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Thursday, October 6, 2011
New York Rangers' 2011-12 season preview

By Katie Strang

At a glance: With the splashy free-agent acquisition of elite center Brad Richards the Rangers felt poised to take the next step, but a key injury has the team concerned. The main focus is no longer Richards -- the potent playmaker who inked a nine-year, $60 million deal this summer -- but rather the health of the team's top defenseman Marc Staal.

Main storylines

Marc Staal: When training camp began, Staal revealed that he was still suffering from persistent headaches triggered by a concussion sustained last February. And the situation does not seem to be getting any better. The 24-year-old, who stayed behind while the Rangers went to Europe, was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. Although he is eligible to return Oct.12, it appears likely that he will miss a significant amount of time. Staal has yet to fully practice or scrimmage with the team and will continue to see specialists and seek treatment.

Depleted D: Staal isn't the Rangers' only injury on defense. Michael Sauer sprained his shoulder in the team's 5-3 loss to Philadelphia last Monday. Even if Sauer is available to play in the regular-season opener against the Kings on Friday, the Rangers' back end is lacking depth. The team has Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh on the blue line, but will have to also rely on Michael Del Zotto, Steve Eminger and bubble players Brendan Bell and Stu Bickel to round out their defensive corps. The team recalled 20-year-old prospect Tim Erixon on Wednesday and has also expressed interest in veteran Paul Mara. Could the 32-year-old be back for a second stint with the Rangers?

Looking for a left wing: The Rangers have a dangerous tandem in Richards and sniper Marian Gaborik, but the search for the top line's ideal left wing continues. Wojtek Wolski got the first look but has been hampered by a groin injury. Brandon Dubinsky will start there Friday, but in doing so will disrupt the chemistry established between him, Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan on the second line.

Training camp surprise

Sean Avery's status was tenuous heading into camp, so it shouldn't be that shocking, but the team's decision to waive the feisty fan favorite effectively ended his turbulent run as a Ranger. Coach John Tortorella said the team has better players than Avery and that appears to include center Erik Christensen. The two battled for the 13th forward spot, but ultimately the Rangers felt Christensen was a more versatile and cost-effective option. Mats Zuccarello's strong camp didn't help Avery’s cause, either.

Bottom line

Staal's injury could be devastating to the Rangers, who were already a bit thin on defense. Staal is a cornerstone of this young squad. If his condition doesn't improve soon, the team has good reason to worry -- about the present and the future.