Franson could be NY bound (Photo: Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
Welcome to Thursday. It’s finally time for another Musings (not that fake musings Dave did yesterday. What a bum). The Rangers have been better the past couple games without being very good. With plenty to muse over, let’s do it for the final time before the festive season kicks in.
As you’ll have seen; rumours are abound that the Leafs are considering Michael Del Zotto and Cody Franson may come the other way. From the Leafs perspective it doesn’t make sense. You’re essentially swapping one expiring contract for the other but giving up a bigger more productive player who’s better on his feet without being a great defenseman. Seems like a lot of trust in Del Zotto’s ability to turn the corner in his career.
Rick Nash. Oh, Rick Nash where art thou? He was invisible in the Penguins game – a game where I had previously said he needed to make a statement. It’s as simple as this: the Rangers cannot be successful long term unless Nash and Henrik Lundqvist are on or near the top of their games. Right now neither is close, hence the current position in the standings.
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Will the real Rick Nash please stand up. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
When the Rangers traded for Rick Nash, it was with the intention of finding their offensive saviour. It hasn’t happened. The Rangers still struggle to score goals consistently, and while Nash has flashed his obvious and undoubted brilliance, he hasn’t (yet) been the player the Rangers were looking for. Nash’s first regular season as a Ranger was a solid one (42 points in 44 games), but the season ended in underwhelming style as the team (and Nash) left the playoff party without much fight.
This year Nash obviously suffered the concussion, but has also been caught in the same quicksand that the entire Rangers offense has found itself in. With 12 points in 17 games and just 6 goals, Nash needs to produce more. A lack of reliable line mates or an injury simply can’t count as excuses any longer. When a player is drawing a $7.8 million annual salary he needs to be doing more. No one will criticise Nash for missing time through an unfortunate injury, but when he’s healthy the most talented Rangers forward has to deliver more consistently and in fact more in almost every way.
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The Rangers need their coach to coach, not to moan about talent. Photo: AP
As the Rangers struggle to mount any kind of offense or physicality, the team is being increasingly exposed for the obvious flaws that they have. We’ve discussed ad nauseam how the Rangers should turn to some of the prospects to help the ailing offense (Kristo) or the putrid levels of physicality (McIlrath). One player that hasn’t had much airtime is Marek Hrivik, at one stage a dark horse for a spot in the line-up to start the year. Hrivik could help both of the Rangers critical areas of concern.
While it may have gotten to the stage where veteran help (aka a trade) is what’s needed to mix it up, Hrivik has shown that he can control the puck, work the boards and use his body to good effect. He’s also a player with legitimate offensive upside. At 6’1 and 200 lbs Hrivik may not seem physically imposing on paper but in limited exposure he has shown he uses his entire skill set effectively. We can’t say that about the Pouliot’s and Pyatt’s of the NHL roster.
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Rarity: A Ranger goal celebration. AP Photo/Mike Strasinger
With the Rangers seemingly in a tail spin and with the injuries mounting it really isn’t time to panic no matter how bleak it may seem at present. That said, changes do need to be made.
The Rangers have an opportunity to insert the likes of JT Miller, Danny Kristo and Dylan McIlrath now and give them consistent ice time and at no real risk. All of the aforementioned cannot do worse than the likes of Benoit Pouliot, Taylor Pyatt and (this season at least) any combination of Falk, Del Zotto and John Moore. If all they achieve this season is to become role players – or even that they simply avoid being liabilities – then it’s almost already an upgrade and developmental time long term.
With the team generating little to no offense, inconsistent (at best) defense and with spaces to fill thanks to an injury list that could backfill a local hospital there is an opportunity to exploit. Alain Vigneault has bemoaned the lack of appropriate player types and perhaps that’s true but is that because he’s simply icing the wrong type or is it that he hasn’t got them within the entire organisation? It’s time to find out.
Barring a disaster of epic proportions, Vigneault has time on his side so it would surely benefit him to look at the prospects available. He’s not getting fired this season unless the Rangers go on a winless streak that would threaten riots in New York.
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Zuccarello: one of the more consistent Rangers this season
Amid the very up and down season the Rangers are currently ‘enjoying’, one player who has finally started to show some legitimate consistency is Mats Zuccarello, and it could cost the Rangers. The Rangers did the right thing last summer when they did not over commit to Zuccarello when they brought him back on a short term deal. The player hadn’t shown enough consistency or finishing ability to be considered a viable top six NHL forward and given his size and skill set, any other role wasn’t a realistic option.
Since his early season benching for the Flyers game, Zuccarello has arguably been the Rangers most creative player and is producing at a solid level. For a player that until recently has struggled to exert himself on a game by game basis, Zuccarello has been a creative force.
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Is AV still looking to point his players in the right direction?
If any conclusions can be drawn from the apparent goaltending ‘drama’ that has been going on in New York it is that Alain Vigneault is still getting to know his team and he’s still learning which buttons to press with which players. Henrik Lundqvist is usually harder on himself than anyone else could be; such is his will to win. He won’t have been happy backing up Cam Talbot for Monday’s depressing defeat against the Jets but if the result is a hot streak from Lundqvist who are we to second guess the decision?
While some prefer to focus on a controversy, Cam Talbot is someone that has clearly grown with every start and you can see his confidence grow with every save – despite the defeat last night. It appears that Vigneault may be flirting with a goalie controversy but is it just a coach still familiarising himself with the assets at his disposal? Could it even be a message to the rest of the team rather than the star goaltender?
For those paying attention, Vigneault has prodded countless players over the past few weeks and months and given the middling results so far this season that is exactly what he should be doing. The Michael Del Zotto situation has been one where the coach has been unafraid to publicly challenge a player to be better. Vigneault has publicly expressed his opinion on Benoit Pouliot while players such as Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin and John Moore have been asked for more from the coach publicly. With the inconsistent and at times disappointing performances from numerous players on the roster this season it stands to reason that the coach will look to coach and prod his players for better performances.
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Brassard needs to show more, if he’s to remain a Ranger
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope you all have a great day and weekend. In the mean time, a couple thoughts on the Rangers as they head in to the weekend and toward a big double header.
If Taylor Pyatt continues to struggle once he’s back up to speed and Benoit Pouliot continues to be consistently inconsistent when does Alain Vigneault look for alternatives to help his frustrating offense? Wednesday night saw Danny Kristo add another goal to his tally in the AHL.
With 10 goals in 19 games for the WolfPack Kristo is on pace to flirt with 40 goals in his rookie year as a pro. While showing patience with Kristo is possibly the right course of action, if the Rangers continue to underwhelm offensively he’s surely worth taking a look at sooner rather than later.
Alain Vigneault has said that Pouliot is at a career crossroads. Well, could Derick Brassard also be at a crossroad? While Pouliot may have his entire NHL career under scrutiny, Brassard has been far too inconsistent thus far to warrant being retained at his current salary beyond this year (and certainly isn’t in line for a raise).
Brassard’s status as a promising talent is under threat. While Brassard would definitely find a home somewhere should the Rangers cut the cord, Brassard needs to find some consistency to justify the Rangers retaining him beyond this season. Very talented, very frustrating.
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Alain Vigneault commented after the Rangers’ turgid performance in Tampa on Monday that “Nobody touched a soul”, referring to his team’s lack of physicality. This has been an underlying issue for large parts of the season so far. In the mean time, Michael Del Zotto continues to be, at best, inconsistent (and the subject of countless traded rumours in the media) and John Moore also has yet to find his game consistently. As you can see, there is plenty of room for improvement on the blueline.
While the Rangers forward unit appears to be more settled with the demotion of JT Miller (who simply needs playing time at this stage), despite the relatively decent performance of the blueline corps, the Rangers appear in need of an injection of physicality. Is it about time they took a look at Dylan McIlrath?
Mcllrath’s development curve is trending in the right direction. While in Hartford the big, bruising 1st round pick has begun to add an offensive dimension to his game but perhaps more appropriate is that he also leagues the American Hockey League in penalty minutes (with 102 penalty minutes in just 18 games) and if you check the box scores regularly enough, you’ll have noticed a few majors along the way.
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Del Zotto has fallen on hard times in New York
For anyone that watches NHL Tonight, this week you’ll have seen Darren Dreger discuss the Rangers apparently having had contact with ‘five or six teams’ interested in acquiring Michael Del Zotto. The moment Del Zotto’s regression offensively caught up with Alain Vigneault’s lack of trust in his defensive game, this kind of rumour always surfaces. For those of you not in the know regarding Dreger, he’s not the kind of guy who recklessly gossips so there are legs to this story.
The Rangers should definitely explore trading Del Zotto. The Rangers need help offensively and/or they need more physicality on the blue line. Trading Del Zotto could help the Rangers tend to one of their needs as despite Del Zotto not having a good season so far, his previous offensive production, his relative youth, his affordable contract situation and his draft pedigree all combine to make him a very moveable asset.
Whether the Rangers decide to move Del Zotto will likely depend on the return, but if they are to move Del Zotto the time is now. The modern day NHL requires asset management and right now Del Zotto is a declining asset. With his recent trips to the press box and with just four points on the season, Del Zotto appears to be regressing. His importance to the Rangers has also diminished as John Moore slowly but steadily develops. Include Ryan McDonagh’s offensive progression, and he could become a Norris-worthy defensman. In short, Del Zotto’s time in New York could be running out.
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With Rick Nash’s imminent return to the Rangers line-up the team today sent Brandon Mashinter back to the Hartford WolfPack in the AHL. Mashinter appears a classic tweener, a very solid AHL’er with some NHL ability but whether with the Sharks or the Rangers, the physical winger hasn’t been able to establish himself in the NHL thus far.
Having appeared in six games for the Rangers thus far, Mashinter has averaged less than five minutes per game going scoreless along the way. For the record, Nash is close but has not committed to the line-up for the Bruins game on Tuesday. Given the return of the Rangers offensive woes (aka your boys can’t finish) Nash’s arrival in the line-up cannot happen soon enough.