We’re less than a week into the NHL season and already there’s concern about the New York Rangers having flaws in their roster.
The loss of defenseman Marc Staal, their best overall blueliner, to post-concussion symptoms was troublesome enough, but following two season-opening losses in Europe, Larry Brooks of the New York Post suggested the Rangers had a lack of depth on their left side.
The problem originated with a groin injury to Wojtek Wolski. Coach John Tortorella attempted to address it by pressing checking left winger Ruslan Fedotenko into service as a top-six forward and moving center Brian Boyle to the left side, but neither move provided a solution.
It also left the bottom-six forwards to become what Brooks called “a patchwork weakness” rather than the grinding force it was last season.
For the time being, the Rangers will consider other options, such as moving centers Brandon Dubinsky or Derek Stepan to left wing.
Wolski will likely be moved to the second line when he returns. He struggled on the first line with center Brad Richards and right winger Marian Gaborik during pre-season, though his nagging groin injury may have played a part.
Staal’s absence and the left wing depth issue contributed to a lack of shots by the Rangers in those opening losses to the Kings and Ducks, especially in the latter, where they managed only 15 against goaltender Jonas Hiller throughout regulation and overtime. The Rangers managed only three goals in their first two games.
The power play also failed to capitalize in those two games, as the Rangers went 0-for-8 with the man advantage.
Bear in mind, the Rangers played four exhibition games against European teams before meeting the Kings and Ducks in Sweden. Playing that much hockey in one week in a foreign country and on a larger ice surface had to be factors in those two losses.
The Rangers will continue to try and solve the problem from within, but if it persists over the coming weeks, GM Glen Sather will be forced to look elsewhere for help.
He’s already found some experienced blueline depth via waivers, plucking defenseman Jeff Woywitka from the Montreal Canadiens.
But the pickings are slim in the free agent market. Defenseman Bryan McCabe remains unsigned, but after his unsuccessful stint with the Blueshirts last season, Sather won’t want to repeat the experience.
Another option is blueliner Anton Stralman, who is unsigned following his tryout with the New Jersey Devils.
Of the remaining unsigned left wingers, Sergei Samsonov would be the best fit. Steve Begin would provide additional depth to the checking lines, but not scoring help.
If Sather opts to go the trade route, Chicago’s Rostislav Olesz could become available. He can play both wings and the Blackhawks are having difficulty finding a spot for him in their lineup.
The problem, however, is Olesz’s $3.125 million per season cap hit, as the Rangers have less than $1 million of space to work with. Sather would also be leery of taking on the salary of a struggling winger who is signed through 2014.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.