The Musings: Are the Rangers peaking at the right time?

The. Best. Goalie. In. The. World.  (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The. Best. Goalie. In. The. World. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The Rangers are riding a strong run of form, have a goalie close to his peak and beat the Flyers with relative ease Wednesday night. With so many positives let’s muse.

They wouldn’t be the Philadelphia Flyers if they wouldn’t look to start something at the end of a game in which they’re losing, would they? Completely classless franchise.

I had a discussion with some friends today; are the Flyers the least classy organisation in sport?

McDonagh I: I’ve been banging the Ryan McDonagh drum for weeks now. He’s a bonafide elite, Norris worthy defenseman. He’s taken the next step that Marc Staal has always been close to taking but for various reasons (usually injury) hasn’t quite made. This year McDonagh went from being a quality two way defenseman to being a dominant linchpin of a quality defensive unit.

McDonagh II: Jaromir Jagr is perhaps the single greatest trade/acquisition in the Glen Sather era. Or is he? Has the McDonagh trade taken over Jagr as being the best move of the Sather reign? The trade with Montreal allowed so many dominoes to fall in place and that’s without factoring in the top 10 NHL defenseman he has become.

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Derek Stepan’s improved form crucial to Rangers’ hopes

Derek Stepan is an essential to the Rangers

Derek Stepan is essential to the Rangers

Too many times this season, Derek Stepan – no longer a kid on the Rangers roster – has been a passenger. Despite having 48 points (on course for 55), most people consider his season an underwhelming one, which speaks to Derek’s talent and just how much fans expect of him. Stepan needs to be involved and needs to generate offense for his wingers for the Rangers to be successful. Recently, Stepan has improved and it bodes well for the stretch drive.

With 11 points in his last 10 games, Stepan has started to find some consistency including four goals in his last eight games. It goes beyond the numbers though. Using his goal last night against the Blue Jackets as an example, Stepan is going to the dangerous areas on the ice where he is more involved. He’s going to the net, he’s playing between the circles and recently, he’s looking to use his underrated shot more than he has for most of the season. Five games in a row, Stepan has registered at least two shots on net and looks more involved in games than at any other stage of the season.

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Why Chris Kreider may be the most important player on the New York Rangers

Frank Franklin II, AP Photo

Frank Franklin II, AP Photo

When the Rangers traded away Ryan Callahan, they traded away a major part of their core to be able to acquire an injection of elite skill in veteran Martin St Louis. It also indicated a change in emphasis on the roster – have the Rangers truly embraces a win-now mode? Barring an unexpected turn of events, Brad Richards will be joining Callahan as an ex-Ranger after this season, and more may follow – think Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore et al. Major roster turnover may be around the corner, as Dave mentioned this morning.

With the absence of first round draft picks, the Rangers can’t be expected to land any can’t miss prospects through the draft for the foreseeable future. This subsequently cranks up the pressure on the current youth in the organisation. Enter Chris Kreider.

While the Rangers undoubtedly live and die by Henrik Lundqvist’s form and the scoring ability of St. Louis and Rick Nash, Kreider is the closest thing the franchise has to a sure-fire elite offensive weapon in the long-term. With Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Lundqvist anchoring the team defensively, the team should be in enough games to be competitive. But where do the goals come from?

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Rick Nash needs to step up

rick-nash1

Has anyone seen this man?

At some stage, Rick Nash needs to be a consistent game changing force because that’s what he is being paid to be. At some stage, people will begin to question his ability to be motivated game in, game out. At some stage if things continue the way they are, the media criticism – so far, relatively tame on Nash – will crank up.

Even with Marty St Louis’ arrival, Nash may still be the most talented skater on the Rangers. Given St Louis’ eventual Hall of Fame conclusion to his career and Ryan McDonagh’s ascendancy to elite defenseman, that’s a big statement. However, 32 points in 52 games simply cannot be an acceptable return from Nash, even allowing for injuries and the disrupted Olympic season.

What’s wrong with Nash? Prior to the Canadian Olympic roster being named – and after it – Nash admitted that the call to Canada’s elite team was a cause of motivation. It also showed in his play as Nash scored in bunches. In New York Nash should have $7.8 million reasons to be motivated. It goes beyond money though.

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Should the Rangers retain Brian Boyle?

(Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty Images)

(Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty Images)

With the regular season coming to an end in a few short weeks, speculation will increase as to whether Brian Boyle should be retained or not. For the right price, Glen Sather should absolutely keep Boyle – for the short term. It may be Boyle’s demands that scupper any extension with New York, but from a pure skill perspective he still fills multiple needs for the Rangers.

The Rangers are not a good face-off team. Derek Stepan is at best inconsistent in the face-off circle and, with Brad Richards likely to leave in the summer, the Rangers definitely need some face-off proficiency wherever they can get it. This is a big reason why keeping Boyle is a wise move. Boyle is a solid defensive player (he’s one of the best fourth line players in the game) and he’s essential to the penalty kill, A big part of that is because of his face-off ability.

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Rangers can’t afford to be wasteful with draft picks

Diaz cannot represent a waste of a draft pick when the dust settles

Diaz cannot represent a waste of a draft pick when the dust settles

Henrik Lundqvist was picked 205th overall in 2000. Ryan Callahan was a 4th round pick in 2004. Anton Stralman was a late round draft pick, and even former Rangers such as Nigel Dawes offered mid round value to the franchise. All the above are just a few examples that evidence that you don’t just throw away draft picks, no matter the round.

With the acquisition of Raphael Diaz from Vancouver for a 5th round pick on deadline day, it was perhaps alarming to hear Alain Vigneault refer to the Swiss blueliner as another ‘depth guy’. Of course, no one is expecting the former Montreal Canadien to come in and log twenty minutes per night or put up huge offensive numbers, but it’s important the franchise get value from the defenseman if they’re giving up a pick for him.

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New Girardi deal helps Rangers with organisational weakness

Girardi staying helps the Rangers look elsewhere long term. Photo Credit: US Presswire

Girardi staying helps the Rangers look elsewhere long term. Photo Credit: US Presswire

For several years the Rangers had a relatively steady flow of defensive prospects make it to the NHL through the system. Whether it was Michael Del Zotto, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer or Girardi himself, the Rangers were able to supplement the NHL roster with cost effective home grown talent. Recently, there have been concerns of the talent approaching the NHL level.

With the relatively slow progress made by Dylan McIlrath (who still has time on his side) and the unknown NHL projections of Brady Skjei and Calle Andersson, the Rangers don’t have the ability to promote from within. Perhaps Conor Allen aside, there is very little that could step up in short notice.

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The Rangers cannot afford to trade Derek Stepan

Derek Stepan needs to be kept in a Ranger jersey.

Derek Stepan needs to be kept in a Ranger jersey.

It’s the time in hockey season where rumours are rampant. Ryan Callahan is apparently already half way out the door, the Rangers are apparently in bed with Martin St Louis and apparently Glen Sather will ‘check in’ on Ryan Kesler. All of these rumours have legs to some degree, so when you hear Derek Stepan’s name mooted as a piece Vancouver may want back for any Kesler deal, it does make you question the moving pieces.

The Rangers, for the long term, cannot afford to move Stepan. Not just because he is a home grown, quality player but because too much change is never a good thing. Consider the likely departure of Brad Richards in the summer. Consider also the expiring contracts of Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore. Then throw into the mix the still uncertain future of Derick Brassard (How much is enough? Is he even kept?). There is a legitimate chance in all of this then that the Rangers entire center ice unit changes. Until you realize no team in their right mind  would change an entire position over one deadline/off-season. Right, Glen?…

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Does Kevin Klein affect Dylan Mcllrath’s future?

What does the future hold for Dylan McIlrath? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

What does the future hold for McIlrath? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

When the Rangers made their Michael Del Zotto for Kevin Klein swap with the Predators, they gave up on a frustrating offensive talent and went with the less able but more reliable stay at home, physical type. What they also did was commit to a player whose size and physical ability is likely to be on the Rangers blue line for several seasons. They also committed to someone that inadvertently may be a road block for one of the franchise’s key draft picks, Dylan McIlrath.

While Klein doesn’t possess the same potential snarl or size as McIlrath, the additional four years (at $2.9 million per year) means the Rangers have solidified their third pairing with the type of player they’ve needed for what seems like generations. Is there still room for McIlrath? With his skating ability still his biggest question mark, Mcllrath’s future is at least partly dependent with how Klein acclimatises to New York, with the initial solid performances promising.

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Could the Rangers go for it all, this summer?

Keeping Callahan means building a contender (Photo: Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports)

Keeping Callahan means building a contender (Photo: Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports)

If you’re a cup half full kind of person, assume for a minute that both Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi sign back up with the Rangers and the core remains intact. Let’s also assume for a moment that Anton Stralman sticks around for a reasonable cost, and all of a sudden the Rangers fine core remain together; losing ‘just’ Brad Richards who is surely off to pastures new.

With the NHL salary cap going up this summer –and with the Rangers likely to have some serious cap room to play with– the opportunity (or danger?) to go out and entice a major free agent or two is there. Of course, most Rangers fans start getting anxious at the thought of Glen Sather having a blank cheque book. Sather’s Achilles heel is his free agency history.

Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman represent the key to the Rangers spending ability this summer. The upcoming free agency period is absent of legitimate options on the blueline, unless you’re happy to over commit to 36 year or 37 year olds. With Girardi and Stralman (hopefully) under wraps the Rangers retain one of the deepest defensive units in the league, allowing them to focus any spending up front, where there could be a few quality players available.

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