarantee that he is NHL ready by opening night and the Rangers will continue to be careful in monitoring his development, just as they were last season. I don’t know if Glen Sather will be comfortable with assuming Erixon will be ready and adding no other depth.
Michael Sauer- A healthy Michael Sauer not only would be a mainstay in the lineup but could even push Michael Del Zotto out of the top-four. That’s a given. What’s not a given is how he is dealing with his concussion issues. The Rangers have unfortunately given us virtually no news in regards to Michael’s health and as such we have to assume that the diagnosis is not good. Having Sauer in the lineup would give the Rangers an embarrassing wealth of talent on the blue-line but there are no promises that he’ll ever step on the ice again, let alone at the start of the season. Unfortunately, while he is worth mentioning, I don’t think he’ll be anywhere close to ready to step into the lineup next October.
Shea Weber- No, he would not feature on the bottom pairing, but his addition would push Del Zotto down to the third pairing and would solve the issue of putting six competent defensemen on the ice every game. The Nashville Predators will put all efforts into re-signing restricted free agent Shea Weber after losing Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild but there are no guarantees that Shea will cooperate or that the two parties can find a contract that make everyone happy. Larry Brooks seems to think that the Rangers would be a fit for Weber, and who could argue with that? The Rangers desperately need offense from the point on the powerplay, and Weber’s 10 goals from the PP are as many as Richards, Girardi, and Del Zotto combined for last season. The Rangers certainly have the trade chips to acquire a player like Weber, but there are many obstacles in the way of such an acquisition becoming reality. It’s still very possible that Weber does in fact sign an extension with the Predators, and if not there are no guarantees that Sather and Predators’ GM David Poile can agree on a trade or that Weber and the Rangers could agree to a suitable contract. The longer Weber’s situation in Nashville is in limbo and the longer the Rick Nash dramatics carry on, the more likely it is that the New York could become Shea Weber’s new home.
Free Agent Bargain Bin- John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan have done an excellent job of taking defensemen who were running out of chances in the NHL and turning them into productive players for the Rangers. Steve Eminger (acquired for Aaron Voros) and Anton Stralman (FA signing after trying out and failing to make the Devils’ roster) are two that come to mind. It’s quite possible that the Rangers go this route once again. Pavel Kubina was a rumored acquisition for the Rangers at the trading deadline last season and played the best hockey of his career with Tampa Bay under John Tortorella. Some other options still left on the market are Chris Campoli, Scott Hannan, and Milan Jurcina are a few of the more prominent players available and would all be decent options for a #6 role, though you can find the entire list of available defensemen here.
There is, in my opinion, the list of options Glen Sather and the Rangers’ Brass has to work with. Which one do you think the Rangers will explore? Which one do you want to become reality? Or do you have any ideas of your own? I personally would love to add Shea Weber but I don’t know how realistic that is, at least right now. And as great as it would be to have Michael Sauer healthy and skating it just does not seem likely. I think Tim Erixon will be given the chance to earn the spot in training camp and I’m hoping that he’s putting the work in right now to prepare for that challenge. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section!
Follow Me On Twitter: @Herman_NYRBlog
Email Me At: AdamNYRBlog@gmail.com