MSG, NYC – Did the New York Rangers smoke pot out west? Or on the plane-ride home? We think not. But after sweeping the state of California last week, the Rangers have looked stoned against their arch-rival Islanders and Cheesy’s Bruins, leading to the speculative/hypothetical headline.
And there is no time for munchies… The Blueshirts head to Columbus tonight to take on the Blue Jackets in an important Eastern Conference match-up, that will hopefully get the team back on track.
Tuesday night King Henrik had an unusually bad night against the Fishsticks, being pulled after two periods for backup Cam Talbot. It didn’t really matter, since the Rangers couldn’t find the back of the net, managing to hit the posts with amazing consistency. Last night in Boston, the Rangers were never really in the game. The few real chances they had were seamlessly swept aside by reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Tuukka Rask.
The Broadway Blues now find themselves four points behind the Capitals in the race for third place in the Metropolitan Division. They do have two games in hand, which will have to be taken advantage of to stay in the hunt.
Further, some very tough decisions will have to be made in the next month regarding the roster and the March 2nd trade deadline. Marc Staal, Marty St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, Lee Stempniak, and Matt Hunwick will all become unrestricted free agents. In addition, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Jesper Fast and defenseman John Moore will become restricted free agents. With good players standing to make a lot of money and a hard salary cap to contend with, the Rangers will have to trade some of these players in their contract year.
Yesterday, it was reported that alternate captain Marc Staal and the team were close to coming to terms on a six-year contract extension that will probably pay him about $6 million per year. And with a dearth of good centers, the Rangers will most likely sign Derek Stepan to a long-term contract. Who knows if Marty St. Louis will keep playing past this season, but if he does, he probably wont be on Broadway.
The real dilemma is what to do with Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello. The Rangers will not be able to sign both players, so it is likely that one of the two will be traded before the March 2nd trade deadline. The players are similar in age and ability and losing either one would certainly hurt. I think the edge in overall ability goes to Hagelin. Hags is a responsible and reliable player in all three zones and he is a very good penalty killer. He’s got speed and does just about everything. Everything except score. That’s where Zuc has the edge over Hags. Zuccarello has scoring ability and plays with an edge that can benefit the team.
In the end I think the Rangers will keep Hagelin and trade Zuccarello. They could use a reliable center that can win face-offs, having had a lot of trouble on the draw this season. The only reliable face-off winner has been Dominic Moore.
There are some tough choices ahead for the Rangers. But the picture should become clearer in the coming weeks… once the smoke clears. [Cough, cough].
Come back tomorrow for the man that walks around on a natural high, Junoir Blaber.