Analyzing the Rangers blue line with Wade Redden out of the picture

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GYI0061781904-mcdonagh-bello-getty.jpgNow that the Rangers have cast defenseman Wade Redden aside on waivers with the intent of sending him to the AHL to rid themselves of his $6.5 million cap hit, the Rangers will have to figure out who, exactly, is going to take his spot along the blue line. Redden’s production last year wasn’t outstanding as he played 75 games and had two goals and 12 assists with a plus/minus rating of +8. Those are nice numbers for a fifth or sixth defenseman, just not for a guy you’re counting on to play more than 20 minutes a game and produce like a top-pair defenseman. Not to mention that’s what you’re paying him for.

With the players in Rangers camp to choose from, Blueshirt Banter picks out the heirs to Redden’s overpaid throne. With veterans like Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov in camp mixed in with rookies Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko, the Rangers have their choice of guys to run with. With what they’ve got in New York right now, the options the Rangers have to work with all depends on what coach John Tortorella wants to do. Here’s what the Rangers have on defense right now. Please note, these don’t reflect possible line combos – save the comments correcting me.

Marc Staal – Dan Girardi

Michal Rozsival – Steve Eminger

Matt Gilroy – Michael Del Zotto

Considering any of those four defenseman in the running for the seventh spot on the roster, Tortorella can run with either Exelby or Semenov if he wants to have another experienced veteran back there to help Del Zotto and Gilroy not have too much pressure to play well. As it is, it’s assumed that Eminger is the default seventh defenseman. Is either Exelby or Semenov better than Eminger? Tough to say.

The man most Rangers fans seem eager to get to Manhattan is youngster Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh was a man amongst boys last year at the University of Wisconsin. McDonagh was obtained last year in the Scott Gomez deal with Montreal and the fact that he could be starting for the Rangers just a year later is startling, especially if you’re a Montreal fan. Valentenko is a guy who’s opened some eyes in camp, but McDonagh is the guy that if you’re going to run with a really young defensive unit is going to get the call.

If Rangers coaches and fans don’t mind dealing with the inevitable rough patches, going with McDonagh to start the year might be the best move. While Matt Gilroy struggled towards the end of last season, he’s still a younger player learning the ropes much like McDonagh would be. If John Tortorella has the patience to deal with four defensemen under the age of 27 (Gilroy is the “old man” of the bunch at 26) it could go a long way towards helping the Rangers for the future.

If not, then going for mediocrity now with either Exelby or Semenov is the way to go. Not exactly appetizing choices because there’s going to tough spots regardless of which way they go. At least the Rangers have that financial flexibility back again. There’s always a silver lining in New York.

(Photo: Al Bello – Getty Images)

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”