Musings: Building blocks on defense and the offensive slump

March 13, 2017, by

Brendan Smith looks like a keeper on defense (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

– Both Dave and the guys at Blueshirt Banter started beating the drum last week – but they’re absolutely right that Brady Skjei deserves more attention. Skjei has gotten lost in the shuffle because of the ridonkulous rookie class, but he’s been better than anyone could have imagined this year, especially offensively. That part of Skjei’s game was never trumpeted in scouting reports, but his unexpected passing skills combined with his ability to skate the puck to safety have made Skjei a very dangerous weapon.

– With Ryan McDonagh’s return to an elite level and the reports that New York is interested in retaining the very useful Brendan Smith, the Blueshirts could be halfway to a solid defense going forward. Smith has been pretty much exactly as billed – he brings nothing to the table offensively but is rock solid in his own end, plays with an edge and flips the ice pretty quickly. There’s no flashiness to his game but he’s a perfectly effective player.

Tanner Glass has actually been pretty good since his recall. SHHHH! I know, I know. But Glass has done exactly what Alain Vigneault hoped he would – bring energy by using his body, crash the crease and work his butt off to create a decent cycle with his fellow fourth-liners. Glass’s usefulness will inevitably wear off when his teammates pick up their game, but right now it’s hard to argue with Vigneault’s stunning decision to bring the agitator back from Hartford.

Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller have enjoyed tremendous breakout seasons, but both players have slowed significantly over the last few weeks. Is that a temporary malaise, or have they started to run out of gas? It’s hard to tell given the teamwide offensive slump, but these guys in particular have stuck out since they’re not single-handedly creating offense as they were for much of the year.

– The one guy that has kept right on chugging is Chris Kreider. This is his time of the year, no doubt. Kreider thrives on the physical play in the dirty areas where he can use his body to create space, and he has that extra gear that makes him a nightmare on the rush. In the past he’s gotten in his own way mentally, but Kreider is brimming with confidence now and has been consistently excellent for months. He’s ready for a big playoff run.

– The other guy that has been extremely consistent is Rick Nash. His production isn’t at the level we’d hope for, but I still think this has been his best season with the Blueshirts. Nash has been driving the net all year and is routinely making top defenders look silly with his ability to protect the puck. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or reads this blog knows that I’ve frequently been one of Nash’s biggest critics, but I can’t find a weakness in his game right now. When he’s playing this way, he’s impossible to defend.

– Besides Nash, Derek Stepan is probably the most polarizing forward on the team. The debate over whether he’s a bona fide first-line center or a very good No. 2 has never subsided, and Stepan’s 23-game goal drought only added fuel to the fire. Stepan is what he is – a dogged two-way playmaker that contributes in all situations. The fanbase would become a lot more aware of his value if he were to go missing due to injury, or a potential trade this summer.

Question time:
1) Do you want to retain Smith? If so, what do you think is a fair contract for both sides?
2) What’s your opinion on Nash’s season?
3) Where do you stand on Stepan’s value?

"Musings: Building blocks on defense and the offensive slump", 5 out of 5 based on 9 ratings.
Categories : Musings


  1. amy says:

    the defense and the forwards are finally on the same page let’s continue tonight

    • Mike K says:

      I would certainly keep Smith and sign him to a 3 or 4 yr deal for whatever the market dictates…but how do we keep him from Vegas??!! and Holden for that matter?! – Now with Skyei (shea), McD, Smith and Holden we have 2/3 of our future solid D-line…maybe Kampfer, or Clendenning and/or one of our highly touted defensive prospects AND Shattenkirk…or not. we’ll have a real good defense. Now, Stepan and/or Nash MUST be traded at end of year or offseason for already mentioned reasons, least of which is the large cap $ losing one or both would afford us to get Shettenkirk, resign our core with well-deserved raises, and perhaps improve our offense with a bonafide honest-to-goodness ELITE SCORER which we have not had in a long long time and sorely need if we’re ever gonna move into the real Stanley class. I know many mention or forward depth as our strength, and it is, just lacking that real GREAT player who is upper echelon and can carry a team to a victory when needed. None of our guys fit that bill at the moment. We also must, of course, buy-out, release or trade Girard and/or Stahl (preferably both) it’s time to say “goodbye u guys were great and we appreciate ur time with us … but no more” … no question about it. U’r thoughts???

  2. Vadim Mell says:

    1. Id keep smith for 3yrs 7.5-10.5 mil
    2. Nash has been playing great, hope he can keep it up in playoffs.
    3. I’ve always liked Steps.

  3. Hatrick Swayze says:

    1) Absolutely. 3* 3.5m. Moving Klein would go a long way in making room for the salary

    2) Is playing very well. Anybody who has an issue with him this year is slapping unreasonable expectations on him. His production is not going to match his cap hit at 33 years of age. His stat line goes to show how fickle goal scoring can be in this league.

    3) Extremely valuable. Considering our overall roster, would be most valuable if the franchise flipped him for a cost controlled top pair RD. I think the ship has sailed, but Stepan / Hamilton was my wish earlier this season. From a cap standpoint, it works for both teams but Hamilton is emerging as the guy up in Alberta, not sure Stepan nets him back in a trade.

  4. Andy says:

    1. I would retain Smith, but around $2mill or so for maybe 3 years. This also depends on whether or not we can buyout Girardi and move Klein, because I think we will target a d man who’s last name starts with “S” but that would be Shattenkirk.

    2. Nash has done everything but score regularly. I agree with you about his net presence.

    3. Stephan has decent value, but I think he may be better off elsewhere and his trade value could be peaking. (NMC, flat cap, cap hit and 23 game goal drought) He plays in all situations(Even strength, SH and PP) but so do Zibanejab, Hayes and Miller, who can all play center. I think I even saw Zucc on the PK the other night. His cap hit at $6.5 mill is not a bargain for what he brings. (same issue Nash has only it’s $7.8mill) Bottom line they need a solid R D man back in return.

  5. Jerry says:

    1-Considering what we have on D. One very good D-man and one up and comer I’d like to see him retained. I’m not sure what it will take $ wise so the cost may be prohibited.

    2-I think Nash is one of the most complete players on this team. I hope this year’s playoffs show us that he CAN score in the post season.

    3-I think Stepan add’s lots to any line he centers. I’d keep him unless we get a great young, cheap, physical, right handed D-man in return. And we have nothing in our system to replace him with. I like Miller on wing, so a center line up of Step, Z, Hayes, and Lindberg works just fine for me.

  6. Kevin barnes says:

    Stepan 13 goals 34 assists 69 games +17
    Zucc 12 goals 35 assists 69 games +13
    If these guys could start scoring a little more often it could certainly help

  7. nate says:

    You don’t think Tanner Glass was recalled to make sure he is eligible as one of the players exposed in the draft? Or am I totally off with this comment? Looks like a player needs to hit a certain amount of games and he is right there (especially if they keep him up until the end of the year).

    • Egelstein says:

      Glass’s contract runs through the end of the season. I don’t think there was much to his call-up other than AV pining for him and Gorton obliging.

    • kris says:


      Glass is UFA at the end of the season so there is no point for draft eligible. He was brought because of injuries and has stayed in because hes been more effective than Pirri and Puempel.

  8. Chris F says:

    1. 3 years @ $3 million per.

    2. Nash has had an excellent year, playing in all situations and providing crucial compete level at all facets. His stats don’t –and won’t ever again– align with his cap hit, but make no mistake he’s the Rangers most complete forward.

    3. Stepan, despite a 23 game goal drought, is right there in terms of point production with every other top forward on the team. He provides solid two-way depth and continues to make his wingers look good despite his lack of scoring. I’d move him if it allowed for a major upgrade on D, but otherwise I think his skill set is still needed. Zibanajed/Hayes/Lindberg doesn’t strike me as the dominant center depth necessary to win in this League.

    • HARLEMBLUES says:

      Put Miller there and all is right with the Ranger world. He has one goal more than Mika who has missed tons of games. Points don’t win games GOALS do. I noticed you didn’t mention goals you choose to talk about points. Krieder has twice as many goals as Stepan. He has a NMC which kicks in by what draft time. Stepan isn’t a NMC player. Your team can score 3 goals have a total of 3 players have 6 points (assists) and 3 players have a goal each. Yet lose 4-3 with the winning team scoring 4 unassisted goals. GOALS win games not points. He’s 8th on the team in goals while playing all situations. JT Miller at center next year and trade Stepan for the young RHD we seek. If this team doesn’t move him before his NMC kicks in then it tells me they’re not serious about winning a cup.

      • Walt says:

        You’re right on the money, and to add insult to injury, he has zero shot, loses all board battles, never carries the puck into the attacking zone, and in two, maybe three years, everyone on this page will be complaining about him the way they do the Pylon Twins !!!!!!!!!

        Nice guy, but a famous baseball manager, Leo the lip Durocher, once said nice guys finish last !!!!!!!!!

  9. pas44 says:

    1 – yes retain Smith, and we will if we shed some contracts
    2 – I’ll tell you when I see his playoff performance
    3 – I think he still has value, he quietly gets things done, I would move him before he doesn’t have this value, we have forwards that are getting better so get us some D



  10. Egelstein says:

    1. Yes, and I think 3 years @ 1.25M per year for a total of $3.75M is a fair offer. Go a little higher if needed up to $4.5M, but I think that general range could be amenable for both sides. He’s not flashy, so there probably isn’t a huge free agent market out there for him, which is good for Gorton. As much as I do like the idea of defenders with a bit more puck handling and passing skill to really uncork this forward group offensively, you also need someone to, well, play defense. He’s looked quite solid in his own end to me, and he’s young enough to easily handle first pair minutes if needed. He doesn’t seem at all uncomfortable or ineffective on the right side, which is a nice luxury given the state of the RHD on the roster and down in Hartford.

    2. Nash has been excellent this season. Yeah, we’d all like more goals. Yeah, he’s a little overpaid. However, he has just dominated out there many nights this season even if the traditional counting stats don’t adequately reflect it. Outstanding two-way play, and does ALL the little things. Nash hardly ever make mistakes, which I think is an underrated part of his game – he plays ridiculously smart head’s up hockey and very, very rarely costs the team with a mistake.

    3. I like Stepan just fine as a center on either of the top two lines, although I would say I value Mika a little higher for top line duties since he has more of a prototypical first line build and skill set. With that said, I think if a young impact RHD who is on a reasonable contract and cost-controlled for a few years is on the table for Stepan straight up especially, but also for Stepan and a B prospect or 2nd/3rd round pick…you have to do it. So, I like his game and I think – like Nash in a way – that the little things he does tend to go unnoticed by those who are simply out for his hide. I definitely would not consider him irreplaceable or untouchable, though.

    • Egelstein says:

      Ok, I don’t know why I was undervaluing Smith so much. I thought I read a report that he might be available for $1.5M or less a year, but I now have realized I must have been confusing reports/players since he already makes almost $2.75M per My bad! The principle is the same though – just the numbers need to be tweaked, haha. Make that $3M a year or a little higher if needed.

  11. jerry maley says:


    • Walt says:

      Come on now, do you really see AV doing something that drastic, never happen, but a great idea just the same!!!!!!!!!

  12. Chris A says:

    1. I’d only keep Smith if Holden and Klein were moved in the summer. Smith would basically take their place on the cap. 4 yrs @ $3.5m/year should get it done.

    2. Nash has been excellent. A little more puck luck and he easily could have had a 30 goal season. He’s played exactly the way a high skill power forward should play.

    3. Love Stepan, but it might be time for him to go. I think he has a team friendly contract and could bring back a ton in a trade. He could be the piece that’s used to restock the draft board and add a couple decent prospects. All that being said, I won’t be upset if he’s still a Ranger in 17-18

  13. 43 says:

    1. Gort’s gotta make some moves, ensure that he can still get Shattenkirk first, but I’d love to keep Smith as well.

    2. Nash is an excellent player. Among the very best in the league, closer to the bottom of that list, but still better than a majority of the players in the NHL. That said, he was acquired to put the puck in the net, and while his game is much more well-rounded than that, I don’t think this is his best season simply because he has not been that consistent threat to score a goal every game. 2014-2015 was his best season.

    3. Stepan is a core player for us, but he is also the one core player I’d be ok with us trading in the right deal.

    • HARLEMBLUES says:

      He’s part of the old core which did much but fell short. Which is ok but time to move on. The new core is here and developing nicely. Time to move on.

  14. Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

    I’m in line with the prevailing thinking here…..

    1. I’d re-sign Smith if the price is right and other moves are made on defense to make room for him. Good, solid, reliable player from what I’ve seen thus far.

    2. Totally agree on Nash. He’s arguably the Rangers best two way player. Yes, his contract doesnt match his production but he’s having a good year, and when healthy, he can be a beast. We are a far better team when he’s in the lineup than when he’s not. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t entertain trading him in the off-season for the right return and the right set of other deals to compensate, but as this team is currently constructed, we need him.

    3. I’m surprised so many people are in Stepan’s camp, since usually he gets roasted out here. Yes, he’s had an off year, but he does so much more as an effective two way center that doesnt show up on the scoresheet. If he were removed from the team today due to injury, we would take a massive hit that we likely would not recover from. Last year when he injured his ribs, the Rangers unraveled and didn’t recover until he was healthy again. And, he’s one of the few Rangers forwards that actually shows up on the scoresheet during the SC Playoffs. He’s a big game guy and we need him to have a chance.

    Now, that being said, the salary cap realities and the fact that his NMC kicks in this summer make him a logical candidate to be dealt prior to that deadline. I’m not opposed to dealing him during the off-season IF we can get a decent return and can easily replace him either internally or externally.

  15. ASFJR says:

    1. For Smith 3yrs at $3.75mill per….i’d go to 4 years if it gets the AAV down a bit

    2. I think Nash has been one their most consistent/solid two-way players. The goals/assists might not be supporting the cap hit but, you can still see the value brings on an all around basis. I’m at the point where it wouldn’t bother me if they kept him for next year and then just let him walk as a UFA.

    3. Stepan – He is a solid two-way 2C, but like Nash, the point totals don’t necessarily support the $$, but you see the all around value. At times i want to see them trade him, to clear the space and i think they could get a great return, but then it’s hard to replace all of the things he does and find another player who is solid in all three zones.

  16. Kevin barnes says:

    It might be a good time to listen to calls on Zucc. He’s gonna be 30 years old and we probably seen his best years already. For all the negative talk on Step he’s got the same points with one more goal and a much better defensive player then Zucc

    • Walt says:

      Also about $2 million per year more, yet Step can’t even get a decent shot off in a shoot out. I’ll keep Zucc any day over Step, besides he plays with his heart on his sleeve, while Step, at times looks like he sleep skating!!!!!!!

      • HARLEMBLUES says:

        With you on Zuccarello,Walt. Stepan wishes he had the balls of Zuccarello and so do others.

        • Walt says:

          You mean empty joke Step????? For sure, Zucc has cast iron stones!!!!!!!

          • Kevin barnes says:

            I think you’re making Step out to be a punk and can’t contribute anything. They both had great seasons last year but Zucc is gonna be 30 and wouldn’t have to many great years left. I like the way he shows guts to but that’s not putting the puck in the net either

            • Walt says:

              True, but Stepan looks to avoid contact, whereas Zucc initiates it!!!!!!

              Of the two, Zucc has a load more character than does Stepan, who I’ve said before seems to skate at times like he’s sleepwalking on the ice.

              If Stepan is this inconsistent now, what will be the case in 2 or 3 years from now, and we’ll be in the same position as we are with Girardi, and Staal??? Now is the time to get some valuable assets for him…

  17. bernmeister says:

    Question time:
    1) Do you want to retain Smith? If so, what do you think is a fair contract for both sides?
    2) What’s your opinion on Nash’s season?
    3) Where do you stand on Stepan’s value?

    unless he sticks us w/an unreasonable number, we are forced to retain Smith, or the expenditure of the picks were wasted
    have not thought about his #s yet, incl as to what is fair

    Nash rebounded slightly overall, and usually contributes in a way the #s don’t always show, but he is clearly not worth 7.8m per, and should have already been moved by now, pref to SJ for 1st + prospect Ds

    I am long on record that we continue to need to move Stepan
    prior, we needed to move him for potential Cs
    then JT + Hayes + Zib came along
    meaning now Stepan can be repurposed

    he was a bargain at 4 + change, but now is paid top, top dollar
    he has remained in plateau at about 20th best 1C, roughly, but no hope he will meaningfully improve, thus his value is stagnant, while he is to getting any younger, and while it is reasonable to gamble his heady game will not diminish, his limited physical skills are likely to reduce with age.

    Move him for good value
    don’t even be greedy about top $
    and move him NOW

  18. Eugene says:

    Actually it’s really easy to argue about Glass, guy is useless, on 1 good think makes 10 horrible, just useless, they could recall Hrivik

  19. pioneerlion says:

    1. Yes, definitely re-sign Smith.
    2. Nash’s season? Meh…solid all around play, but not the dominant power forward he was or is now paid to be. Definitely on the downside of his career.
    3. Would trade Stepan in a heartbeat for a young defenseman. He’s a #2 center IMHO, who is worth more to the Rangers in what he can bring via trade. Rangers have other forwards that can do what he does, but they don’t have the D-men in the system to play Top4 minutes with McD or Smith. Stepan for Trouba or Barrie (along with re-signing Smith) would shore up the D and make the Rangers true contenders next season.