Training camp and the pre-season are supposed to be a time for competition for roster spots, but often times rosters are pretty set in stone with maybe one or two depth positions up for grabs. But a new coaching staff, the decreased salary cap, the Stepan situation, and Callahan and Hagelin injuries have made for as much uncertainty as I can remember there being for the Rangers.
There are still five pre-season games to be played for players to prove their worth, and plenty of other scenarios could play out that would affect the roster; injuries, a trade, Stepan signing, etc. But with the first half, if you will, of training camp concluded why not make an early projection of what the Rangers roster might look like on opening night? Here are my predictions that will most certainly be wrong.
Please not that these are my predictions and not necessarily my preferences.
Centers: Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Oscar Lindberg, Dominic Moore, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan
Notable Cut(s): Darroll Powe
I do think the Rangers and Stepan will work out a deal by opening night. The Rangers hold the leverage in negotiations. Stepan is going to be faced with the reality that sitting out and sacrificing millions of dollars just for the sake of holding out for a few extra hundred thousand dollars is not worth it. I also think Lindberg is just too good and ahead of the other prospects to not make the roster. Boyle and possibly another center not named "Richards" could shift to wing. Powe is victim of both the salary cap and numbers game.
Wingers: Arron Asham, Ryan Callahan, Derek Dorsett, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Benoit Pouliot, Taylor Pyatt, Mats Zuccarello
Notable Cut(s): Jesper Fast, Micheal Haley, Marek Hrivik, Danny Kristo, JT Miller
And here is where everything is sure to be wrong. Derek Stepan is the leading domino which affects a whole number of players. His inclusion, along with Lindberg's, means one or two centers shifting to wing. I don't think some time in Hartford would kill Kristo or Fast, while Miller's injuries have given him a mountain to climb if he's going to surpass some players and make the opening night roster. While a few of these guys might be more enticing or perhaps even more skilled than Asham and Pyatt, they're better off getting key minutes in the AHL while Asham and Pyatt are better suited for limited roles.
Defensemen: Michael Del Zotto, Justin Falk, Dan Girardi, Aaron Johnson, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman
Notable Cut(s): Conor Allen, Stu Bickel, Dylan McIlrath, Danny Syvret
Vigneault said that he would prefer to have eight defensemen on the roster. Only an injury would disturb the top six, and I think Falk is pretty close to a lock as well. On a team with an actual opening McIlrath and Allen might have legitimate shots at making some noise, but giving them top minutes in the AHL would be beneficial for both; certainly moreso than sitting in the pressbox in New York. Bickel just hasn't impressed at all, though I came very close to choosing Syvret over Aaron Johnson. That's a potential battle worth monitoring for the remainder of the pre-season. I believe Johnson having more experience and being signed to a one-way contract give him the edge right now.
Goaltenders: Martin Biron, Henrik Lundqvist
Notable Cut(s): Cam Talbot
Biron is the better goaltender, is beloved in the locker room, and is incredibly experienced. But even if we pretend that Talbot had a legitimate shot of winning the job on ability: what would we do with Biron? With the current cap situation we sure as hell could not afford to send him to the AHL, and I don't foresee any team giving up assets to acquire Biron with some solid goaltenders still available for free. And in the doomsday scenario that Lundqvist got injured are we truly prepared to ride Talbot and whatever corpse we find to back him up for any extended period of time? With a good season in Hartford Talbot could be a legitimate option next season, but for now Lundqvist and Biron is a virtual lock.
Long Term Injury Reserve: Carl Hagelin
By placing a player on long-term injury reserve you are allowed to exceed the salary cap by that player's cap hit. However, that player is required to stay inactive for at least 10 games and 24 days. Hagelin is likely to miss that much time so placing him on LTIR gives the Rangers some needed flexibility.
We still have a number of pe-season games remaining that could shake up the race for roster spots and a whole number of outside variables, most prominently the Stepan situation, hold significant implications as well. Again, please note that this is how I see things playing out and not necessarily the roster I prefer. Feel free to share your own opinions in the comment section.
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