Although he has been criticized –especially early in the season– and he is without a shutout (yet), could Henrik Lundqvist quietly have moved into the Vezina candidates once again, this season?
With Craig Anderson and his other worldly numbers surely out of contention because a lack of games (16 games is surely not enough to warrant consideration), Lundqvist has a few key differences to most of his Vezina competition this year. For the most part he’s suffered from a lack of goal support, while he has also had to battle to keep his team in the playoff mix.
Of goaltenders that have started 25 games or more, only Tuukka Rask has a better GAA than The King, while Lundqvist boasts the league’s best save percentage (again, discounting Anderson’s 16 game assault on the statistics). Then there’s the good old fashioned win column. The King has 17 wins which given his lack of goal support (The Rangers sit 26th overall in goal scored) is impressive, and places Lundqvist 6th overall. With guys such as Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price playing on clubs having more successful seasons than the Rangers, it’s hard not to respect the numbers the Rangers goalie has quietly assembled. However, how much will the lack of shutouts hurt his case for Vezina nomination?
Up front, the Rangers will have a lot of moving parts this summer beyond their top six. With Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan certainties to be retained (a question of how much rather than if) and the club focused on developing the young players such as Chris Kreider and JT Miller, there’s not a lot of space on the roster. With the club committed, at least financially, to Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, Brian Boyle, Arron Asham, and Taylor Pyatt there’s maybe no space for the likes of Mats Zuccarello, no matter how he plays this year out.
The natural assumption is that the Rangers will trade guys to make room for others. But the problem with this assumption is that the cap is coming down to $64.3 million, and assuming the Rangers can move a now expendable guy such as Taylor Pyatt (and his $1.55 million cap hit) is a dangerous assumption. There’s also no guarantees the club can move a Boyle or a Pyatt should they choose to. Now, do the math. That’s ten players listed without considering Ryane Clowe, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and Darroll Powe. That’s also not considering any players from the Whale, CHL, Europe, NCAA, or free agency. Log Jam folks.
These new Rangers are starting to look like the Rangers of old, and it is beginning to show in the standings. Currently, the Rangers have a record of 19-15-4, good for second place in the Atlantic Division and seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders (19-16-4) are tied with the Rangers in points, but the Rangers have a game in hand and own the tiebreaker, so they sit in eight place in the East.
Yesterday’s win over Carolina boosted the Rangers chances of making the playoffs by 11.6%, up to an 86.9% probability of making the playoffs (all percentages courtesy of Sports Club Stats). All of a sudden, the talk isn’t about whether this club will make the playoffs –something we said they will do from the start of the season– but about what seed they will get and who they will face in the first round. It’s amazing what a 3-0-1 record in March, including three points against the Penguins, can do for the confidence of the fans.
The Rangers took three of four points from the apparently almighty Penguins this week. Both games, off the back of roster re-shaping trade deadline deals, showed us a lot about how the Rangers should look for the remainder of the season.
The 2-1 shootout defeat Friday night in Pittsburgh might see some fans be disheartened about a club that scored just one goal (again), but what is a somewhat valid concern is outweighed by several positives. Let’s take a look at why the Rangers still have a chance this season;
The new guys: the new additions – led by Ryane Clowe – have brought depth, skill, but above all have made the Rangers harder to play against. Perhaps most importantly where players such as Marian Gaborik weren’t entirely trusted by Tortorella anymore, you saw the likes of Derick Brassard on the ice toward the end of the game as the Rangers chased hard. Brassard came close from a bad angle that needed a review. The fact Tortorella is rolling lines more evenly – evidence of the additional depth –suggests the Rangers have depth to make a push.
In the third period of last night’s shootout loss to the Penguins, Michael Del Zotto caught James Neal with an elbow to the jaw behind the Rangers net (video above). Del Zotto said on MSG after the game that he was trying to brace himself for a hit, but the contact was a bit awkward, as it looked like Del Zotto was already past Neal, and stuck his right arm out.
Del Zotto doesn’t have a suspension history, or a history of dirty plays. As I watch this video (you can’t really watch it in slow-mo, everything happens in real-time, not slow-mo) it looks like MDZ does throw that elbow, but his back is to Neal so it’s hard to say whether he was intentionally aiming for him.
The league will need to make a decision fast, as the Rangers play tonight.
Update: Elliotte Friedman tweets that there will be no hearing for Del Zotto
Gaborik may not get moved this week, or at all. His future up in the air
Regardless of how productive (or unproductive) Marian Gaborik is throughout the remainder of this season, the Rangers would be best advised to hold on to the Slovakian winger until the off season.
With a glut of young forwards up and around the big club this season, and with the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins comfortably ahead of the Rangers for this year’s race to the Cup, the Rangers hopes of playoff success this season rest with Henrik Lundqvist and a lot of luck. In short, the Rangers aren’t likely a real threat to the dominant two of the East, right now. Therefore, this season – without giving up on it (something no Ranger should advocate) – has become in part a trial of sorts for the younger players. All of which brings us back to Marian Gaborik.
The Rangers lost to Montreal last night, which wasn’t all that unexpected considering past success there. With the loss, the Rangers sit in 8th place in the East with a 16-15-3 record. They are tied with the Islanders in points, but hold the tiebreaker at the moment. In essence, with the Islanders the only team tied in points, the Rangers control their own destiny. They have 14 games in 27 days to decide a season.
Their first seven games in April will be against teams in the playoff race (Winnipeg, Pittsburgh twice, Carolina, Toronto twice, Islanders). They then get three games against non-playoff teams (Philly, Florida, Buffalo), before the Devils come to town. That Devils game makes a stretch of three games of four against playoff teams (Devils twice, Carolina, Florida). Summarizing, the Rangers have 14 games left in the season, 10 of which will be against teams in the playoff race. If there was any time to get their act together, now is the time.
One of the most debated topics among Rangers fans this season has been whether or not John Tortorella is in fact at fault for the offensive struggles of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. While most of our readership doesn’t seem to make Torts out to be a scapegoat, there are a small, but nonetheless vocal few who do point the finger at our coach.
Of course, most of these systems posts are based on our own observations and experiences playing the game. However, so far this season, Tortorella hasn’t said a whole lot to the media about how he actually wants Rangers hockey to be played.
Could Zuccarello’s arrival mean the end for Gaborik?
There’s a strong chance that after such an impressive performance against the Flyers (no matter how unimpressive the Flyers have been this year) that John Tortorella will stick with the line-up that pulled out the victory, and certainly the 5-2 win perhaps affords the coaching staff time with re-acquainting themselves with Mats Zuccarello. That said, when Zuccarello does eventually re-enter the line-up – and he will, why else bring him back? – his play will have a significant impact on the future of Marian Gaborik.
The Rangers have a young roster and enough moving parts that cap space isn’t a huge concern at the moment, even if it does need monitoring for next year. However, moving Gaborik or buying out Richards gives the Rangers much more maneuverability going forward. Therefore, a successful return by Zuccarello and/or an immediate impact by the also incoming Jesper Fast make Gaborik a luxury.
Us here at BSB want to wish General Manager Glen Sather a swift recovery, as Newsday has reported that he will undergo surgery for prostate cancer sometime today.
While Slats is recovering, Assistant General Manager Jeff Gorton is running the day-to-day operations. Gorton represented the Rangers at the general managers meetings in Toronto this week, and will be taking over where Slats left off. This includes player management, salary cap management, and collective bargaining.
Gorton’s history with the Bruins –where he served as interim general manager in 2006– includes orchestrating the Andrew Raycroft-Tuuka Rask swap, and drafted Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand. Those are four key pieces on what is a very good Bruins team.
The most important thing here is that Slats gets well soon.