Editor’s Note: This post was written on 12/25, with some updates made by Dave as of last night’s game.
One of the biggest surprises during the first half of last season was Rangers forward Brian Boyle. Boyle came out of the gate looking like a completely different player and was a huge part of our offense. Through the first three months of last season, Boyle had 14 goals and 22 points in 38 games. After the halfway mark his production fell off a cliff.
This season, Boyle’s contributions on offense have been more congruent with the 2nd half of last year, as he has just two goals to date. To be fair, Boyle’s average minutes per game have slightly decreased from 15:44 last season to 14 minutes this season and obviously he’s being relied on more for his play in the defensive zone, which has been stellar (just look at last night’s game). However, if the Rangers are going to go the distance in the playoffs, they are going to need some scoring from our bottom six and that starts with Brian Boyle.
Now I wasn’t expecting him to go out and score 25 goals this season, but 15 shouldn’t have been a stretch. With Brandon Dubinsky struggling, and the fact that you can only ask so much of guys like Brandon Prust, Mike Rupp, and Ruslan Fedotenko offensively, it’s fair to say that Boyle simply needs to be better offensively.
Jeff Woywitka had the same amount of points as Brian Boyle prior to last night’s game. While Boyle isn’t (or at least should not be) judged purely on offensive statistics that first comment is quite a damning statement given Woywitka is a throw-in and plays minimal minutes on the bottom defensive pair. Simply put Brian Boyle, even with his goal yesterday, hasn’t been good enough consistently (the key word) this season.
We’ve not seen the same improved skating from last year, there’s been an absence of Boyle driving hard to the net using his size to his advantage and generally Boyle has failed to impose himself on games. Boyle has been OK defensively, but isn’t taking the body as well as he did last year. He needs to do more. The thing is, despite all the big name players in the Rangers top six, the presence of Boyle in his 2010-11 form would go a long way to making this team much better.
Boyle is a huge part of this team. Why? With Boyle playing like he did at times last year this team is suddenly very deep down the middle. Without that Boyle the team is simply not as deep. A good Boyle, and a good line led by Boyle, creates match-up problems for opposing teams and gives the Rangers three strong lines with different skill sets to roll with confidence.
Boyle isn’t the only Rangers forward fighting with himself to be better. Brandon Dubinsky still isn’t justifying his new deal (sorry, one goal doesn’t cut it), Brandon Prust has been indifferent (cause or effect of Boyle’s year?) while Wojtek Wolski can’t get and stay in the line up. However, if Brian Boyle can get close to his level of play from last year he helps those around him. His line playing well helps the other lines and thus it truly could be a knock on effect.
Some people might forget that Boyle had a long scoreless streak last year as well. If his current form (at least offensively) continues questions may be asked whether he was merely on a hot streak last year and it was all a flash in the pan. So far, Boyle hasn’t received much criticism. Whether that’s because of his popularity or the fact his new deal isn’t as big as a guy like Dubinsky’s is a moot point. The Rangers need him to be better and sooner rather than later.
Despite a great season last time around, when Brandon Prust became an integral (albeit surprising) Ranger there could be some difficulty finding an ideal spot for Prust on this year’s team. Prust is obviously going to make the side; after all he became a dangerous penalty killer last season as well as a fearless competitor. However, his role this year is somewhat complicated by the fact he still hasn’t been cleared for physical contact and won’t be until the Rangers hit Europe – meaning the gritty winger won’t have had an ideal pre-season whatsoever.
His line mates from last season – primarily Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko – will have a full camp under their belts with different line mates as well as accumulating plenty of ice time. The Rangers have a lot of wingers desperate to make the team out of camp including physical winger Dale Weise, speedy Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello. One of those, if not more, may head to Europe because of injuries persisting on the roster to players such as Prust.
So what if a Hagelin or Weise finds great chemistry in the bottom six, especially with Prust’s former line? Again, to repeat, Prust isn’t going anywhere. His play last year built up a lot of credit and he’s a great find for the Rangers but he may be moved around the roster if chemistry is built up in his absence. Not an ideal scenario for the fan favourite.
A successful Sean Avery makes the Rangers much deeper and it’s possibly in everyone’s interest that it happens. That sentence is a fact and believe it or not it’s probably in the prospect’s vying with Avery’s interest too. Why? Competition breeds performance and Avery is a competitor. It’s hard to imagine Avery will give up his roster spot without a fight.
An on-form Avery can be moved around the line up to create favourable match-ups. We know what he can bring this team when he’s on his game (the sand paper, the hustle, the added skill) but it’s the fact he can play effectively on any kind of line whether it be a scoring or checking one that makes him especially useful.
The fact he enters this year’s camp playing for both his immediate and long term future (if there’s even one to play for) should be a good thing. It should act as motivation for Avery and he’s better when there’s a carrot being dangled and this carrot is no Vogue intern-ship. If day one is anything to go by (though in all honesty it’s far, far too early to draw any kind of picture of how camp will go) then Avery’s impressive performance bodes well.
Imagine a fourth line of Avery – Boyle – Prust or even Avery – Christensen – Rupp. There are a million combinations that you could list as a potential fourth line and having guys like Avery and Rupp that far down the line-up highlight the potential depth the Rangers could have. Avery against most team’s fourth lines represents a mismatch in favour of the Rangers – providing he’s focussed and makes the team. How Avery goes through training camp is definitely a subplot to watch.
Amid all the players battling for a roster spot this September one player that could surprise Rangers fans might be Ryan Bourque but what do the Rangers have at their disposal in the Hall of Famer’s son? Bourque could be a great option for the bottom six given his brand of hockey and could be one to look out for.
Bourque’s style fits well with the way the Rangers played last season but he needs to stay healthy. When Bourque did play he contributed offensively grabbing 59 points in 49 games for the Remparts in the QMJHL last season. However it’s the way he plays the game that could give Ray Bourque’s son a chance to break the roster straight away.
While guys like Christian Thomas are being (rightfully) touted as dark horses to crack the line up there doesn’t seem an ideal fit given the competition and an offensive player like Thomas needs top 6 minutes which doesn’t seem likely. Bourque however, can play a bottom six role, help establish a forecheck and provide a bit of offensive on occasion too.
Bourque may be a good option on Brian Boyle’s line if Tortorella decides to break up the Fedotenko –Boyle – Prust trio. Replacing Fedotenko with Bourque gives the line more speed, more offensive upside and in turn Boyle and Prust can help protect the smallish rookie winger. It seems a win-win scenario. However, is Bourque ready for prime time hockey in his first season as a pro?
Every time Bourque has stepped up a level he has seemingly succeeded. Having played effectively for US U-18 squads, Bourque played two solid years as a Quebec Rempart. During that time Bourque played for the US WJC team twice where his role was more of a defensive one. He played effectively in a checking role playing a key role in helping the US team earn gold in 2010 proving he can adapt to a different role as well as handle elite competition.
Are there roster spots up for grabs? There may not be a spot to have, depending on how secure you think Sean Avery, Wojtek Wolski and Erik Christensen are on the current roster. If one or two of them can be outplayed then a rookie like Bourque can make it with a strong camp. Indeed, if Wolski and Christensen aren’t deemed worthy of top 6 spots then Bourque is a better fit on the lower lines anyway.
In recent times the Rangers have given chances to players if they have earned them. Mike Sauer forced the Rangers to keep him on the roster last season and Derek Stepan bypassed the minors thanks to an impressive display of skill and maturity. Starting in Traverse City where he’ll need to have a strong showing Bourque isn’t without hope to crack the Rangers line up and he’d be a good story to follow if he makes it.
In my post yesterday, Brian Boyle was brought up as a potential candidate to have a surprise season. Rickyrants13 was right, and I should have included him in my list of players that had a surprise season last year (oversight on my part). But his comment got me thinking: is it possible for Boyle to repeat that performance next season?
Boyle’s production last season more than quintupled from any of his previous career highs. He scored 21 goals (previous high of 4), added 14 assists (previous career high of 2), and totaled 35 points (previous high of 6). After working with Barbara Underhill, it was clear that Boyle’s skating had improved drastically, and it showed on the stat sheet.
The little downer here is Boyle’s second half production. Boyle showed he was a renewed player when he scored ten goals in the first two months of the season. He then added another four goals in December (and seven assists) to give him 14 goals through the first half of the year. After that, Boyle’s production was cut exactly in half.
From January through the end of the season, Boyle scored seven goals and seven assists. Those numbers aren’t bad by any means, but they were well off the pace that Boyle set for himself from October through December. Taking those last few months of the season into account, Boyle averaged 14 goals and 14 assists for a full season.
What does help Boyle’s cause is the depth down the middle for the Rangers. Where Boyle was a third line center last year, he is destined to be the fourth line center with Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, and Artem Anisimov likely filling the top three center positions. Getting fourth line duties on a team this deep at center is not a slight to Boyle in any stretch, but it is a recognition of the talent ahead of him. Better talent ahead of him means easier defensive assignments for Boyle’s line. Easier defensive assignments naturally leads to more production.
The eternal optimist in my thinks that Boyle can repeat his performance and become one of the best bargains in the NHL. However, the realist in me thinks that expecting Boyle to score 20 goals is a bit unfair. The league clearly caught on to his ability to put the puck in the net, and the drop in production was very evident. Boyle’s scoring clearly helped the Rangers overcome a myriad of injuries last season, but repeating that performance goes a long way to solidifying this team as a true contender.
With impressive organisational depth at his position the new contract Brian Boyle received from the Rangers concerned me. Two things before I discuss this ‘issue’ though; first of all I love Boyle as a player and the way he turned his NHL career around last season and secondly l I think Glen Sather has had another excellent offseason for the Rangers. However, I’m a little uncomfortable with the Boyle contract.
The Rangers likely have Brad Richards in place as first line center for a very long time. Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky are all young, promising natural centers firmly part of the Rangers core. The club have Ryan Bourque, Andrew Yogan and Oscar Lindberg (don’t forget that guy) all as prospects-in-waiting while they also just drafted two centers in Steve Fogarty and Michael St. Croix (although I’ll grant you that they are highly unlikely to be pro’s during the life of Boyle’s new contract). That’s not even naming all the centers within the organisation but you get the point.
The Rangers did not need to reward Brian Boyle has handsomely as they did. He deserved a raise following his excellent year but what do you expect from Boyle next season? Given the depth on the roster, offensively he’s probably not going to go any higher (I hope I’m wrong). Defensively he has proved he is a physical presence that will hit, block shots and is an effective penalty killer but do you a pay a bottom 6 forward 1.7m a year for 3 years when the organisation is blessed with depth and developing prospects?
Boyle got too much dollar for too long. Given that dollars need to be carefully spent in the cap era and with a potential lockout (and more specifically) reduced cap ceiling looming, Boyle simply got too much. There’s a legitimate chance that in 2 years (perhaps even sooner) he may not even be assured a roster spot. I may be wrong but I think this is Sather’s first mistake – of sorts – of the off season. Many Rangers fans will disagree with me on this, but as I said on twitter (for those of you that follow me) one 20 goal season should not result in the contract it got especially when you consider how much Boyle faded offensively in the last third of the season.
With wingers Chris Kreider, Christian Thomas, Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello (to name just a few) all likely on the Rangers roster sooner rather than later the Rangers may be forced to get creative and move several centers around the roster, perhaps on lines lower than ideally intended (obviously, depth is a good thing). If the Rangers intend on sticking with Richards, Dubinsky, Stepan and Anisimov for the foreseeable future Boyle becomes at best, an expensive 4th liner. Good player, awkward contract. That said, let’s finish this post on a positive note: If a somewhat generous contract to a non essential player is the biggest issue of the Rangers off season we’d all be pretty happy wouldn’t we?
Per Andrew Gross, the Rangers have re-signed RFA center Brian Boyle to a three year contract. Boyle was set to be a UFA in a year, so the Rangers bought out two UFA years. I’d expect his contract to be in the $1.5-$1.75 million per year range, but it could be slightly higher, considering the length. This is great news for the Rangers, who just have two RFAs left to sign. Of course, those two RFAs are the most important RFAs to sign.
Contract details have not been disclosed yet. We will update as soon as they are made available.
Update: Larry Brooks is reporting that Boyle’s contract is three years at $1.7 million per season, right in line with that I said above. It’s a little off from my original prediction ($1.5 million), but buying out UFA years adds more dollars to the contract. All in all, it’s a solid deal for both Boyle and the Rangers.
The three remaining RFAs (Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle) have had their arbitration hearing dates set for late July:
- Brandon Dubinsky – July 21
- Brian Boyle – July 25
- Ryan Callahan – July 28
Remember, much like with Mike Sauer, if a deal is reached prior to the hearing, then no hearing will take place. Also, after the hearing, a multi-year deal can be reached as well. Arbitration is just part of the process, but expect all three to be signed prior to their hearings.
Per Larry Brooks, Brandon Dubinsky plans on filing for player-elected arbitration:
Dubinsky to file for salary arb, agent Kurt Overhardt tells Post. “Not a negative commentary, part of the process…”
The deadline to file for arbitration was today, and this comes as no surprise to most that at least one Ranger filed for arbitration. As Dubi’s agent states, this is just a part of the process, and really shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. In fact, there are several positives that come out of this:
- Since arbitration has been elected, Dubi is no longer eligible for offer sheets.
- Dubi will have a contract in front of him before July ends.
- They can work with the arbitrator’s ruling to hopefully negotiate a longer term deal.
- The August buyout period is now open for the Rangers.
Following arbitration, Dubinsky can either accept a one or two year deal based on what the arbitrator has ruled, or he can negotiate for a longer term deal. The Rangers also have the option of cutting ties with Dubinsky, but that is extremely unlikely.
Update: Per Andrew Gross, Ryan Callahan will also file for arbitration.
Update #2: Also per Gross, Brian Boyle will file for arbitration.
Update #3: Thank you Sally for pointing out that Mike Sauer has filed as well.