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Rangers need to get Zuccarello going

Looking for some form...Scott Levy/Getty Images

Looking for some form…Scott Levy/Getty Images

While the Rangers keep looking for some consistency and Rick Nash keeps the team in playoff contention almost single handidly, one of the most underwhelming players this season – so far – has been Mats Zuccarello. The little Norwegian winger has failed to live up to his new one year contract (and hefty pay rise) and certainly hasn’t played to a level where he can expect to a get rich, long term deal this coming summer.

With all that said, the Rangers really need Zuccarello to get going. Zuccarello is one of the Rangers more creative players and, Marty St Louis and Derek Stepan aside, arguably boasts the best on ice vision of any Ranger. An in form Zuccarello would surely make the Rangers powerplay much more efficient which would go a long way in helping the team string more wins together. Last season Zuccarello had 17 points with the extra man. This year, somehow, he has yet to record his first point on the powerplay. A huge fall from grace for the popular and hard working winger.

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Should the Rangers drop Chris Kreider?

"Defense? What's that?..." (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

“Defense? What’s that?…” (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(This post was written before the doubts about  Kreider’s availability for tonight were released. But… the point of the post remains.) The arguments for keeping Chris Kreider in the line-up and hopefully riding out his ‘growing pains’ are obvious. Size, speed, a wicked shot and that the team wide lack of size would be further exaggerated without him in the line-up. That all said, Kreider has obviously hit a brick wall this season. His production has dried up which means his defensive miscues and poor decision making are no longer being covered up.

In the long term Kreider remains a key part of the Rangers future, although legitimate concerns are starting to be raised about whether his iffy decision making ability and his defensive awareness will hold him back from becoming a top tier power forward. Even as recently as the start of this season, Kreider looked on his way to taking the next step but his production to start the year was clearly masking the errors that continue to punctuate his overall game.

In the short term, the Rangers could and perhaps should look elsewhere for an injection of offense and defensive accountability. Should Anthony Duclair be back in the line-up? Equally dangerous with his skating ability, Duclair is certainly no worse in his own end than Kreider and has looked dangerous in the offensive zone even without the goals to show for it. Duclair is however, just one option.

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Is John Moore’s future linked to fellow Rangers blueliner Marc Staal?

john moore

Right now, John Moore hasn’t earned a new deal with the New York Rangers. However the young, underperforming yet talented blueliner’s future may be closely linked to that of Marc Staal. This season the Rangers are discovering what too much roster turnover in one offseason can cause. Part of the Rangers’ problems to begin the year has been a lack of chemistry up front as well as on the blueline. So would the Rangers be willing to let Staal and Moore go? As well as potentially having to fill the other spot on the third pairing?

Staal is looking for a minimum of 5.5m per year. He hasn’t earned that type of deal when focussing on his performances this season. Moore (according to the Post) is likely to receive 1.5m per year in arbitration. Given that number is almost double his current salary it’s hard to see the Rangers agreeing to that kind of deal. These kind of numbers only add to the uncertainty surrounding Moore. In short, both defensemen have huge question marks in front of their Ranger futures.

Currently a healthy scratch, Moore hasn’t really done much to warrant an extension but the tantalising talent is still there and plenty of defenseman don’t peak until their mid twenties. Should the Rangers wait for Moore to find the next level? Their decision could depend on Marc Staal’s future.

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Musings: Which players are earning their keep?

Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

The Rangers have had a relatively light week which gives us some time to reflect on the Rangers’ play this year including some statistical insight. No fancy stats, just numbers.

Reflecting on players’ performances to this point in the season, how many Rangers have justified their cap hit this season? Rick Nash, Martin St Louis, Derick Brassard and Derick Stepan have all justified their deals to this point. Brassard and Nash in particular have been good if not great while St Louis has torn it up the past couple weeks to cast aside the indifferent games he had as a center.

After that? Carl Hagelin represents good value, Lee Stempniak could flirt with 15-20 goals if he stays in the line-up, Dom Moore has been as advertised (reliable) and Matt Hunwick – the occasional gaffe aside – has certainly been worth a 600k commitment. Kevin Klein’s contract has become more and more acceptable as his game has improved. That makes nine for those counting.

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Secondary scoring, not Lundqvist the biggest concern for the Rangers

Zuccarello is one of several Rangers players that need to step up offensively

Zuccarello is one of several Rangers players that need to step up offensively

Henrik Lundqvist isn’t turning in consistent Vezina worthy performances this season, something that’s being well documented, however it’s reasonable to expect Lundqvist to rebound. When someone delivers the type of consistent excellence Lundqvist has done for the best part of a decade it’s fair to expect a return to form. A bigger concern for the Rangers right now is the lack of consistent, secondary scoring the team is receiving.

The Rangers are hovering around the playoff positions almost exclusively because of the contributions of Rick Nash, Marty St Louis and Derick Brassard. The trio have 34 of the Rangers 71 goals, accounting for over 47% of the Rangers total. After those three, production falls of a cliff. The return of Derek Stepan has given the Rangers an added dimension but the team is getting far too little out of players who they were counting on for big contributions and the Rangers season threatens to get worse if that lack of production continues.

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Have the Rangers found market value for Carl Hagelin?

Photo: Chris O'Meara/AP

Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP

This past week the Montreal Canadiens signed one of their talented homegrown core to a long-term contract and in doing so, helped the Rangers begin to identify market value for Carl Hagelin’s next contract. Habs’ winger Brendan Gallagher is a comparable for Carl Hagelin in a variety of ways. Both players were mid-round draft picks, neither are blessed with great size, but both have established themselves as solid NHL’ers. Both are known for their work ethic, speed and overall games and not just for their production.

Gallagher’s new contract (six years with a cap hit of $3.75 million per year) is good value for the Habs given his increasing importance to his team and given some of the idiotic deals found around the league. Gallagher had 41 points and 19 goals last year and chipped in with 11 points as the Canadiens got to the Eastern Conference Finals only to lose to the Rangers. With 82 points in 150 games, Gallagher is averaging similar regular season production over his career as Hagelin (104 in 207). Both wingers also have similar post-season production as well (Hagelin had a point more than Gallagher last year).

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The Rangers Thanksgiving musings

Goal scorer extraordinaire (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Goal scorer extraordinaire (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Have a happy thanksgiving everyone. Just a few Rangers thoughts to keep you going as you head into the thanksgiving weekend.

Last season it was a ‘Marty St Louis love fest’. The two games against the Lightning this season, well they have been Ryan Callahan love fests. Given the Rangers’ familiarity with their former captain and fan favourite it is completely unacceptable Callahan can have as much time and space in front of Lundqvist as he has done. Has a player ever torched their ex-club so much in their first games against their former employers as Captain Cally has?

Once again, we’ve seen the ugly side of Marc Staal. He was awful against Callahan and the Lightning. Yet he was excellent against the Canadiens and Flyers. Again, this type of inconsistency cannot be accepted especially for someone wanting the dollars Staal does.

Rick Nash scores when he wants. Nash had one of his quieter games in recent weeks. He wasn’t as dominant as he usually is yet he had a two point night. It’s always a good sign when a player finds ways to contribute even when not at their best. Nash has been a beast this year and is the absolute critical mass the Rangers need him to be.

Funny how things work out: Kevin Klein’s contract is starting to look very good value. In a league where a guy like Nikita Nikitn can get well over 4m on a multi-year deal, Klein’s steady improvement is making him a bargain. The sample size is small but Klein certainly has the talent to keep it up.

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Carl Hagelin’s strong season

Photo: Chris O'Meara/AP

Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP

The Rangers haven’t struggled to score goals this year, they’ve simply struggled to spread the goals around. Thanks in large part to Rick Nash and Marty St Louis, the Rangers have scored enough to stay in the playoff race while the defense and the goaltenders (up until recently) have struggled through injury, fluctuating form and suspensions.

One of the lesser discussed players this year has been Carl Hagelin. Hagelin scored against the Canadiens Sunday night and has been having a solid season despite bouncing around the line-up and playing very much in a depth role. Recently, he has been matched up with rookies Kevin Hayes and Anthony Duclair and still, Hagelin has delivered.

Hagelin has been a mainstay on the penalty kill unit, ranking second only to the equally underappreciated Dominic Moore in ice time amongst the forwards. He’s been a mainstay on a unit that is middle of the NHL pack largely only because of the injuries the PK has suffered (Stepan, McDonagh etc).

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The Rangers need more from Chris Kreider

We haven't seen Kreider goal celebrations nearly enough. Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

We haven’t seen Kreider goal celebrations nearly enough. Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Thank god the Rangers have Rick Nash. That’s a statement not just uttered countless times by the Ranger fan base but is something that Chris Kreider has probably said a few times this season as well. Luckily for Kreider, Nash’s blistering start has diverted a lot of attention from several underperforming players including Kreider.

Kreider has had games this year where he has been utterly dominant. The big winger has been a wrecking ball and an offensive threat on almost every shift in some games. Then there is the Kreider that has disappeared and who has been a liability while contributing nothing offensively.

Right now, we’re seeing both sides from Kreider and that’s simply not good enough. He’s playing physically yet he’s not contributing offensively. This is the year that Kreider should be taking the next step, the year that he should be developing the consistency that elite players are known for. Obviously the skill set is there for Kreider to be a top tier power forward but he’s not delivering to expectations.

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Should the Rangers be worried about Dan Girardi and Marc Staal’s form?

Can the Rangers rely on Dan Girardi? Photo: McIsaac/Getty

Can the Rangers rely on Dan Girardi? Photo: McIsaac/Getty

With a few exceptions the Rangers have been abysmal in their own end for almost the entire season. Whether it’s been the disruptions to the line up caused by the myriad of injuries or ‘a lack of desperation’ (says Rick Nash) or execution on any particular game night, it doesn’t matter. The Rangers have not been good enough.

The Rangers play a bad Flyers team Wednesday night. However they play a team that is loaded with offensive talent and given the Rangers’ struggles in their own end it is a game the Rangers could easily lose – particularly in their current state.

Consider the Rangers most senior blueliners for a moment. Dan Girardi is being paid like an elite defenseman. Marc Staal is expecting to be paid like an elite defenseman. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle are being paid handsomely and even Kevin Klein is being paid better than most. Yet the Rangers defense has been appalling.

It’s unfair to expect miracles from a Matt Hunwick or Mike Kostka. Even less can be reasonably expected of Conor Allen and Dylan McIlrath. However, a significant portion of the blame needs to lie at the feet of Girardi and Staal. Their play causes significant concern moving forward.

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