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New lines add to roster makeup questions

Photo: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

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.

What is a bit intriguing is that Miller is on the fourth line with Moore and Dorsett. Miller had a very strong preseason –in limited action– and it was assumed that he had at least earned a spot on the top-nine. There is a definite argument to switch Miller and Pyatt, and I am inclined to agree with this sentiment. However Pyatt has past history with AV from his Vancouver days, and AV is probably trusting his veteran at the beginning of the year. There’s nothing wrong with that mindset, but it’s going to make a few people upset.

When Cally and Carl Hagelin come back, it only makes sense that Fast and Miller will be returned to Hartford. Fast is playing on the right side, presumably in place of the injured Callahan, and Miller on the left side, in place of the injured Hagelin. Both will likely be sent back to the AHL once the Rangers are fully healthy.

Once Cally and Hagelin are back, I believe AV will eventually shift Richards back to center. AV is a matchup coach, one that deploys a defensive shutdown line with 30% OZone starts. The line that makes the most sense in that role is the fourth line, one with Boyle and Moore (and a rotating RW). The line would be defensively sound and be able to chip in a goal or two. Right now, the coach is a bit limited in how he can deploy his lines, which explains the lack of a true “shutdown” line at the moment.

One thing is for sure: This is a team that is incredibly deep when healthy. They will roll three lines with tremendous skill and a fourth line that will take the majority of defensive zone draws. Balance at its finest.

42 Responses to “New lines add to roster makeup questions”

  1. AD says:

    To say that switching Richards to LW is a savvy coaching move is, well, a bit of a stretch. Richards is a square peg AV will be trying to fit into some round hole all season. First it was as a center; now it is wing. The fact is Richards does not deserve a spot on this roster but, in accepting this job, AV had to accept that Richards’ contract was part of the equation.

    Ties no longer go to youth, as was the case in recent seasons. we are back to the old days of awarding ice minutes partly based on size of contract, less so on on ice performance.

    We can talk about AV; his coaching style; player moves; etc….in the bigger scheme of things, the Rangers are a club losing competitive ground to other divisional rivals.

    • Spozo says:

      Put Richards contract aside for a moment. You said Richards doesn’t deserve to be on this roster? In a full season he would have put up 60 points last year. Which youngster that didn’t make the cut would have put up better numbers since Richards doesn’t deserve to even be on this team? Which kid earned Richards ice time but lost the “tie goes to youth” battle?

      • AD says:

        Putting his contract aside, as you may recall, a good portion of Richards’ points last season were very low quality. I think he may have even scored a hat trick on 3 garbage goals. You also overlook his poor defensive skills; the guy can no longer skate with most opponent lines. But I am sure you will criticize the logic of “quality” points and defense, so we’ll put those aside as well.

        JT Miller is a good example, to answer your question directly. He is one player who deserves more ice time than Richards. It is not about points…..it is about developing a consistently winning team and, with youth, you often sacrifice points for experience during the initial year or so, because their upside is grater than that of an aging veteran.

        Placing Miller on the 4th line and Richards at LW on the top line is something I thought this organization got away from.

        Fast is another example: sure, he is on the team now but in a reduced role compared to Richards and, upon Callahan rejoining the team, he will most likely be sent to Hartford. Sure, he can develop some down there, but he can also develop well with the Rangers. Yet, Richards stands in the way.

        Let’s check in with each other in about three weeks: I have a sneaking suspicion some regular season losses will expose the fallacy of giving Richards a roster roll, and fans will grow impatient with Richards, at the very least.

        • Dave says:

          You can’t rush kids. Let them develop in the AHL.

          • AD says:

            As AV preaches, talent has no age restriction. The Rangers have been served well by letting their youth have a chance to develop at the NHL level. Miller is more than ready; same for Hrivik, in my view. Fast has all the tools but may (and I emphasie “may”) need to get acclimated to the physical aspect of the game before putting in a full NHL season.

            Others can rightly disagree with where these players are in their development; we don’t know with certainty. However, one thing is certain: Richards cannot cut it on most teams’ top 3 lines, and he is not a 4th line checking type player.

        • Mikeyyy says:

          Richards outplays both those kids and he sucks right now. That’s pretty telling.

          It was preseason where do you show that these kids deserve the spot more?

          Not taking cap into consideration, which av doesn’t, br is the better player right now. Sure talk to us in 10 to 20 games. But you have to play those games first.

          I’m bookmarking this, if the rangers do well your going to eat crow.

          • AD says:

            I will gladly eat crow, if need be, and will gladly serve it up as well :)

            AV has no choice with Richards; he was going to be on the team regardless of what AV thinks, and that is the problem!

            • Mikeyyy says:

              Serve it up to who? Av? If your right we all lose. If your wrong we have a good shot this year.

              Here’s hoping your wrong.

              • AD says:

                Uh….serve it up to you? You were the one talking about bookmarking and me needing to eat crow; I presume you would be willing to if proven wrong?

                I hope I am wrong too and Richards puts together a season like his first. I just try to deal in reality though, and the reality I see is Richards is no different than the guy who sat the bench during last season’s playoffs. That is where he should be this season; not taking up minutes of a player that may develop nicely for the club for years to come.

              • Dave says:

                I think we are all hoping that Richards produces AND the kids play well. Why are they mutually exclusive? Need both to win a Cup.

        • Spozo says:

          My whole point was that none of the kids would come close to Richards production if they were given his ice time. They simply are not ready to get top line minutes in the NHL. None of the youngsters really wowed anyone in preseason so Richards gets first crack at it. Richards spot on the top line is more about his history of production than his contract. AV is hoping that last season was the anomaly, not the previous 12 seasons.

          Either way Richards is gone after this season just because of the lengthy contract

          I still view the decision to not buy him out was akin to signing the guy to a 1 year 6.6 million dollar contract this offseason. That’s a low risk scenario and if you look at the ludicrous contracts signed this offseason, it doesn’t sound like too bad of a deal.

          Regardless let’s just pray the guy gains his confidence back and puts together a 70 point season while being the setup man to Nash’s 45 goals :)

          • John says:

            I hope Richards does well, after all I am a ranger fan. However, you can not equate this contract to a one year 6.6 mil deal. If he gets hurt, Rangers have to eat the whole contract and the the cap hit for the remaining years. That, my friend is a big difference. Also an argument to use youth instead!

      • AD says:

        Hrivik is also a player not on the team worthy of ice time over Richards. Faster, more defensively responsible, and at least comparable in terms of offensive skills at this stage of their respective careers.

        • Dave says:

          Hrivik is a bottom six guy. There’s a bit of a logjam there, hence why he didn’t make the roster.

          • AD says:

            This is true, and it is also true Kreider not making the team opened the top LW position for Richards. My point is he doesn’t deserve it based on his on-ice performance, but is being given the opportunity because of his contract and inability to play a 4th line checking role.

            Hrivik may be a bottom six type player; I still think he would do better at top line LW than Richards. Let’s say Hagelin was not injured; where would Richards be, and whose role woud he be taking? It all circles back to our youth being impaired due to an aging veteran whose contract we cannot offload.

            This is why Dominic Moore originally left the team and chastised management for not developing its youth.

            • Dave says:

              He put up a 60 point pace last season. Sure, it’s not the Richards of old, but it’s better than any of those kids right now.

              • AD says:

                And that 60 point pace STILL led him to be benched during the most critical games of the season for the team! What does that tell you?

                C’mon….the guy was not able to secure a top 12 spot on last season’s team during the playoffs. He looked no different during training camp. This path is an easy one to figure out.

              • Dave says:

                I’m not disagreeing that he’s lost a step. I’m just disagreeing that the kids can match his production.

                I don’t understand the hate for the guy. He’s not worth his contract, but they need him to play well to succeed. Isn’t that what we all want?

    • Dave says:

      The need for Richards at LW came from Kreider failing to make the team.

      • WilliamW says:

        This makes a lot of sense

        Hopefully the October 1st Rangers are different than the March 1st version

        This team could be very good if 2-3 of the younger generation reaches its potential as top 6 forwards

        • Dave says:

          Next year is the year that all these kids will get their big chance. A lot of openings.

          • AD says:

            Excellent point Dave. Won’t they all be in a better position to succeed next year, though, if they get some NHL experience this season?

            I don’t hate Richards; what I despise is the old culture of awarding ice minutes that are materially based on size of contract. It is really as simple as that.

            I haven’t seen any fan or writer state that Richards’ training camp performance on ice was deserving of a top line role. Yet, that’s where he has been all season long so far.

            Let’s hope he starts the season nicely and recaptures half of what he seemed to lose last season.

            • Dave says:

              They need to get used to the speed of the game, the AHL is the best place to do that. Development is a marathon, not a sprint. These aren’t Taylor Hall’s, they aren’t ready to make the jump to the NHL right away.

              I think AV is just giving Richards a chance. Let’s see how he does after 12 or so games of regular season action. In preseason, he was with a guy (Kreider) who didn’t make the team. Let’s see how he does with Step/Nash. There may be magic there.

    • Marc Weissman says:

      While I am all for trying Richie in a different slot to spark his game, why on EARTH did AV wait until the end of pre-season to try it when we had nothing but a few days of practice time left before the season started?

      I mean, why not try it when we played 4 games in 5 nights and the points meant nothing vs. trying it for the first time in a game situation during the actual regular season.

      I know most of the focus during pre-season was on evaluating the kids, but this one’s still a head scratcher….

  2. rwa says:

    Our kids don’t seem to be taking charge. How many teams can say only one out of last six years first picks make the team, and when team gets healthy, probably he gets sent down. 13, None, 12,Skejei, 11,Miller, 10,Mcllrath, 09,Kreider, 08deceased. Richards, to me, looks like the same player as last. The team looks a lot like last years, just a year older. Richards is the key, good year and the team does well, bad and who knows

    • AD says:

      EXACTLY!

      Richards is the same player as last year (well, 6 months older). The same player who ultimately did not justify being in a top 12 role.

      this club definitely needs the offesnive production that usually accompanies a $6mm forward contract but he cannot deliver! I wish this were not the case but I try to deal in reality.

      Let the kids play; Miller may be more effective as top line LW. Same for Fast. Heck, we gave that opportunity to Kreider, why not the players chosen over him?

    • Dave says:

      That’s slightly unfair. 2008 notwithstanding, 2 picks were NCAA picks (usually a minimum of 3 years before they sign – Kreider/Skjei). McIlrath dislocated his freaking kneecap last year, which cost him 3/4 of the year. Miller made the team.

  3. Bloomer says:

    Smart hockey players are adaptable and can play different positions. However BR is not built for wing. Better to put Boyle on the wing and he can use his large frame more to his advantage.

    • Dave says:

      Center to wing is usually an easy transition, especially for guys with high hockey IQ (like Richards). Wing to center is the tough move.

  4. Justin says:

    Kudos, Dave. Very good discussion post.

    I actually agree with both of you. AD, I understand completely why you feel strongly against the “contract dictates ice time” philosophy that the Rangers have been guilty of in the past. I absolutely advocate for a merit based system, with no contract considerations at all. However, I agree with Dave in that, honestly, the kids aren’t quite ready. There have been some serious flashes of potential this pre-season, but I don’t think any of them could match Richards (reduced) production.

    Regardless of how anyone feels about the decision to keep Richards around this off-season, it kept the Rangers out of a very sketchy UFA market with crazy-inflated prices. I’m all for cutting Richards loose at the end of the season, but I think he’s still the best of the available options right now.

  5. ICEMAN9999 says:

    Wow, I cant believe guys are talking kids, kids, kids..

    Ranger Starters,
    Callahan, Hagelin, Stephan, Stall, Delzotto, Girardi, Falk, Miller, other than mcdonagh all are Ranger Farmers..

    HOW MANY MORE KIDS DO YOU WANT????

    You cant have 21 kids running around on the ice with little or not much experience. because we would be 10 wins & 68 losses for a few years….

    You have to blend a couple kids at a time.. Right now the Rangers have a chance to compete for the cup, you cant fill the team with rookies because we would not even make the playoffs..

    In time the Rangers will add a player or two during the season barring Injuries or just call ups..

    I agree Richards should be gone! I guess they are blaming Torts for his last season performance. Still in all he would be gone if it was my choice..

    BE PATIENT RANGER FANS! We have a great farm team!! and in a couple years there will be plenty of new faces.

  6. Leatherneckinlv says:

    One glaring lack for overall team concept, toughness but skill wise they are deep

  7. frank cerbone says:

    Falk is not a Ranger draft pick, nor is Allen.
    Allen was a rookie in Washington’s training camp in 2012, didn’t make the team, and signed with the Rangers as an undrafted free agent.

    Vancouver has two 18 year olds making this season’s team as well as ex-Ranger Dale Weise.

  8. Ricardo Garcia says:

    The FrenchCanadienNorwegian line will be the coolest and the best line for Rangers this year. Just wait and see how this guys can move and make passes and produce points!

  9. The Suit says:

    Richie on the wing won’t last five games. He’s too slow, he’s not strong enough on the boards and he lacks elusiveness with the puck. To be honest, I don’t know what I’d do with him though.

  10. Steve V says:

    Wayyyyy too soft, team gonna get beat down nightly.

  11. bitterzen says:

    why not try Richie in goal……. that was Sarcasm fella’s.

  12. Tim says:

    If it’s a video game I put JT on that 2nd line, but two guys that young on the same 2nd line…it’ll create a ceiling on their offense, for sure, but makes sense to make sure you have a veteran on one side to limit mistakes/give Fast someone with nhl experience to tell him on the bench “YOU GOTTA GET OUT TO THAT POINT!” or whatever.

    Hey lets be happy a moment–maybe our lines will last more than 45 seconds this season!

  13. bernmeister says:

    These combos are the height of stupidity.

    Richards has nothing significant, at best left in the tank — if anything at all — and should have been amnestied. We should not compound that error by allowing him to get injured during the season and we are screwed for the rest of his deal.

    Pyatt does not deserve to make the team.

    Not only should Miller not be on 4th LW, He should be 2 or maybe 3 C (depending upon the who are the linemates for the other line) w/Kreider at LW and Callahan or maybe Fast at RW. Speed kills, and this is a superspeed combo. Kreider needs more work, including how to work with lesser talents, not just complementary speedsters like Miller. However, for the time being, let’s give ‘em max minutes in a construct most likely to succeed — one complementary utilizing their speed.

    Boyle has to be one the checking line at LW if he is not traded. Alternatively, he could be a LIMITED pivot on third line, the C taking the draw, but then he needs to immediately do the grunt work along the boards. He has little offensive creativity.

    He and Pyatt killed Kreider making the team right away, and this is Kreider’s final year of ELC. It is important he is back here ASAP, this not getting screwed up.