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Top Shelf: Ranger danger

Chris Drury and Co. will have a tough time scoring goals this season in New York. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Chris Drury and Co. will have a tough time scoring goals this season in New York. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)

Since there are no games to watch right now, let’s play one ourselves.

It’s a brisk Tuesday evening in New York City, say, around late November, and one of the first cold nights of the year is a sufficient deterrent to shun all activities that involve leaving the house.

In a fortuitous turn, all three of the local teams can be found on TV – hey, we’re suspending reality here – with the Devils, Rangers and Isles all in action.

Assuming a non-partisan hockey fan is holding the remote, which team is most worth turning to? The Devils and Rangers have been the default flip for years, but the landing of John Tavares on Long Island might just make the Islanders the most intriguing local bunch of puck-players.

Think about it. Jersey, you can bet, will be re-suited for Jacques’ trap. And the Rangers? Well, they could be just plain awful.

Last week, I used this cyberspace to discuss how, with a modicum of goaltending, Philadelphia could be a legitimate Cup threat. Well, at the opposite and shallow end of the Atlantic you’ll find the Rangers, a club that is still in real trouble even if it gets all-world goaltending every time out.

Henrik Lundqvist aside, the Blueshirts are a team in desperate need of dependable talent.

We say dependable, of course, because they used free agency to add the electric Marian Gaborik, who will shock no one if he plays less than 60 games this year.

After that, the Rangers are thinner than a model trying to make it in Manhattan.

Whether glancing at a forest of second-tier forwards or a shady blueline, it’s apparent things could get ugly at MSG.

The back end has ever-improving shutdown D-man Marc Staal and what we’d deem a competent two-way defenseman in Dan Girardi.

That’s about it. We all know how Year 1 of the Six-Year Mistake known as Wade Redden’s contact went. If you don’t, we’ll summarize: Bad.

Michal Roszival, who’ll be 31 when the season starts, wasn’t much better than Redden.

Basically – unless you think rookie Matt Gilroy is going to be the runaway Calder Trophy winner – there’s still nobody to run a power play that finished 29th in the league last season.

Up front, everybody besides the always-injured Gaborik is background talent.

Nikolai Zherdev, otherwise known as Alex Kovalev Light, has silky hands, but it’s unlikely he’ll be using them to sign on for another maddeningly inconsistent year in New York.

According to NHLSCAP.com, the Rangers already have more than $52 million committed in cap space – and that’s with just four defensemen who can be called NHL regulars in the fold and RFA Brandon Dubinsky still unsigned.

Zherdev has an arbitration hearing set for July 31 and reports indicate the Rangers are more than prepared to walk away if he gets anywhere near the raise he’s asking for on the $3.25 million he abused the cap for last season.

Related Links

In a good year, newcomers Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik are at the bottom end of your top-six forwards. But what if this isn’t a good year for them?

Take your pick as to whether Dubinsky or Chris Drury is the team’s No. 1 center. Either way, both would be severely miscast in the role.

We all know about Drury’s clutch reputation, but he’s failed to score so much as 60 points over his first two years on Broadway while commanding a mind-numbing average salary of just more than $7 million a year.

Dubinsky started hot last year, but wound up with just 41 points, a one-point improvement on his rookie campaign. Even accounting for some growth in the 23-year-old’s game, he’s nowhere near ready to be the lead pivot on an NHL team.

The only other forward poised for progress is Ryan Callahan, but unless he suddenly leaps from 22 to 40 goals, his jump isn’t going to be enough to save this bunch.

Certainly, Lundqvist is the kind of goalie who can help a team fudge it for long stretches, but Roberto Luongo was a terrific stopgap on a lot of Florida teams that always fell short of the post-season. I’m not sure the Blueshirts have much on those Cats.

Of course, no assessment of the Rangers would be complete without a mention of Sean Avery.

He’s been a highly effective player for the team in the past, but a full season of Avery playing for a no-nonsense guy like coach John Tortorella has incredibly entertaining disaster written all over it. Check your NHL Periodic Table of the Elements and you’ll find Torts and Avery to be a most volatile pairing.

That could be just one storyline in a chain reaction of disasters around the Rangers this year.

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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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