The Sports Daily > NY Rangers Blog
Guest Blogger #17: It comes down to Zuccarello or Christensen

By AG_Blue

The Rangers 2011-2012 roster is all set. It looks like our team is all signed and ready to focus on the season ahead. Or is it?

The current roster, as it appears courtesy of our friends at CapGeek, includes 14 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies. Given this particular scenario the organization comes out $702,166 under the salary cap. This includes Tim Erixon among the team’s defense – we’ll see if he makes the team out of camp, he definitely has a good shot at it. However, that is with no Del Zotto. Do you agree that the team is more likely to go with 13 forwards and 7 defensemen? I believe Michael Del Zotto will get another chance and have a solid comeback year this year. The kid’s only 21 years old, he’s just getting started, and the organization believes he has a bright future in the NHL. But in order to take on DZ’s $1,087,000 cap hit, someone else will have to go. Despite his hefty $3,800,000 contract, I think Wolski stays. It comes down to Zuccarello or Christensen.

Except for a few positions, the forward lines will change around all season long, as we all know. The left wing will likely move around the most as I believe we’ll see Wolski, Fedotenko, Dubinsky, and Avery all skate on the first line with Richards and Gaborik at some point. Barring a surprise performance from a prospect in camp (such as Hagelin or Thomas making the team) I believe these are lines we will witness this season:

Wolski – Richards – Gaborik
Dubinsky – Anisimov – Callahan
Fedontenko – Stepan – Prust
Avery – Boyle – Rupp
+ an alternate forward

Richards, Gaborik, and Callahan are the only guys that will really stay put. Everybody else will move around. Rupp and Boyle will probably alternate between center and wing a little bit. Stepan and Anisimov will change lines depending on match-ups and how their game is going. Given these lines, it would come down to Zuccarello or Christensen as the alternate forward. So the question is, which guy do you move?

Christensen comes with a cap hit of $925,000, and Zuccarello commands a $1,750,000 entry-level contract and they are each moving into the final year of their respective contracts. Zuccarello will be a Restricted Free Agent next summer and Christensen will be Unrestricted. If the team wanted to go with their current 14 forwards and add Del Zotto, they’d be caught 384,834 over the cap ($64,684,834). Either of those forwards could be moved one way or another, and the club would be safely under the cap. Move Christensen and there’s $540,166 remaining; move Zuccarello and there’s $1,365,166 remaining. That’s a significant difference, but while the numbers play their part in determining the outcome, other factors including what kind of game they bring to camp, where they are in their careers, and how they fit in with this year’s squad will all be considered.

Christensen brings to the team an unquestionable abundance of skill including skating and hands, but he has sorely lacked consistency, has been unable to fill the top center position, and generally seems to lack confidence. He bounced from the Penguins to the Thrashers to the Ducks before we picked him up and he has never played a complete NHL season. This past season he played the most games he’s played yet with 63. He was a +3, and put up 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points. Tortorella and the fans seemed frustrated with him last year while waiting for him to find his game and some consistency. I really thought he might come into his own last year with a fresh start and a chance to play with Gaborik. It never happened. Christensen will turn 28 this December.

Zuccarello did well his first year, with so many injuries sustained by the Rangers Zuccarello saw more ice time with the big club than he was expected to. He handled himself well, for the most part, and seemed to adjust to the smaller American rinks and the harder game quicker than expected. However, Tortorella expressed concerns about his diminutive stature and couldn’t use him in all situations. In 42 games he was a +3 and put up 6 goals and 17 assists for 23 points. That’s a .540 points per game average. Not bad. He’ll be 24 years old before the start of next season.

Playing 21 fewer games Zuccarello had only 4 points less than Christensen. They were both the go to guys on the shootout, each scoring 5 shootout goals last season, Zuccarello on 9 chances, Christensen with 8.

Unless they make some other deal, I think the team goes with Christensen as the 13th forward. Let me explain. If Zuccarello made the big club he’d be sitting on the bench a lot. Sending him down to the Whale will give him a lot more ice-time and he’ll be a key guy every night. That’s great experience for a guy that still has a chance to make it in the NHL. Also, Zuccarello would again be called-upon should the Rangers need a fill-in due to injuries (and let’s hope there are a lot fewer of those this year).

Going on 28 years of age, many wonder if Christensen will ever find the confidence and consistency to stay in the NHL. He displays flashes of brilliance and despite slumps his skill has been just enough to keep him around. However, he’s a veteran of the bench! But that might be just what we need in an alternate forward. Taking the pressure off him to produce every night could alleviate some of his inconsistency and he could be a good utility player for us. He could put his skills to use to help the team in key situations and in games where Mike Rupp’s physical presence may not be needed. Christensen could come in to make the Rangers a little more dangerous. Plus, keeping Christensen and moving Zuccarello leaves the team with $1,365,166 which is plenty flexibility during the season.

It’s great to have all the free agents signed so everybody can focus on a healthy and successful season ahead. I think the roster will change very little from what it is today. Again, I believe the team will go with 13 forwards and 7 defensemen, which means a change to the current roster. I think Del Zotto gets another shot with the Rangers and Zuccarello will be back with the Whale.

I’m really liking the look of this team!
The 2011-2012 New York Rangers:

Wolski – Richards – Gaborik
Dubinsky – Anisimov – Callahan
Fedontenko – Stepan – Prust
Avery – Boyle – Rupp

Staal – Giradi
McDonagh – Sauer
Erixon – Del Zotto


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