The Rangers can probably tolerate one blueliner playing poorly until they finally decide to amend their blueline closer to the trade deadline, a time when cap space is likely to be plentiful and when the typical NYC obsession with acquiring a big name will take over Jeff Gorton. What they cannot afford is to have multiple liabilities on the back end, particularly on a unit that cannot move the puck as it is and on a unit, that is seemingly playing worse in its own zone as the season progresses.
Kevin Klein has truly come back down to earth and is nowhere near the player the Rangers have enjoyed over the past couple of seasons. His form with and without the puck is becoming a serious problem for the Rangers. With his unsustainable level of offense now a memory, Klein is standing out more for his multiple turnovers, poor positional play and general incompetence on the ice. His indecisiveness and hesitation on the puck right in front of Henrik Lundqvist against the ‘Canes – that led to Viktor Stalberg’s goal – was typical of the Klein we’ve seen this season more often than not.
People talk about the Rangers 5-2 come from behind win against the Pens as a statement game. For me, the biggest statement games were the significant Blues and Lightning victories a couple of weeks back – I feel they were more complete games even if the comeback against the Pens was very impressive. For me, the Rangers gave up far too many high quality chances against the Pens on Monday. It wasn’t a quality defensive performance.
Michael Grabner could go pointless for the rest of the season and he’d already represent good value. His goal against the Blue Jackets last week summed him up best. His speed gives teams fits, he’s up on the play so quickly and once he’s away you cannot catch him. The way he settled the puck and finished his breakaway underlined the confidence he’s playing with right now. It was a goalscorers finish.
Oh, and another thing: Michael Grabner, Cy Young winner?
I admit it, I was wrong. I mused over the summer that one of the best options the Rangers had that could help them address the numerous flaws on the roster was to move a stuck in neutral Kevin Hayes. Turns out Jeff Gorton’s faith, some Alain Vigneault tough love and Kevin Hayes’ summer training plan were much better decisions than my trade intentions.
What we are seeing now is patience being rewarded and just why the entire NHL went hard after Hayes when he decided Chicago wasn’t his original six destination of choice. Gorton re-upped Hayes on a two year, $5.2 million dollar deal and he’s being rewarded handsomely for doing so. There’s not many players offering better value (even on a bridge deal) than Hayes. Hayes will still be under team control when his deal expires as he’ll still be an RFA in two summers time – good times.
It’s fair to suggest that Brady Skjei – not Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, Chris Kreider or JT Miller – may be the most important draft pick and/or prospect the Rangers have developed in an entire generation.
With Dan Girardi and Marc Staal in decline (regardless of their respective bounce back seasons, they’re certainly not going to ‘improve’ from hereon in) and with only Ryan McDonagh a sure thing on the blueline moving forward, the Rangers absolutely needed Skjei to become a bonafide top four defenseman.
Not many people will have predicted this regular season coming out party from Skjei, particularly after his underwhelming preseason, but that fact is that Skjei has become an integral and surprisingly productive member of the Rangers and he’s helped solidify a blueline that faced a ton of question marks. His importance will surely only grow as he gains experience.
While the Rangers have started the season on fire offensively, the news is a little more mixed down in the AHL where several Ranger prospects are getting acclimatised to the pro ranks.
The Wolfpack, as a whole, have started poorly and are rooted to the bottom of the Atlantic division with a 3-6-1 record, all the while letting in more goals than the Titanic took on water (44 at last count). The poor play generally has seen McKenzie Skapski demoted to the ECHL and Brandon Halverson brought up in his place.
Looking at the prospects that are in Hartford, the most promising performances have come from a pair of defensemen in Ryan Graves and John Gilmour who both have five points thus far. Indeed, Graves has really stood out as he’s thrown a ton of rubber on net, leading the ‘Pack in shots (35). While Marek Hrivik and Nicklas Jensen lead the team in points with 9 and 7 respectively neither players’ play thus far will have made the Rangers take much notice.
Successful teams need depth and the Rangers certainly have depth right now. What they also have is value for money and in a cap world when depth goes hand in hand with value for money you have yourself a winning record. Getting bang for your buck is something we’ve discussed ad nauseam on the Blog but it’s worth repeating.
Here’s a number that may surprise you. Only eight(!) teams have a smaller overall cap commitment than the Rangers this season – your deep pocketed Blueshirts check in with an overall $70,246,111 spend. When was the last time the Rangers were near the bottom of the league in overall spending? Leading the league in goals scored while having the 22nd overall cap hit is a great example of value for money in a hard cap league that forces General Managers to trade away talent to be financially compliant.
We have a Blueseatblogs Fantasy Hockey league where one of the divisions is called The Jimmy Vesey Hype Train. It’s fair to say that if it isn’t already full steam ahead on the hype front for Jimmy Vesey then one or two more impressive performances in the near future and the hype train will definitely be out of control.
While Vesey has been hugely impressive thus far, it’s important to temper expectations (sorry folks). Vesey has exceeded expectations thus far with his production, the way he has eased himself into the line-up, as well as his play both on and off the puck. He looks destined for a strong rookie year and is clearly justifying all the excitement and buzz that was created during his free agency tour of the league. With that all said, Rangers fans shouldn’t panic if he cools off, or hits some rough patches and the media around the team shouldn’t put too much pressure on Vesey.
The Rangers clearly need help on their blueline and have a well documented surplus of forwards up front so it stands to reason that multiple Rangers forwards would be connected to trade rumours given their uneven line-up. That doesn’t mean Jeff Gorton should be in a rush to move kids such as J.T. Miller for blueline help.
My personal feeling is that the Rangers would be making a monumental mistake if they wind up trading J.T. Miller, almost regardless of the return he brings. Miller’s development curve has been trending upwards for a long time now. Miller is still young, has good speed and size, a cap friendly contract and is a home-grown, cost controlled asset with yet more upside. All of these merits and yet we haven’t mentioned Miller can play all over the line up and in every different scenario. You don’t trade that kind of player.
Jeff Gorton may have landed his first trade theft as Rangers GM. Gorton has made many solid moves since replacing Glen Sather (as well as a couple of questionable ones but I digress…) and while it is perhaps premature to make bold statements, Mika Zibanejad is making Gorton look quite the savvy General Manager.
On the face of things, the Brassard/ Zibanejad deal should have an element of win/win for both sides. After all, Derick Brassard will be a solid player for the Senators, at least in the short term. However, even forgetting about the draft pick or financial elements the Rangers took advantage of, it’s the added dimension Zibanejad is giving the Rangers that makes this such an exciting deal for Rangers fans. That dimension is a much better, more dangerous powerplay for the long term.
Here’s food for thought: why can’t the Rangers have Jacob Trouba AND Kevin Shattenkirk? I think it is a legitimate option that the Rangers should explore. I am not normally an advocate of blowing your remaining assets to trade for any one player, particularly one (Trouba) who isn’t the finished article and particularly as the franchise is still in replenish the mode. However there is one circumstance where I’m willing to change my thinking and that is for a young, hard to find player that the team can build around. That player could be Jacob Trouba.
To cut to the chase, the Rangers should try their hardest to get both Trouba and Shattenkirk. There are so many benefits to this. Forget about the likelihood or practicalities of making this happen for a second, and just think about the benefits. A top four containing Ryan McDonagh, Trouba and Shattenkirk would immediately make the Rangers owners of a truly elite, modern blueline. Possession numbers would be better, special teams would be better, better breakouts almost a given and you can argue, having a stronger blueline should extend not just the Rangers’ window of contention but by default, Henrik Lundqvist’s career.