Pouliot: Riding recent success to a new deal? Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Image
Inconsistent, journeyman pro, never sticks with one team, will never live up to his draft status. The list of criticisms labelled at Benoit Pouliot is a long one, and by and large most criticisms and assumptions about the Rangers winger have been or are true. Pouliot will never live up to being 4th overall in 2005, nor is he particularly consistent, but in recent weeks something inside of the highly skilled, big winger may have clicked.
We wrote pre-season with excitement at the potential steal the Rangers may have signed when they took on Pouliot. We then watched Pouliot stumble through the first 25 or so games of the season, as he looked like a free agent mistake. In the past month or so, Pouliot has been one of the Rangers better players and may even manage to stick with a club beyond one season for the first time since the club that drafted him (the Wild). Of course, this if he can continue his great recent form.
At 6’3 and 200 lbs Pouliot is big, can skate well, is very skilled, and works hard. He’s not a defensive liability either, but it always appeared something was missing. All of a sudden (at least recently) Pouliot is consistent and, above all, dangerous. Using the breakaway against Dallas as an example, he doesn’t give up on plays. In short, Pouliot is working his butt off to stick with the Rangers or at least prolong his NHL career.
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If Del Zotto finds form, can the Rangers afford to let him go?
With Michael Del Zotto back in the line-up consistently and finally cobbling together some consistent form the likely trade suitors will increase as Del Zotto starts to rack up the assists (3 in his last 4 games). Of course, with Del Zotto improving in recent weeks (as has most of the roster) the Rangers stand to benefit. Here’s the dilemma: if Del Zotto is playing well, it might make him more attractive to other teams but all of a sudden the Rangers can’t afford to deal him.
In theory, Del Zotto should thrive in Alain Vigneault’s system. It’s been his decision making that has let him down. Vigneault encourages defenseman to step up into the play, play aggressively and try and keep plays alive in the offensive zone. All those theories fit with Del Zotto’s skill set. When Del Zotto is playing well he is still a unique player on this roster.
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The Rangers are thankful for Lundqvist’s improved form (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Perhaps the most encouraging part of watching the Rangers during their recent upturn in form is seeing several core players begin to find some much needed form. Any club will only go as far as their best players take them and it’s no coincidence that now that the spine of the Rangers are collectively finding their games, the team has found some level of consistency and are beginning to show evidence of creating an identity.
Rick Nash has started to find his offensive game and it’s no coincidence that he has started to score a few goals and be harder to deal with as he has (finally) started to go the dangerous parts of the ice. Nash’s game winner against the Stars came as he was falling, looking to crash the night. With his size and ability Nash has to be around the puck more, not stay on the perimeter and he simply has to go to the net. It’s not easy to move a man of his size. Simple hockey theory.
As Dave discussed this week, Dan Girardi’s improved form has given the Rangers more consistency on the back end, helped reduce the errors in front of Lundqvist and generally made the Rangers harder to play against. Girardi is not one of the Rangers more talented players but whsomeone plays as many minutes as Girardi does and matches up against the opponent’s best forwards, if he’s on his game it will usually bode well.
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Does Brassard’s future lie in New York?
With the Rangers roster facing significant change in the near future, one player’s situation that is a difficult one to predict is Derick Brassard’s. A player of immense natural ability, Brassard started his New York career in brilliant style as a game changing, point per game force last season. His performance left players such as Rick Nash in his shadow during the playoffs.
This season however has been a different story. As he was in Columbus, Brassard has been (until recently) maddeningly inconsistent. His game has been littered with defensive mistakes, careless passing that reminded many of Brad Richards last season, and several times Brassard simply went missing from games. Then there’s the other side of Brassard’s game that excites so many.
Brassard is a great playmaker, with soft hands and vision not often matched by his teammates. In fact, apart from Richards (surely a goner after this season) only Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan have the same level of vision as Brassard. It’s his offensive skills that the Rangers sorely need; especially with a general lack of top end skill on the roster.
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Rarity: Chris Kreider is one of few that represent value this year. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Who gets the blame; the General Manager? The coaching staff? Or perhaps the players themselves? When you look at the Rangers’ disappointing position in the standings and general up and down performances from a game to game basis, one thing that may go unnoticed is how the Rangers are not getting value for money from their roster. In the cap era, getting good return from your investments is critical and is something found on almost every successful roster.
With New York it obviously begins with Rick Nash ($7.8 million) , Brad Richards ($6.667 million) and yes, Henrik Lundqvist (at present, $6.875 million). When judging the financial returns solely on this season, none of the critical trio named are giving the Rangers acceptable production. Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and in fact almost every Ranger player on a sizeable cap hit hasn’t produced.
Whatever the mitigating circumstances, the underwhelming returns continue with Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto and, until recently, Derick Brassard. No ‘core player’ has produced as anticipated. Considering cap hits of $2 million dollars and above, it can be argued only Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello have produced above expectations. When you consider, from a financial perspective, almost an entire roster hasn’t lived up to its billing it’s a huge area for concern.
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Derek Stepan is one of several players that need to be better
The Rangers have struggled to score consistently all season. Successful teams get the bulk of their scoring from their top six forwards, but no Ranger forward has covered himself in glory this season. Before going on to look at the individual grades at the halfway mark consider this: Mats Zuccarello is leading this team in scoring – a team designed to win the Cup – and is 71st in scoring in the league at time of writing.
Offensively this team will live or die on Rick Nash’s production. As of Wednesday night, 156(!) players had scored more goals than Rick Nash (7 goals, 16 points in 24 games). While his injuries are unfortunate, the peripheral play, extended droughts, and lack of dominance from a player with Nash’s skill and size are a concern. Nash is making $7.8 million and is the team’s most gifted forward, but rarely has he come close to earning his salary or leading the Rangers offense. A team with limited skill need more from their sole elite forward, Nash needs a strong second half if the Rangers are going to have success.
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Can Staal get back to his dominant old self?
With Marc Staal returning to the line-up tonight, speculation will begin (again) as to whether the timing of his return is right, and whether Staal will ever be able to return to his previous best. In addition to the obvious chase for a playoff spot, and the continued (prolonged) acclimatisation to the new coaching staff, the Rangers will need to treat the second half of the season as an audition of sorts for Marc Staal.
There’s no question that Staal – at his best – is an elite All Star calibre defenseman, capable of shutting down the league’s best scorers, while also contributing offensively. However there are a boat load of questions regarding his durability, the task of re-projecting his long-term potential, and subsequently measuring his relative importance to the Rangers. In addition, the club needs to consider the financial risks that come with committing to such an injury prone and potentially concussion-vulnerable player.
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Photo: The Score
Dion Phaneuf. Yes, I said it. The Rangers have a huge question mark in an area – defense – which on paper at least, they have had good depth. Michael Del Zotto is likely, barring a stunning turnaround, on his way out of New York in the summer (at the latest). Marc Staal’s long term future is full of doubt due to injury. That leaves –on paper– two key cogs: Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. McDonagh is a stud, he’s a future, perennial Norris candidate if he gets some support; unfortunately Dan Girardi is no longer the guy to provide it.
Girardi’s game appears in decline, and yet he’ll still get paid handsomely in the summer, based on past achievements. His play this year has been underwhelming (on a team that, in his defense, has collectively underwhelmed) and he hasn’t been the same consistent presence we grew to appreciate, for the last two years. That’s a long time, playing under his normal assumed levels, to commit to a long term future at a big financial cost.
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Franson could be NY bound (Photo: Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
Welcome to Thursday. It’s finally time for another Musings (not that fake musings Dave did yesterday. What a bum). The Rangers have been better the past couple games without being very good. With plenty to muse over, let’s do it for the final time before the festive season kicks in.
As you’ll have seen; rumours are abound that the Leafs are considering Michael Del Zotto and Cody Franson may come the other way. From the Leafs perspective it doesn’t make sense. You’re essentially swapping one expiring contract for the other but giving up a bigger more productive player who’s better on his feet without being a great defenseman. Seems like a lot of trust in Del Zotto’s ability to turn the corner in his career.
Rick Nash. Oh, Rick Nash where art thou? He was invisible in the Penguins game – a game where I had previously said he needed to make a statement. It’s as simple as this: the Rangers cannot be successful long term unless Nash and Henrik Lundqvist are on or near the top of their games. Right now neither is close, hence the current position in the standings.
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Will the real Rick Nash please stand up. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
When the Rangers traded for Rick Nash, it was with the intention of finding their offensive saviour. It hasn’t happened. The Rangers still struggle to score goals consistently, and while Nash has flashed his obvious and undoubted brilliance, he hasn’t (yet) been the player the Rangers were looking for. Nash’s first regular season as a Ranger was a solid one (42 points in 44 games), but the season ended in underwhelming style as the team (and Nash) left the playoff party without much fight.
This year Nash obviously suffered the concussion, but has also been caught in the same quicksand that the entire Rangers offense has found itself in. With 12 points in 17 games and just 6 goals, Nash needs to produce more. A lack of reliable line mates or an injury simply can’t count as excuses any longer. When a player is drawing a $7.8 million annual salary he needs to be doing more. No one will criticise Nash for missing time through an unfortunate injury, but when he’s healthy the most talented Rangers forward has to deliver more consistently and in fact more in almost every way.
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