There’ll be plenty of celebration this season, despite the slow start
Here’s an interesting statistic I read after the Pittsburgh loss: The Rangers will play their 48 games in 99 days. Last year they played their final 48 games in 100 days. Basically there is no great concern or big deal to be made of the compressed schedule. There will also be sufficient practice time.
The Rangers managed to win the Atlantic Division last year and came mighty close to winning the President’s Trophy. How they achieved last year’s success was on the back of a stingy, hard working defense providing Lundqvist with the platform to play to his Vezina winning standards. They also evidenced in the second half of last year an ability to adjust to their opponents styles – something that practice time will help achieve.
This season – all two games of it – the defense has been awful. Poor coverage, players guilty of chasing the puck and not remembering their positional duties and poor zone exits, not to mention a poor first pass; the defense has done precious little right thus far. That said, look at the players that make up the Rangers blueline. Marc Staal can still be forgiven for needing a few more games to get back up to his best but is a quality defenseman, particularly in his own zone.
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Adam Rotter of SNYRB has the translated tweets from Sweden, but it looks like Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi may be joining teammate Carl Hagelin in the HockeyAllsvenskan with Södertälje. This is just another blow to the fans who believe a season will begin sooner rather than later, as more players flock to Europe to find ice time.
It’s interesting to see Del Zotto heading overseas, as he doesn’t have a contract with the Rangers. It makes him cheaper to sign, but it’s a much bigger risk for MDZ. If he gets hurt, he doesn’t have the NHL contract to slide back on and still get paid (via insurance) if/when the lockout ends. As for Girardi, he will need to go through the normal steps of insuring his contract before signing.
This isn’t confirmed yet, as contract details need to be ironed out, but at least it’s good to see that three core Rangers will be playing with each other overseas.
One of the keys to remaining an elite franchise in the NHL – or any sports league for that matter – is the ability to continually evolve, integrate players, coaches and systems and build a solid foundation on which a club grows. In the NHL, the best example in recent times has been the Detroit Red Wings.
Despite never enjoying the benefit of lottery draft picks, the Wings found ways to win Stanley Cups and be a consistent contender thanks to routinely excellent decision making and timely roster management. They are in many ways the model NHL franchise.
The Rangers have begun to show the same traits as the Red Wings over the past few years and it is therefore no coincidence that the Rangers boast a quality prospect pipeline, have their most successful season in recent memory just behind them and a bright future ahead of them. The Rangers however, need to continue with their evolution to remain successful and it is this reason why the club should seriously consider moving Marc Staal.
There are many reasons Staal is a ‘keeper’. There may however be more reasons to trade him. No one foresaw the rapid development of Ryan McDonagh. The young Ranger is arguably already the best defenseman on the team; is a future perennial All Star and has a more rounded game than Staal. With Dan Girardi and Mike Del Zotto fixtures on the blueline going forward and the likes of Mike Sauer and Dylan McIlrath in the mix the Rangers can afford to move Staal if the return is favourable.
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It’s a musings day folks. With little Ranger specific news let’s just get into it and talk about anything and everything, ok?
What side of the CBA war do you side with? It’s hard to link arms with the owners and the league, a league that has come across as incredibly greedy through the media. Are they greedy? Was the last CBA that bad that they had to resort to extreme measures?
Is there a public figure or leader – in sports or entertainment – with as negative a public reputation as Gary Bettman? He’s actually done a solid job over the years. Despite stretching it too far, expansion has been a relative (and necessary) success for the league; he has grown the sport immeasurably and has proven a strong leader in the face of challenges such as the KHL and on matters such as the Olympics. That said, if his reign ended tomorrow he’d be considered greedy, too stubborn and arrogant.
Do you think the public appearance of players such as Crosby, Ovechkin or Lundqvist influences the NHLPA’s position or media and fan bias in the CBA talks?
We discussed how the Flyers may be a competitor for the Rangers for blueliners going forward. Right now the Canadiens cannot get PK Subban to ink a new deal. Well, is there anyone more suited to the Flyers mould than? Cocky yet talented, considered a pretty dirty player but an offensive threat Subban may be more of a target for Flyers than Michael Del Zotto would be.
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Right before free agency opens up another desperate general manager on another desperate team has once again made Glen Sather look good. While there’s no doubting the Flames acquisition of Dennis Wideman was a solid move, the contract given to him by Jay Feaster smacks of desperation and makes Ranger contracts like Marc Staal’s and in particular Dan Girardi’s look like excellent value.
There’s no doubt that Wideman has a little more offensive pop to his game than either Staal or Girardi but is Wideman worth a full no movement clause and close to $2m per year more? Absolutely not.
Clearly, this was a GM who needed to add talent to a club unwilling to start from scratch and stopping a player from reaching free agency where he could cash in, in a weak class. However, when you consider the solid two way play of both Ranger linchpin’s – and above all their minute munching, defensive abilities – Sather’s ability to lock down both to reasonable mid-length contracts shows the general manager is doing right.
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Before we get to the report card for the Rangers blueline, let’s remember this: the Rangers enjoyed a spectacular season bested by only two teams in the entire league. A huge part of this success was because of the Rangers blueline. With that said, let’s look at the grades for the Rangers defensemen.
(p.s. if you missed it, here’s the Suit’s take on the top six scoring forwards this season – enjoy.)
For a significant part of the season Dan Girardi played like a Norris Trophy candidate. He was that good. Girardi enjoyed his finest season for the Rangers. With 29 points, a plus 13 rating, being an absolute work horse like few other in the entire league not to mention all the shot blocking, Dan Girardi literally does it all for the Rangers.
Aside from a very occasional stumble in the latter half of the season the only things that perhaps stop Girardi from being the perfect all round defenseman are his shooting percentage and lack of presence on the power play (1 goal). I really had to nitpick when trying to criticise Dan Girardi for this post. He is a richly deserved 2012 NHL All Star. Mid-season: A+/Full Season: A+/Playoffs: A+
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The Rangers were able to gut out a 3-0 win today against the New Jersey Devils to take a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final. The Blueshirts won despite 40 minutes of sub-par play, due to the absolute brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 36 saves. In a weird way, this game almost mirrored Game 1 in every way. A less than spectacular performance through two periods while keeping the game scoreless, followed by a Dan Girardi goal early in third, Chris Kreider giving the Rangers some breathing room and an empty netter. Let’s break this bad boy down…
- After Marian Gaborik drew a hooking penalty on Bryce Salvador early in the third, the power play went to work. There really isn’t much to break down on this one. Brad Richards won the draw in the offensive zone and Girardi slid into the slot to retrieve the puck and fired a laser past Marty Brodeur. There was very little traffic in front, Girardi just beat Marty clean for a much needed goal after the way the team played for the first two periods.
- John Mitchell started this play off with a fantastic, hard-working shift. He was able to get the puck deep into the offensive zone and try to kick-start the cycle. Cally got the puck around the boards up to McDonagh at the point, and McD fired on shot towards the net. Chris Kreider was in perfect position for a nice little deflection past Brodeur to widen the gap just a bit. With the way Lundqvist was playing, it seemed like the nail in the coffin for New Jersey. Read more »
You’d think a Rangers related blog would champion the last line of defense more than most. However the last line of defense – the goaltender – isn’t everything. Despite being a Hart and Vezina finalist, despite being the best goaltender on the planet this season, Henrik Lundqvist still needs a quality blueline in front of him to succeed, as does any successful goalie for that matter. It is this consideration however, why the Rangers should feel confident they can handle the surprisingly strong Devils in the conference finals.
Why you ask? Look at the Capitals. They had a former Norris candidate, blueline scoring machine in Mike Green start to rediscover his form in the Rangers series. They had two future studs in Karl Alzner and John Carlson and a quality top four defenseman in Dennis Wideman. They had a deep defense, one of the few that on paper can match the Rangers unit. Then, behind that defense they had a solid netminder. While the Rangers never tested Braden Holtby enough, part of the reason they got so little rubber on net was what was because of what was in front of him.
Of course Braden Holtby is not Marty Brodeur. The Devil is a legend at his position who is enjoying an Indian summer. That said Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene, Peter Harrold, Bryce Salvador and Mark Fayne hardly comprise an intimidating defense. Would Holtby have had the same level of success without the quality that was in front of him? With all due respect, probably not.
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Undoubtedly one of the unexpected surprises for the Rangers in this post season has been Anton Stralman. Stralman had a solid regular season for the Rangers, especially given that he arrived after the pre-season. That said no one could have foreseen Stralman playing as well as he has in the playoffs thus far. It has been a massive bonus for the Rangers.
While we have discussed the likelihood of Stralman’s next contract being elsewhere before (due to probable contract demands), perhaps a point we haven’t touched upon enough is whether the Rangers should seek to retain Stralman after this season.
Stralman has ensured the poor play of Stu Bickel hasn’t been too costly this off season. He has provided offense and has been solid in his own end. It goes without saying that Stralman is an NHL player next season. With Dylan McIlrath and Tim Erixon progressing to the point they may be viable candidates next year (Erixon especially so) there may not be a point in bringing back Stralman. However, the Rangers possess one of the best defence’s in the league and Stralman is part of that deep group.
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So we get a lot of questions on Twitter, and it is unfortunate that we cannot always respond to every question. In an attempt to address the most popular questions, we are going to start with these “Twitter Bag” posts, where we answer some of the more consistent questions we get on Twitter. We love addressing these, so keep them coming, and we will do everything we can to answer each question sent to us.
Q: Why is Stu Bickel playing still? Wouldn’t Jeff Woywitka or Steve Eminger have a better effect?
A: It’s tough to really say why Bickel is still in the lineup. He played better on Saturday with double the normal amount of ice time, but his usual three minutes don’t really give him an opportunity to be a difference maker. Tortorella likes him because of his physical ability, which is something that neither Woywitka nor Eminger really have. Eminger is ahead of Woywitka on the depth chart, so we can essentially eliminate Woywitka from the occasion (barring injury). In terms of ability, Eminger is a marginally better skater than Bickel, but it is clear Torts likes the latter. I think the club can benefit from having someone like Eminger take more than three minutes of ice time, but only if Torts trusts him to do so.
Q: Why did Torts bench Chris Kreider? Isn’t that sending the wrong message?
A: I’m in the minority that agrees with the benching. The club is in a tough spot of trying to teach the kid on the fly while winning games in the playoffs. That turnover –and Hank’s flub– was the direct cause of the goal. Every other youngster that Torts has coached has seen significant time on the bench when similar mistakes are made. It would be a coaching inconsistency to not bench Kreider. Lesson learned. He won’t do it again.
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