(Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America)
The Rangers are a very deep team this season, especially at forward. They are in a position where –when fully healthy– they have three scoring lines and a solid defensive fourth line. However there is one glaring weakness (on paper); the apparent lack of physicality and toughness on the roster. Even with a healthy Ryan Callahan, the Rangers are at risk of being surprisingly vanilla, with just three forwards (Callahan, Brian Boyle, Derek Dorsett) slated to play who regularly throw their body around. Arron Asham is a fourth, but he seems destined for the 13th/14th forward role.
On defense, it doesn’t get much easier. The club doesn’t have a “nasty” defenseman who makes life hard on players who go to the front of the net. Ryan McDonagh is the closest thing they have, but he doesn’t have a history of beating people down in front of the net at the NHL level. Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi led the team in hits for defensemen, and we saw them being more physical in front in the preseason, but they still don’t qualify as that “nasty” player.
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Photo: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images
After the Rangers announced their final cuts yesterday, they practiced and showcased some new lines. These lines are not quite set, as Ryan Callahan is not cleared to play in games (just cleared for contact). Rick Nash, who missed practice, would take Cally’s place on the top line:
Brad Richards-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan
Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Jesper Fast
Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello
JT Miller-Dominic Moore-Derek Dorsett
The first thing that stands out is that Brad Richards is on the wing. This is honestly a very savvy coaching move. It is clear that Richards is not the Richards of old, but can be a very effective offensive player. By placing him on the wing, Alain Vigneault is limiting his defensive responsibilities and allowing Richards to play more to his strengths. It’s a move that may seem small, but may have a big impact.
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How good can Ryan McDonagh be?
Best case: Johnson is an adequate depth defender and is significantly better than Stu Bickel in spot duty.
Worst case: Johnson is no better than Bickel and the Rangers are back where they were last year if top-six blueliners get hurt.
Best case: Stralman continues to be an unsung hero for the Blueshirts and finally earns the attention he deserves with a standout campaign, including some gaudy power play numbers.
Worst case: Stralman’s hold on the #6 job loosens and Justin Falk pushes him for playing time. Read more »
Sather always does things on his terms
Remember when Ales Hemsky was considered an elite prospect? Remember the last time the Edmonton Oilers were considered a well run franchise? The answer to both questions is probably a long time ago. Despite multiple lottery draft picks the Oilers have been ‘on the cusp’ of being a playoff team for too long (although this year may finally be the year they reach the post season).
How does the Oilers’ underperforming relate to the Rangers? Glen Sather has once again shown how a consistent strategy and sensible planning goes hand in hand with a successful franchise. With the announcement of Derek Stepan’s new deal – two years for $6.15m – the Rangers made a mockery of clubs such as the Oilers who appear in a constant rush to sign players to excessive deals before they’ve actually earned them.
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Vigneault will be looking long term, not just trying to cope in October
While the vast majority of NHL teams have trimmed their rosters down in preparation for the season, the Rangers are still carrying a large, oversized squad as they continue to work out what they need to cope with a harsh start to their regular season. The results haven’t been positive (yet) but when has the Stanley Cup ever been awarded in September?
The short of it is that Alain Vigneault is taking a long hard look at numerous players before cutting the roster down and it’s the right approach. With injuries to key players and with an extended road trip featuring multiple presumptive cup contenders it’s imperative the new coach knows what he has at his disposal not only now but in case of all eventualities moving forward. What it also allows however is long term planning for the Rangers.
The Rangers stand to benefit from having greater insight into the likes of Conor Allen, Jesper Fast and into the less heralded prospects such as Tommy Hughes. Knowing the timetable for Oscar Lindberg’s readiness (which appears to be now by the way) or Marek Hrivik’s NHL ability should allow the club to plan beyond this season. Alain Vigneault is having to acclimatise himself with a new franchise, a new conference and is doing so to a deeper level than many may feel necessary in the short term.
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A bounce-back season from Brad Richards would be a huge boost for the Rangers
Best case: Asham continues to provide comedic relief on Twitter and plays in a handful of games with the Blueshirts.
Worst case: New York is unable to find a taker for Asham on waivers and he spends the final year of his contract in Hartford.
Best case: The former fourth-overall pick puts it all together as a Blueshirt and records a 20-goal season.
Worst case: The Rangers learn why Pouliot has already played for four teams in his young career and the big forward is invisible most nights. Read more »
Kreider and Richards will be given every opportunity to succeed (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
In a series of tweets from Andrew Gross, coach Alain Vigneault started to shed some light on the future lines and defensive pairings heading into the season. The new coach has kept Chris Kreider on a line with Brad Richards and Rick Nash, which will probably be the top line when the season starts. The other set line appears to be Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccrello flanking Derick Brassard.
Both lines have looked good in their limited preseason action, and both lines are expected to grow together and gain some chemistry to see if they actually work out. This also provides answers to a few questions: Kreider will be given a shot on the top six. Richards will be given a shot at redemption. Pouliot will make this club. New York will have a tertiary scoring line. These were all major questions heading into camp, and all have been answered.
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Henrik Lunqdvist’s next deal – pivotal?
When Sidney Crosby signed his last contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins he did so without huge fanfare, while signing for a large amount of money over a significant period of time. Some wondered why the Penguins took the risk given Crosby’s recent history but the fact remained, the Penguins locked up arguably the best center in hockey.
While signing on the dotted line, Crosby left dollars on the table. Whether it would have been with Pittsburgh or elsewhere Crosby could have named his price to all 30 NHL clubs (yes Crosby haters, ALL 30) and each team would have begged him to sign. In a financial world where Crosby could have signed for an annual cap hit of $12.86m (20% of the current cap) he signed for a cap hit of 8.7m. Not chump change for sure but clearly money ‘given up’.
When Crosby signed on the dotted line he clearly cashed in (a twelve year extension worth an 8.7m cap hit is clearly ‘cashing in’) but he also made sure the club were given some financial wiggle room. He notably didn’t take the maximum contract on offer and in doing so set the tone for others within the franchise to perhaps do the same.
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Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Since the emergence of Henrik Lundqvist during the 2005-2006 season, many Ranger fans haven’t put much thought into the future between the pipes. Fast forward eight years later, Hank is still only 31 years-old and likely to sign a 7-8 year extension within the next 12 months. The stability The King provides has masked (no pun intended?) a rather glaring organization weakness: depth in goal.
Although its only been two preseason games, Cam Talbot has been impressive the first long-look of his career. Although the numbers are nothing to write home about (3.21 GAA, .875 Sv%), he has looked closer to NHL-ready than anything we’ve seen from the Rangers’ goaltending prospects in some time. This has prompted a discussion about Marty Biron’s future and contemplating a world where we can off-set some of Hank’s raise with a cheap backup. In this spirit of this curiosity, I thought I’d take a closer look at Mr. Talbot’s background and overall game.
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Marek Hrivik has an NHL-ready body
The battle for forward positions has been the talk of training camp thus far, and several of New York’s youngsters have made strong cases to be on the opening night roster. Chris Kreider, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Danny Kristo and Marek Hrivik have all impressed, while 2011 first-round pick J.T. Miller hasn’t gotten the opportunity due to injuries. With Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan out for the first chunk of the season, one or more of these players will likely be thrust into significant roles come October 3rd.
Chris Kreider has been skating with Brad Richards and Rick Nash for much of camp and it seems like a foregone conclusion that he’ll be locked into a top-six role at the start of the season. But after Kreider, the roster battle is still ongoing. Read more »