Other than the start of free agency, perhaps there’s no other time of the year where hockey fans, the media, and even front office staff get overly excited about other team’s players. Some trade deadline’s end up as complete busts, while other’s see more movement than anyone could have anticipated. How this week will turn out, nobody knows for sure.
However, for the first time in a rather long time, I’m hoping the Rangers will stand pat. Even if it means holding on to you-know-who regardless of whether he signs a new contract by 3pm Wednesday. This year the reason to stand pat is simple — we’re playing very well and we still have yet to see the best of Rick Nash.
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Shooting at 22.4% (Andrew Theodorakis/NY Daily News)
In case you missed it, Rick Nash went nuts in January. He scored 11 goals in 11 games last month, sandwiched between two-game point-less streaks. There has been a dramatic shift in the way Nash plays as well. He seems more engaged, more willing to go to dirty areas, and back to the Rick Nash the Rangers thought they were getting two summers ago. On the ice, he’s been a machine.
But let’s take a step back for a moment. In that 11 game span, Nash scored 11 goals on 49 shots. That’s a whopping 22.4% success rate. That is exactly double his career shot percent rate of 11.2%. Suffice it to say, that is simply impossible to maintain. We’ve even started to see Nash hit a snag in terms of keeping with that pace, as he’s 0-for-12 in his last two games.
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Derek Dorsett could be a difference maker (Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America)
The Rangers facd the toughest possible opponent tonight. When an elite team like the Blues head to town fresh off a mauling, they will be conscious of stopping the rot before it starts. This will be a great benchmark game for the Rangers. Can they go toe to toe with a contender? Can they put behind them their own disappointing game? Tonight’s game is the definition of a character test.
Kevin Klein’s arrival meant the end of Michael Del Zotto, but does it also signal the end of Anton Stralman? Stralman is reported to be looking for $3 million plus at season’s end, despite being distinctly average for the most of this year. Would the Rangers be willing to lock up what are essentially two third pair guys for what would be $3 million each?
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The Rangers have been waiting for Rick Nash’s offensive explosion
If you’re still ignoring the #fancystats movement, you’re missing out on some awesome information that provides a lot of further insight to the game. But one thing we don’t need advanced stats to tell us is that to succeed in the NHL you A) need good players, and B) need your good players to play well.
That was missing early in the season when the Rangers’ best players, Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist, were non-factors (Nash was hurt, Lundqvist was playing some of the worst hockey of his career). However, over the past month both men have returned to their old superstar forms, and not coincidentally, New York has played its best hockey of the season. The Rangers are 11-4-1 in their last 16 games dating back to December 22nd, and in that stretch, Nash has recorded 12 points (10 goals, two assists) while Lundqvist has a 1.97 GAA and a .933 SV%.
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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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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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The Rangers were able to salvage their franchise-record homestand with wins over Minnesota and Toronto, but things still need to change if the Blueshirts are going to turn their season around.
New York’s 27th-ranked offense has been carried by the likes of Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Benoit Pouliot over the last two weeks, while the team’s top players continue to struggle. Rick Nash hasn’t scored in any of his last six games, and has just one goal in his last nine. Brad Richards hasn’t scored in eight games and Derek Stepan has just three goals in his last 23 games. Not coincidentally, those cold streaks have coincided with the team’s worst stretch of the season.
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If Heath Ledger’s iconic turn as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s epic 2008 crime drama “The Dark Knight” has taught us anything, its that as long as everything goes according to plan, everything is fine. Even if the plan is horrifying. When the Flames lose 50+ games this season, nobody panics. When franchise players are flipped for unknown prospects and picks, everything is fine. But when one little ol’ contender struggles, especially in New York, well, then everyone loses their minds.
This year’s New York Rangers club has fallen well short of expectations thus far. This team was supposed to be the cream that rose to the top of the less-than-stellar Metropolitan Division and carry Stanley Cup aspirations into the late spring months. Alain Vigneault was supposed to be the final piece of this puzzle, taking a team more offensive talented than the 2012 team that grinded their way to the Eastern Conference finals to the next level.
Clearly, the transition has been sandpaper smooth to this point. The team in general (but, especially the defense) have had a difficult time going from John Tortorella’s straight forward 2-1-2/low zone collapse to AV’s more complex, matchup oriented overload system. Henrik Lundqvist has been mortal to this point, and our beloved Blueshirts are clinging to playoff contention more as a result of the weak Eastern Conference and weaker Metropolitan Division than of the quality of their play. Read more »
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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