With training camp just slightly more than 2 weeks away, I figured it would be appropriate to list the five key things I, The Esteemed Doodie Machetto, will be watching for both in camp and throughout the preseason.
1) Third defensive pair– with the departures of Paul Mara (Montreal) and Derek Morris (Boston), there are two clear vacancies on our blueline. Now, I don’t think Torts will pair two inexperienced defensemen together, but for the sake of convenience, I will just call them the third pair. The candidates, as I see them, are Matt Gilroy, Corey Potter, Michael Del Zotto, Bobby Sanguinetti, and Mike Sauer. The X-factor candidates are Ilkka Heikkinen and Ryan McDonagh. There are also persistent Denis Seidenberg rumors, but I don’t think he will be signed.
To start, I don’t think Sauer will be one. They gave him a shot last season and he floundered. With the stiff competition for the two spots, barring an OUTSTANDING camp and preseason, I think he’s out. Gilroy has a one-way contract for $3.5 million over two years. I don’t know if they want to bury that in Hartford. Plus he is a puck moving defenseman. Based on those two factors, I think the first spot is his to lose. Potter is a known quantity and they like him, but not enough to keep them from giving Sauer a shot last season. So right there, I think he is guaranteed nothing. I think he makes the team only if everyone else fails to impress. McDonagh will likely stay at Wisconsin and graduate, so he won’t be on the team for the next two years. Heikkinen will probably left in Hartford for a year to get used to North American play.
The real battle, as I see it, is between Del Zotto and Sanguinetti. There were rumblings a while back that Del Zotto was moving ahead of Sanguinetti on the prospect depth chart. But Ranger Director, Player Personnel, Gordie Clark recently stated that Sanguinetti was the best defenseman for Hartford during the playoffs. However, his defensive woes are well-documented. I’ve been outspoken about Sanguinetti being a bust in the comments before but I think Torts might give him a shot because of the “safe is dead” up-tempo mentality he has. Del Zotto might end up back in the OHL because other Rangers defensive prospects have spent played out their entire junior careers (Staal, Sanguinetti), but those were under Tom Renney. That could change with Torts at the helm.
Bottom line: The competition will be stiff, and the team will add at least one puck moving defenseman, if not two.
2) Special teams– speaking of puck moving defensemen, the team will need to address the anemic powerplay if it expects to be competitive next season. I expect there to be a lot of experimentation on the powerplay to come up with a unit that can produce at a decent clip. I also expect there to be a CLEAR top unit that will see the majority of PP time. I think that’s how Torts rolls.
The penalty killing unit will have to be addressed also. One of the league’s top units last year, a lot of the players who were featured last season (notably Blair Betts and Fred Sjostrom) are now gone. I think Torts will actually put more offensively capable players on the PK and make it more of a threat short-handed. Indeed, he is on record saying that he plans to use superstar Marion Gaborik in all situations, including the penalty kill. But whether the penalty kill can approach the success of last season remains to be seen.
3) Artem Anisimov– a stud in the AHL last season. Gordie Clark was recently quoted on Anisimov “I would say that he’s got a position on the team that’s his to lose…He’s not coming in to try out … we have our top three centers — (Chris) Drury, (Brandon) Dubinsky, and Anisimov.” The question is, which position? Logic dictates he will be the third line center behind Dubinsky and Drury, but with the recent Vaclav Prospal signing, it seems that the team could be hedging its bets in the event that Anisimov struggles. It’s hard to imagine him as the fourth line center due to how sparingly Torts uses his fourth line. Would he be transitioned into a winger? Could he be so impressive that they make him the second line center and Drury the third? Where Anisimov ends up could dictate the look of a large portion of the roster.
4) John Tortorella– It’s the first training camp for Torts and it’ll be interesting to watch how he handles the team now that it is entirely his as opposed to a group inherited from a completely different coach. He has preached accountability and that no roster spot is safe, other than Lundqvist. Well, I’m interested to see if that is truly the case. In other words, if 3 or even 4 of the above named defensemen are REALLY impressive, does he dress those guys and scratch Rozsival or Redden? I doubt it, but hopefully he will hold accountability during the season through the amount of ice time given. He has also preached conditioning, so it will be interesting to see if they really are better conditioned. Tom Renney said last year that the team was extremely well-conditioned, only for Torts to come in and bash them for having a poor level of conditioning. The multiple games where the team faded down the stretch only served to illustrate Tortorella’s point.
5) Glen Sather– Tortorella is on record saying he wants a #1 center. Brandon Dubinsky isn’t signed. The Rangers seem to be tied to every free agent rumor on the market. There are persistent rumors of Brad Richards and Denis Seidenberg. Dany Heatley still wants out of Ottawa. I expect less out of Sather now that the rain has stopped because he will be able to get out of the office and onto the golf course. Why talk Dubinsky and Richards when you can talk Kohiba and Titleist? But I would not be surprised if the players that are under the umbrella of the New York Rangers organization today are not the same as the players under that umbrella by opening night. Who gets added or subtracted is anyone’s guess when it comes to Sather, the man without a plan.
Honorable mentions: Evgeny Grachev– I think the Prospal signing leaves him in Hartford next season, at least for the start of the year. P.A. Parenteau– Time to crap or get off the pot. I think he solidifies his position as the Rangers’ Jason Krog and is sent off to the Pack again. Donald Brashear– will he be welcomed by his teammates and the fans? Wade Redden and Michael Rozsival– will we see the tolerable pair that we saw in the playoffs, or the pair we suffered through all season?
My thanks to Carp for maintaining this blog and for providing me with this opportunity to write as a guest. My thanks to all of you boneheads for actually making it through this post. And to the future guest bloggers, Mike G was right, thinking of something to write about is by far the hardest part.
Editor’s note: This is Carp. I am still waiting for Spiderpig and Pavel to confirm that they will do the posts scheduled. No problem if you guys don’t want to do it, but please let me know. We have plenty of guests who want to do this. Please email me at rcarpini@LoHud.com.