Jan
27

Thoughts heading into All-Star Weekend

January 27, 2017, by

As the NHL heads into All-Star weekend, regular season games have been suspended until Tuesday. With the loss to the Flyers on Wednesday, the Rangers go into the break in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, nine points back of the Caps for the top spot. With sixty percent of the season behind us and just a month to go before the trade deadline, I have some thoughts…

1. Even though it was a small sampling of games over the past week or so, it was nice to see a real bounce back in performance from Henrik Lundqvist. He has looked much sharper since the barnburner against Dallas. Much more poised on his feet, more precision in his angles and movement and more in sync with the team in front of him.

2. Considering the talent in the Metro and the logjam in the standings, it looks like the Rangers may well end up with the wild card this season. In thinking about it, through, I don’t know if that is necessarily a bad thing. Moving over into the Atlantic bracket, even if it means a date with Montreal could arguably be preferable to dealing with Pittsburgh, Columbus and Washington.

3. As the sample size for this season gets bigger, we are confirming what we already know: this team needs a massive upgrade on defense. The problem for this season is that pretty much four of the six roster spots could use an upgrade (you could argue three if you like Holden on the third pair), which is highly unlikely to untangle itself at one trade deadline, especially when 75% of the league is looking for the same upgrade.

4. With that in mind, I think the blue line reconstruction has to take place this offseason. Jeff Gorton did a really nice job of setting up the forward core this past summer, and I think the defense has to be the focus this season. I wouldn’t be looking to trade significant assets for rentals like Shattenkirk at the deadline, especially when he could ostensibly be had this offseason for salary only.

5. Expansion draft issues notwithstanding, I would certainly be open to exploring a longer-term acquisition at the deadline. If Winnipeg revisits offers on Jacob Trouba or Anaheim lowers its asking price on Sami Vatanen, I’m listening.

6. Not that Matt Puempel is anything special, but really, how much better of a waiver pick up could the Rangers have made with all the injuries for their forward depth? He has done a really admirable job filling in for some key players.

7. Many here have pointed out the disappearing act from Jimmy Vesey the past few weeks. I do have to wonder the impact the schedule is having on him. A little fun fact, this is now the most games he has played in a season in his entire career, and it’s not close. The last time he played more than 37 games in a season, he was playing junior A in 2012.   This obviously does not excuse poor performance, especially at the NHL level, but you do have to wonder how much of a factor fatigue is.

8. Until the Rangers sent Magnus Hellberg down yesterday, I was getting a little worried about the silence around Antti Raanta. Nice to see it looks like he will be ready after the break.

9. The NHL is bringing the much-lauded 3-on-3 All Star tournament back this season. I know it’s hokey and dumb, but I find the format immensely entertaining. It allows the boys to have some fun with it and show their personality, but it’s enough of a format that you don’t see guys in capes, glasses and wigs spinning around on breakaways with cameras on their heads.  As always, no one cares about the Skills Competition.

10. Incredibly random complaint to wrap this up: in what universe is Mike Smith an All-Star? Both John Gibson and Cam Talbot have significantly better numbers than Smith, who has rebounded, sure, but is certainly not a high-end tender at this point in this career. Ok, goalie rant over.

That’s it for me this week, enjoy All-Star weekend, everyone! The Rangers will be back in action on Tuesday against our old buddy Torts and the second place Blue Jackets.

"Thoughts heading into All-Star Weekend", 5 out of 5 based on 5 ratings.

40 comments

  1. Walt says:

    I’ll only comment on Jimmy Vesey, and his drop off in production.

    He has been bounced around with many players, different lines, what can anyone expect from a rookie when he has to adjust to a faster game, stronger more skilled players, much longer schedule, and new partners every shift?? Play the kid with Hayes, and Miller, leave him there, you’ll see an improvement overnight !!!!!!!!!

    No, that’s not AV’s style, always messing with the lines, and minds of the players. And that’s all he wrote…………

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      What has Vesey done lately to warrant a more favorable roster slot? He will be an impact player, but he is not one yet. No way do I want him taking shifts with Hayes and Miller away from Grabner who has been the team’s biggest surprise this year.

    • pas44 says:

      He has 11G 8A when playing with other players, thats very good for a first year forward… learning a new system, playing in the biggest city on the world.

      I mentioned him doing very well playing with Nash prior to Nash being hurt, it was looking like they had something going and Vesey was sort of playing like a younger version…

      The coach has to do what he has to do, but I think given some better line mates, I feel he would mature quicker…

      but Miller and Hayes are showing they have started to round out…

      so maybe time will tell at the current AV pace for Vesey

    • ranger17 says:

      Exactly spot on Walt .But the hit he too i think against Buffalo hass changed his game as he has not scored since .Remember the hit Hayes took in the SCPs from Stamkos and how Hayes disappeared after that much the dame with Vesey i think . Vesey will be better next year IMO .But would like to see him with Hayes and Miller as a line we could have for years going forward . But knowing AV it will not happen most stubborn coach i have ever seen , but he does get results in the regular season . As my old Bklyn Dodgers used to always say wait til next year loved them Bums

    • Mike says:

      Exactly Walt.
      We heard about how bad Hayes was last season when given the same treatment. Being bounced between lines and never being allowed to fall into a groove. Not only between lines but also between Center and Wing. Its a confidence killer when one bad move gets you benched or demoted…especially when this coach does not treat all mistakes, and the people that make them, equally.

      Vesey is not the type of player that can do it on his own (like Grabner can with his incredible speed and stick “in the way” ability”). He is not afraid to get into the dirty areas and find the open spaces in front of the net. As Great as Grabner has been he can (and proved early in the season) that he can flourish in a 4th line role both defensively and in the breakout. It would not be a demotion for him. Vesey, on the other hand is lost on that line because he is handcuffed offensively to get the puck where he needs to get it.

      If you look at switching Vesey and Grabner not as a demotion but as creating a more solid 4 line team it makes sense.

      • Kris says:

        Mike,

        Yes, AV does not treat all mistakes and by all players the same, but neither do any coaches. Veterans are always given the benefit of doubt, while rookies/young players are not. Veterans have earned trust while rookies have not, as Torts would say its part of the process.

        Why disrupt the chemistry that Miller/Hayes/Grabner for Vesey? That could negatively affect Hayes and Miller, I remember Miller being excited when being reunited with Grabner and Hayes.

        What has Vesey done to deserve more minutes than the leagues leading 5 on 5 scorer?

    • Spozo says:

      It’s a chicken and egg argument Walt. Did his play drop off because he was moved around? Or had his play dropp off then he was moved around to try and get his game back? If you’re someone who blames a hang nail on AV then we all know which scenario you think it was.

    • paulronty says:

      Absolutely agree with you about being bounced around all over the place. A rookie needs stability, not uncertainty, to thrive. I will differ with you on one thing though– I’d reunite him with Nash & Stepan & put Zucchie with Miller & Hayes.

      • Walt says:

        Doc

        I guess I opened a can of worms with my post, but at least we have a discussion going. To Spozo, as for the hang nail, it’s on the coach, at least I’m consistent !!!!!!!!

    • Richter1994 says:

      Walt, he’s hit the rookie wall. He went from playing 35 college games per year to 5ish NHL games until now. He’s drained and we can only hope that he doesn’t hurt the team going forward, at least hold his own.

      I’m not expecting much from him at all the rest of the way no matter who his linemates are. He was on the PP lately and was invisible.

    • Kris says:

      Walt,

      I know your feelings on AV, Im not a huge fan of his but I also dont have the same level of hate for him that you do. I think this time your hate for AV is clouding your judgement.

      Vesey was given a chance with zuc, then Nash which he found built some chemistry. Then the injuries happened others found chemistry. With the chemistry between Stepan line and Hayes(when he returns) line that leaves Vesey or Buch for 4 line. Vesey has hit the rookie wall and Buch has looked good in his return from injury.

      In theory Vesey shouldnt be on the 4th line, nor should Grabner be the leading 5 on 5 goal scorer at the All Star Break, but they both are. If Grabners production was what his last 3 years were(which everyone expected) and Vesey had not hit the wall then there is a case.

    • Eric says:

      AV also does have not have patience for Rookie mistakes. Look at JT Miller when AV took over the team. Today, JT Miller has been very strong for the Rangers this season. I see Vesey having a better season next year and having some opportunity to play through mistakes.

      • Jack says:

        How can you think that after how he dealt with Hayes? All in all Vesey will have a tougher future in his Sophomore season. Hayes picked this life of wanting to play arguably the most tough position in hockey but he had some trademarks like his size, reach and IQ. I’m sure Jimmy will use 1/2 of that when expectation grows bigger for him to break out. The difference in Vesey playing through it all compared to Hayes and Miller is that the entire forward roster is so much better to work with now compared to when those guys were rookies.

  2. amy says:

    so now the league is on the all-star break my thoughts are these it is time for the rangers to play better in the second half they meet up with Columbus on Tuesday night they already beat the rangers once and the rangers returned the favor let’s see what happens on Tuesday night

    • Ranger 11 says:

      Then they go to Buffalo to play the team that beat us twice this year. I’m gonna be sitting 4th row center ice for that one so it would be a great time for some more revenge. More important then me being at the game is that the Rangers stop losing to teams they should be beating.

  3. Jerry says:

    Justin. Nice piece.
    Great point about Smith in relation to Talbot.
    I agree fatigue is a large factor in Vesey’s drop off. Playing on the fourth line, and I’m not saying it’s undeserved, contributes and he has looked different since taking that high hit some games ago.
    I think Hellberg would have been sent down regardless of Raanta’s progress. The kid needs some game action and the All Star break is the perfect time to get it.

    • paulronty says:

      Sorry Jerry, I don’t buy that fatigue is the reason for Vesey’s drop off, I think it’s more a matter of revolving line mates & diminishing confidence.

      • Walt says:

        Agree, and this coach never let’s people develop chemistry with one another. How many times have I said the same thing, the guy loves to tinker !!!!

        We’ve seen it with Nash first with Step, then Brass, and Z, as an example of what I’m talking about. The same holds true with Kreider, Zucc, Hayes, Miller, and the beat goes on …………..

      • Jerry says:

        You and Walt may be 100% right. I just see it as a combination of things. Either way, the kids a keeper!

    • Richter1994 says:

      I agree with you on Vesey Jerry. Next step is healthy scratch.

  4. Ranger 11 says:

    I’ve been hearing more n more that the Rangers will have to wait till the offseason to get a chance to get some help on defense. When we came into this season I thought it would take another offseason to get the pieces to make a run at the cup. But after seeing the way we’ve been able to score goals it makes me think too bad we need so much help on D cause if we only needed that one more D man we could be ready for a run at the cup this year. The problem is we need more then that one D man. Its gonna be very interesting to see who we get this year n next year on D and who stays n who goes to get those D men. I really don’t think Gorton is gonna break up our young core though. I would think we’re in for a new way of doing things. Sather would go with the go for it all right now which is fine if you’re really just one piece away where Gorton will be more patient and hold onto his assets and take the extra year to build. If we can ever get back to having a solid D and keep this young group of guys we could end up with having more then just a one year chance st the cup. Then again I think I remember saying this once or twice over the past 45 years of watching the Rangers. Lol

    • Walt says:

      As for your last remark, been there, done that as well………Maybe some day soon we can see one more cup before the man upstairs calls our number !!!!!!!!

  5. pas44 says:

    I think its about business and the markets regarding Talbot, McJesus is bringing the money and attention to that city, Lucic too, there was less a business need to have CT at the show…

    Its all about the markets and the show with the NHL all star game, hence the change in the voting since last year…

    CT was a casualty of the biz…

    • John B says:

      I think it’s more basic than that.

      If I recall correctly, each team has to have 1 rep at the All Star game.

      McDavid is a team Captain of the Pacific. Arizona had no one. Therefore, if you have a choice between another Edmonton player or the unrepresented team, the NHL will select the unrepresented team.

      Much like David Wright was an “All Star” all those years for the Mets when they were HORRIBLE, or the one Florida Marlin player. Football does the same thing. Even when the Lions were what, 0-16 that year, they still sent one player to Hawaii.

      I don’t follow Arizona closely so I honestly don’t know if there is a more worthy player there. Larsson is only one I can think of and I don’t know how well he’s been doing. If it were truly an “all star” game, there would probably be no one from Arizona or Colorado on the team at all.

      • pas44 says:

        oh really, that does make more sense.

      • Kris says:

        Thats exactly why Smith is in the ASG, just like the fact that Toews merchandise flys off the rack so of course hes gonna be there even though his stats didnt deserve it. Not saying Toews isnt an all star player, but it would also be nice to see guys like Grabner and Marroon who are having career years and have the stats to back it up.

        • Jack says:

          I know he’s hurt but Hayes all the way and if the league took your step in involving more names then without a doubt Hayes make the all star team before Grabner.

  6. Bloomer says:

    The All-Star game is a dog and pony show that doesn’t interest me.The players need a break, so let them have one one without the stupid distraction.

    • paulronty says:

      Right on Bloomer, it seems to get worse every year. Baseball makes the game meaningful by giving winner home field advantage in WS(do they still do that?) Maybe hockey should do the same thing.

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        The new baseball CBA eliminates that, so the MLB all-star game is back to being meaningless.

    • Richter1994 says:

      Allstar games used to have relevance for all sports and were a signature event. Now with injury worries and players not caring, they have become a joke. Even football, might as well be 2 hand touch.

  7. Mike says:

    Nice Write up Justin, love the All Star break but this year its overdone. Between Holiday and “bye week” its too much time off.

    Point 1- You cannot talk about Hank playing Better without talking about the D giving more support. Since the Dallas game it appears they have. Hank, like any goaltender, needs a D in front of him that can keep his sightlines clear and able to clear the puck when its out in front. The D simply has been bad at this and Hank takes the brunt of it.
    Points 2 thru 4 – Completely Agree
    #5 – This all depends on how much leverage they have with Girardi. We cannot make any trade until we know he is willing to shed his NMC. Since his deal moves to a L-NTC next season we have more punch to push him since we can always trade him and retain 50% (which means teams looking for Cap help will be interested, similar to the Brassard trade…Cap hit for next 3 seasons is more than actual salary paid). But as soon as we bring in a Dman that needs to be protected, Girardi holds all the cards. We need him to waive the NMC immediately.
    #6 & 7 – Puempel has been a nice low end addition. My fear with AV is that A) he still values Pirris shot over Puempels more rounded game. B) He continues to beat Vesey down and has him eating popcorn in the pressbox when Hayes and Fast come back.
    ASG Format – Love the 3on3, hate the limited number of players on each team. I realize that if there were only an East and West there would be less players involved, but expecting 9 players to play 3on3 hockey for 40 minutes (even if they are not going all out) is crazy. There should be at minimum 5 lines of players on each roster. No other league expects all of their all star player to play equal amount of time, and if someone gets sick or (godforbid) hurt the team has no one to cover.
    Regardless what you think, when it comes to the end of the game they want to win.

  8. Ray says:

    This is not a criticism of Lundqvist, just a factual observation.

    Justin, you say, “As the sample size for this season gets bigger, we are confirming what we already know: this team needs a massive upgrade on defense.” In truth though, what we are actually confirming is that the team needs a massive upgrade on defense when Lundqvist is in goal.

    Of the 49 goalies who have played 15+ games, Raanta is 8th out of 49 in GAA. A defense that performs at this level with its second string goaltender is hardly a disaster. And the stats over the last several years suggest that this is not a small sample size fluke.

    I do not know what the problem is, but that at least gives me a leg up on most people here. The Rangers use different styles for different tenders. That may explain part or all of it. If so, what is going on? Is the style used with Raanta better? If so, use it all the time. If the Raanta style merely optimizes the personnel, but is not intrinsically better, then the Rangers need different (not necessarily better) defensemen, ones who work well with Hank. OTOH, if it is better, use it all the time — unless of course Hank struggles with the type of shots it produces. In the latter case, one must acknowledge that Hank is actually affecting the defense adversely and is less useful than he appears to be.

    Do the Rangers play more loosely when Hank is in goal, confident that he will stop everything? If so, they are hurting the team and need to be more cautious.

    Of course, Lundqvist doesn’t handle the puck well and this makes it harder to get the puck out of the zone. It is very hard to quantify how much this matters. But it is important to realize that this weakness shows up in Corsi and not save percentage.

    I don’t much about rebounds, but one more rebound a game is pretty hard to notice and makes a big difference.

    Lundqvist obviously appears to be a good player, but the fact that the men on the ice with him are performing poorly in a way that is actually related to him is not to be ignored. What I’ll offer is a hypothetical, which is no doubt wrong, but illustrates something important. Suppose Hank has trouble following the puck and needs to see it at all times to be effective and confident in his effectiveness. In order that he see it, the defensemen must play in a convoluted and inferior way. The result is that he looks great, but they stink. But really the problem is on him.

    I see three possibilities with Hank in goal.
    1. Shortcomings are avoidable with a style or attitude change.
    2. Shortcomings can be avoided only with different (not better) defensemen.
    3. Shortcomings are unavoidable.

    Obviously you can make the team better by adding Bobby Orr, Scott Stevens, Nicklas Lidstrom, etc., but no one else has six guys like that.

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      The reason they ‘front’ with Lundqvist in net is because he is a superior goalie who has been more able to bail them out if a high scoring opportunity is relinquished due to the more offensive oriented system. In other words, they lean on him more and he still puts up numbers. In short, that is why Lundqvist > Talbot/Raanta, (even if their SV% is higher during a 20 game cameo in a given year).

      Without being an expert on systems, I would like to see this stopped as we have seen the Rangers’ record with a backup in net to be very successful over the past 3 seasons. In other words, they still win when they don’t ‘front’. Additionally, we’ve seen this season that the team is giving up roughly 10% more high danger scoring chances against when Lundy is in net vs Raanta. Unless we’re generating > 10% high danger scoring chances for by playing this system, or succeeding in other like metrics, I’d ask what is the net benefit. Unfortunately, I can’t drum up any info on this now.

      • Ray says:

        My quick calculation, at least slightly imperfect, but presumably close says that the Rangers score 3.60 goals per game with Raanta in net and 3.32 with Hank. And I don’t recall any trend the other way in the past. The Rangers are simply not getting anything offensively by playing differently with Lundqvist (except perhaps to compensate for his poor puck handling).

        And I don’t view a goalie unable to outperform his backup as putting up numbers. I think the stats from last year are telling. Some goalie metrics say that Lundqvist was hung out to dry and fared remarkably well under the circumstances. However, traditional stats rated him just a bit above average. My read on that is that if you are trying to build a championship team, Lundqvist was really not able to compensate for the situation he was in, however impressively he acquitted himself. The fact that putting him in that situation may be a choice is mind-boggling.

      • paulronty says:

        Intuitively it seems to me that “fronting” puts a defenceman at a disadvantage, as he can no longer push his opponent from the front of the net & also makes him “blind” as to what his opponent is doing behind him, & making it tougher to clear rebounds as he has to turn around to do this.

  9. Chris F says:

    Just to put things in perspective as we head into the All-Star Break:

    The Rangers sit fifth in the East, comfortably in a Wild Card spot with 63 points, 2 points behind Pittsburgh and Montreal.

    They are 4th in the League in Goal Differential (+38), 2nd in Goals (167), 12th in PP (20.7%), 13th in PK (82.2%), and despite middling defense and erratic goaltending, tied at 10th in GA (128). This is unequivocally a playoff team who can make a splash if Hank rides a hot stretch into the playoffs, and they make a move to shore up the blueline. All this after being written off in this offseason after a disappointing 1st round exit to the Pens last year as a playoff bubble team at best.

    Do they have the elite talent and high ceiling enjoyed by teams like Washington or Pittsburgh? No.

    But let’s look at some of the other teams that had higher expectation this season:

    LA Kings, 9th in the West with 52 points, 122 GF, and a 17% PP.

    St Louis Blues, 7th in the West with 53 points and a -14 Goal Differential.

    Tampa Bay Lightning, 12th in the East with 50 points, a -10 Goal Differential, an 80.2% PK, and 48.7% possession.

    The Bruins sit 7th in the East with 56 points, with a -4 Goal Differnetial, and a 17.4% PP, but are fighting for a playoff spot with Toronto of all teams nipping at their heals.

    Any and all of these teams could easily miss this playoffs this year. The Rangers have some issues they need to work out, first and foremost a major upgrade on the blueline, but they sit in a nice position right now and have surpassed preseason expectations, while clubs that routinely are considered superior to the Rangers fight for their playoff life.

    Let’s not give up on this team just yet.

    • Richter1994 says:

      Good stuff Chris.

      The problem comes in that the regular season type of play in no way mirrors the playoff type of play. Ask the Caps because if it did then they would have multiple Cups.

      The D is going to be the Rangers ‘ downfall, playing the better teams in the playoffs. Unless they makes trades to improve it.

    • Ray says:

      Actually, people forget that last year the Rangers managed to win every Stanley Cup series they played until they faced the eventual champs.
      They didn’t get past Round 1 because they were not good enough to win the Cup because that is what it was going to take.

      You should have mentioned that clubs that routinely (and foolishly) are considered superior to the Rangers etc. The Rangers are a much better team than people here give them credit for. I have never believed Tampa Bay was better than the Rangers. In fact, despite the length of the series, the Penguins exhibited a far greater superiority over Tampa than any of their other three opponents. How did TB extend the Pens to seven games while the Rangers bowed out feebly? Easy. Both NYR and TB knew early on that they were over-matched. The Rangers gave up. TB understood that hockey is part luck and the best team doesn’t always win. So they fought for every inch – and they got lucky, almost lucky enough.

  10. Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

    Once again, I find it unfathomable but not surprising that AV would be blamed for Vesey’s slump. First of all, if AV had treated Miller and Hayes badly, why on earth would Vesey have agreed to sign here? Some of you are simply making things up on this because there are ZERO actual facts to back up this claim.

    What we do know as fact is that Miller had past work ethic issues that needed to be addressed and Hayes was out of shape last year. How is any of that on the coach?

    As for the “tinkering” stuff, what exactly did you expect AV to do when Buch, Zib and Nash went down? Injuries happen, and you tinker.

    Also, when fully healthy and all forwards are clicking, where does Vesey fit in at the moment? Who should he supplant? This team may not have any true stars, but they have depth. Good players are going to have to accept lesser roles, or even sit. There’s no getting around it.

    We have to be realistic. Even Vesey himself admitted that the grind of the NHL season is a new, eye-opening experience for him. Should AV’s whole decision making process be simply about what’s best for Vesey, or the Rangers?

    I think Vesey has a bright future, but it’s unknown if he can legitimately help a SC contender in the here and now. Let’s see how he responds after the break, see what happens when Hayes gets back, and then go from there. It would not be the worst thing in the world if Vesey were to sit in the press box for a stretch, and that may happen with the depth the Rangers possess upfront. Although if it does happen, I’m sure the AV haters will run with the “AV hates the kids” narrative even though there’s no basis in fact or past history to say that’s true.