When the Rangers opened training camp on Friday, it looked like it was going to be relatively drama-free. After all, there were no restricted free agents to hold out. The captain and the alternates were all named beforehand.
But it couldn’t all be sunshine and rainbows, could it?
Scare number one came right out of the gate, when defenseman Michael Sauer was unable to participate in John Tortorella’s infamous conditioning tests or the first scrimmages on Sunday due to tendinitis in his knee. Sauer felt well enough to give it a go on Monday and partook in a scrimmage, scoring a goal in the process. He participated fully on Tuesday and so far so good in terms of how the knee is responding to full activity.
The bigger scare followed on Sunday when some troubling news about fellow defenseman Marc Staal came to light. He suffered a concussion (along with a knee injury) back on February 22nd, courtesy of a hit from big brother Eric. Marc reportedly passed baseline tests he was administered during last season in the wake of the hit, but suffered from headaches over the summer. While he passed his baseline tests when camp opened and was cleared for physical contact, the Rangers have opted to err on the side of caution and hold him out of all scrimmages and plan to not have him play in any of the preseason games in North America. Concern grew greater when he was kept off the ice altogether Monday and sent home because he was not feeling well. Tuesday he felt well enough to participate in practice, which was definitely a positive.
It may be way too early to panic, but it’s hard not to consider what the worst case scenario could be. We know these days about the possible long-term effects of concussions and how unpredictable the symptoms and recovery can be from person to person. Staal is arguably the most important piece on the Rangers’ blue line, logging around 30 minutes a night and tasked with shutting down top opponents. There always remains that chance that he may suddenly not feel well again and miss part of the season. Or, an extreme worst-case scenario, have to end his career. As Rangers fans we’ve witnessed both Mike Richter and Jeff Beukeboom forced into retirement because of lingering effects of concussions.
Taking that extreme out of the equation, having Staal out of the lineup for any amount of time would deprive the Rangers of their top defenseman, and strip 311 regular-season games’ worth of experience away from an already young, relatively inexperienced defense corps that may be adding a 21-year-old trying to regain his NHL game and/or a 20-year-old rookie into the mix. Plus, Staal’s 30-odd minutes a night would need to be distributed amongst whoever’s left, and who knows if second-year players like Ryan McDonagh and Sauer are ready to handle that on a regular basis. Brendan Bell is not the answer. If he were he would be more than the career minor-leaguer he has been to this point. Wade Redden wasn’t even invited to camp and the Rangers can’t afford to put his salary back on the NHL books even if they were even remotely considering him as an option. The need to acquire an experienced defenseman grows exponentially if Staal cannot play, as will the price they’d have to pay to obtain it.
The Rangers are making the right call with how conservative they are treating this. It’s preseason, and there’s no point in putting him out there and having something happen – intentional or accidental – that could cause further harm to him. Taking the sports element out of it, this is a 24-year-old kid who just got married this offseason and has a lot of life ahead of him. The Rangers don’t need a Marc Savard situation on their hands.
The Rangers finally get their preseason schedule under way Wedensday when they will take on the New Jersey Devils in Albany, NY. The group that will be participating was released on Tuesday as follows:
Forwards: Anisimov, Avery, Bourque, Christensen, Deveaux, Dubinsky, Hagelin, McColgan, Miller, Mitchell, Thomas, Weise
Defense: Bell, Del Zotto, Eminger, Erixon, Girardi, McIlrath
Goalies: Lundqvist, Talbot
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927