The differences are subtle, but the New York Rangers roster underwent serious changes this season with their role players. After finishing atop the Eastern Conference in 2011-12, the 2013 Rangers lack toughness after minor roster moves have failed to pay off.
Not bringing back Brandon Prust, trading away Mike Rupp and Stu Bickel playing in only half the games so far this season has turned the Rangers almost entirely into a finesse team. Bickel leads the team in penalty minutes by a large margin despite only playing in eight games while Rick Nash is inexplicably just one penalty minute behind Arron Asham for second most on the team.
Where are the enforcers? Who will grind away at the will of an opponent in a close game? Is Asham supposed to be setting the tone? Dare I say it–this Rangers roster may be missing guys like Sean Avery to throw opponents off their game.
While it’s sexy to rotate four lines of scorers every night, it also leads to an inability to finish close games. The lack of a physical presence could be behind some of the relative mediocrity this New York team is experiencing in 2013.
Brian Boyle, the most physically imposing player on the roster, has been all but invisible. Posting a -4 rating and just one point in 11 games, Boyle has been another disappointment in a slow start to an overhyped 2012-13 campaign. Ryan Callahan is off to a slow start as well, posting the same -4 rating through his first 12 games and producing only four points.
The season is not without standout positive contributions. The acquisition of Nash is paying dividends already as he leads the team in scoring and Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik are off to tremendous starts as well. Carl Hagelin has contributed with ten points and has been a pleasant surprise early on.
Still, if the Rangers are going to survive in a brutal Atlantic Division, they’ll need to toughen up. Whether a roster change is necessary or the physical players simply need to step up, they may not be able to win on finesse alone.