- It took Alain Vigneault less than a game to realize playing Eric Staal at center wasn’t going to work. Sure, the idea of having Staal, Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan down the middle is tantalizing, but it just isn’t feasible with the current makeup of the team. Kevin Hayes has earned that third-line role with recent improved play and has formed an effective threesome with Oscar Lindberg and Viktor Stalberg. Hayes also has been underwhelming on the wing, where the Rangers have a major hole with Rick Nash out. Perhaps things will be different when Nash returns, but until then Staal’s greatest value is on the wing, even if he needs to tag in frequently to win faceoffs.
- Speaking of Nash, when he returns the Rangers should finally achieve the depth level that Dave preached all year – Stalberg/Dominic Moore/Jesper Fast, or the equivalent, as the fourth line. Granted, it’s possible that Vigneault will still choose to dress Tanner Glass over a guy like Lindberg, but if not, the forwards should be pretty strong one through 12. This looks pretty good to me:
By Alain Vigneault’s own admission, the Rangers are being very conscious of their cap situation because they expect to add a player or two before the trade deadline. With Monday’s 3 p.m. buzzer looming, let’s take a look at how the Blueshirts might use their assets to bring in reinforcements for another Cup run.
Chris Kreider – The 24-year-old still possesses all the tools to be a star and should be a bargain as a pending RFA thanks to his disappointing season. With that in mind, Kreider is possibly the team’s most valuable bargaining chip, but it would take a huge return for the Blueshirts to pull the trigger – likely a better player than is currently believed to be available. Depending on how the rest of the season shakes out, it’s perhaps more likely New York considers dealing Kreider in the offseason.
Oscar Lindberg – There have been whispers about the Swedish rookie over the last few days and it’s possible that he’s a player the Blueshirts would be willing to part with. Lindberg burst onto the scene with unsustainable offensive production, but has been very quiet over the last couple months. Once seen as the heir apparent to Dominic Moore’s role as the team’s fourth-line pivot, Lindberg’s future role now is a bit more uncertain. For clubs that can’t or won’t take on salary and are looking for young roster players with future potential, Lindberg could be very appealing. The Rangers probably won’t even consider moving J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes or Pavel Buchnevich so Lindberg might become expendable almost by default. Read More→
It still remains possible, maybe even likely that the Rangers just aren’t quite ready to hand Dylan McIlrath or Brady Skjei a full-time job yet and want to maintain a veteran presence on the blueline for this playoff run, with the knowledge that Marc Staal and/or Dan Girardi must go following the season. And while many fans are concerned that neither player would have any suitors, last week’s Dion Phaneuf blockbuster (and the David Clarkson deal before that) should provide ample evidence that there’s no such thing as an untradeable contract.
But if management can’t – or perhaps more accurately, won’t unload one of the veteran blueliners for some ungodly reason, then moving Rick Nash during the offseason is an alternative.
The Rangers’ defensive lapses and disappointing individual performances have been discussed again and again, but one surprising issue this season has been the frequency with which the team hits the ice with very little energy. We saw so few of those pure stinker games in recent years under first John Tortorella and then Alain Vigneault, but this impossible-to-measure quality has been missing this season with unacceptable regularity.
Part of the problem has been the exodus of key individuals that served as the main spark plugs for the Blueshirts. Former captain Ryan Callahan could always be counted on to give the team a lift by sacrificing his body, Carl Hagelin had the unique ability to fly on ice and wreak havoc in the opponent’s zone, and Martin St. Louis channeled his veteran status and personal experiences into juice for the club. The Rangers survived the departure of Callahan just fine, but losing the latter two last summer may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Read More→
Alain Vigneault has made many, many puzzling decisions over the course of the first 49 games this season – from his insistence on giving top minutes to Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, to his refusal to give Keith Yandle the lion’s share of power play time, to repeatedly dressing Tanner Glass.
He’s not perfect – not by any stretch. And he’s not always right, but he’s earned a certain amount of latitude after bringing two clubs to the Stanley Cup Final in four seasons, winning a Jack Adams Award and leading his teams to eight straight playoff appearances including three President’s Trophies and five division crowns.
Say whatever you want about Vigneault – the man has had a great deal of success and is widely considered to be one of the top hockey coaches on the planet.
There are still 36 games left in the 2015-2016 regular season, but thanks to the new playoff format, it’s not too difficult to forecast some playoff matchups.
The Washington Capitals hold an 18-point lead for the Metro Division crown and would all but have to go on a three-week team vacation to the Maldives to give any of their rivals a chance at catching them. Behind them, just a point separates the the Rangers and Islanders as the current No. 2 and No. 3 seeds. The two clubs are likely to jockey back and forth for position down the stretch, but it seems like fate that they will clash in the opening round of the 2016 postseason.
We’ve discussed the Rangers’ problems on defense ad nauseam, but the decline in production amongst the forwards is a factor in the team’s struggles as well.
Despite ranking fourth in the league in offense just past the halfway mark, the team is mainly riding one of the NHL’s top scoring defenses, a suddenly powerful power play and some lucky shooting by a few key individuals. The Blueshirts have a lofty goal total, but in fact the team’s forwards are nearly all having down years in production.
Here’s a look at the returning forwards’ scoring stats from last year compared to their current pace: Read More→
Jonathan Drouin’s public trade request kicked the rumor mill into high gear right out of the holiday break, and the recent success of last night’s opponent is a good indication why.
The parallels between Tyler Seguin and Drouin are evident, and like Seguin, Drouin has the potential to become an elite offensive producer that helps catapult his future team into the upper echelon of the NHL.
Drouin obviously has much to prove, but Lightning GM Steve Yzerman no doubt has Boston’s Seguin disaster dancing through his mind as he sorts through his options.
The Rangers aren’t alone in their battle to remain relevant as contenders – all around the league many of the clubs we’re used to seeing play deep into the spring are having major issues just like the Blueshirts.
Perhaps the most disappointing team of all this year is the Ducks, who thought they had attained an unstoppable mix of size and speed to go with a mobile young defense and multiple stellar options in goal. Instead, Ryan Getzlaf has two goals in 30 games and Anaheim sits just three points out of the cellar.
In the Eastern Conference, the Penguins’ blockbuster trade for Phil Kessel did nothing to help and the club fired coach Mike Johnston earlier this month. Pittsburgh’s decline has continued over several seasons and it’s at the point that there’s a reasonable case to be made for the Penguins to – gasp – trade one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Read More→
The biggest contributors to the Rangers’ problems are veteran defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who have struggled mightily and each have cap hits of at least $5.5 million for the next four years (five for Staal).
Dealing either player will be tricky given their robust contracts and current level of play, but that’s the ideal solution for a club that desperately needs to redistribute icetime and everyday lineup spots along the blueline, and hopes to re-sign Keith Yandle this summer.
Trade rumors are likely to begin flying quickly after the holiday roster freeze is lifted and Staal and Girardi will be at the forefront. But while dumping either for prospects and/or draft picks might be possible, it’s an unlikely course of action for a team that fancies itself a contender. Clearing money from the payroll will become a focal point possibly by the trade deadline and certainly during the offseason, but for now GM Jeff Gorton is still hoping to improve his team for the present.