Difference makers… Alex Ovechkin? Sidney Crosby? Marian Gaborik? Duncan Keith? Joe Thornton? Zach Parise? Well yes, obviously. However teams only have a few of these players each, the cap doesn’t allow for Edmonton Oilers circa 1986 to exist anymore. Name the elite teams in the league. Chicago has a trio of studs in Toews, Kane and Keith. The Pens have Crosby, Malkin and maybe Jordan Staal. The Capitals have Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green (and looming cap headaches). Then there are a few teams that have one or two elite options and this is where the Rangers fall into rank thanks to Gaborik and Lundqvist. However the Rangers also have budding difference makers in their ranks, it’s worth remembering that.
Why do I mention these difference makers? For one, I disagree with some people’s notion that the Rangers failed to add a difference maker over the summer. Step forward Alex Frolov. The Rangers have two thirds of a dangerous, legitimate top line thanks to the addition of Frolov. He was and will once more be a difference maker; his talent and CV say so. So back to the question at hand… what constitutes a difference maker? In my opinion, if a player scores 25+ goals, 55-65+ points he’s a difference maker. He regularly bothers the scoreboard, he’s a threat more often than not and he commands the attention of the opposition’s better defenders. Frolov had a down year last year and yes, there’s no guarantee he’ll return to his 30 goal, 60 point level but he’s 28 and physically able. This isn’t like the Rangers taking on a frail, fading star like Eric Lindros was when he arrived in Manhattan. Why did the Rangers get Frolov? In part, they were the beneficiaries of LA’s growing stable of young talent; Frolov didn’t fit in their picture anymore. Nothing wrong with LA moving in another direction, it’s their prerogative.
So, how many players scored more points than Frolov last year? 91. How many scored more goals? A rather large 117. Again, remember Frolov had a down year. Rewind another year and Frolov scored an impressive 32 goals. How many players (last year) scored more than Frolov did in 08-09? 15. So that gives you some kind of idea where Frolov could rank. Consider last year’s circumstances where Frolov received less ice time, significantly less power play time and was to an extent a victim of depth, yet he still scored 51 points. 30 NHL teams can carry approximately 21 skaters (making 630 skaters) and a 51 point season is within the top 15% in the league. That 32 goal season of Frolov’s would rank in the top 3% of the league. That’s elite company, no? Yes, this is all crude, simple maths but Frolov won’t be a victim in New York. With big minutes and a lot of opportunity Frolov will be a difference maker once more.
This post however, isn’t only about Alex Frolov’s return to prominence. Marc Staal for example likely hasn’t maxed out his potential, yet he was one of the best even strength point producers from the blue line in the entire NHL last year. Give Staal more offensive opportunity and combined with his size, skill set and growing maturity and you have another difference maker. Defensively he already is a difference maker. Difference makers aren’t only about offensive statistics, they are also about opportunity, about situations and how they excel in them. The Rangers have a tremendous amount of upside and a handful of players that could easily – when all is said and done – be the envy of the league. Yes, this all requires patience, development and that all important opportunity but it’s a shame that certain parts of the media – before a regular season puck is even dropped – are already bemoaning the Rangers lack of top end talent. Give them a chance to become difference makers without the negativity weighing them down from the beginning.
The Rangers have difference makers and they have potential difference makers. The cap era NHL is about windows of opportunity just as much as it is about ‘difference makers’. The Rangers are approaching a window of opportunity given the potential the organization seems to have. Let’s look forward to it. Here’s to the new season, and the Rangers’ very own difference makers.