Henrik Lundqvist’s injury may have you feeling otherwise, but the Rangers remain in excellent shape to make the postseason. With an eight-point cushion over ninth-place Florida, securing a wild card berth shouldn’t be difficult even if overtaking the Penguins and Islanders for the Metro Division title may now be unrealistic.
Of course the team’s playoff hopes are pinned to Lundqvist, but there’s reason to believe the best is still ahead for the 2014-2015 Blueshirts – and it’s not because they’re sure to add an impact player by the trade deadline.
When you stop to think about it, how many players are really having standout seasons? Rick Nash, obviously. Kevin Klein has certainly exceeded expectations. Derek Stepan has been a point-per-game player when healthy. And Kevin Hayes has been a pleasant surprise as a rookie. Read More→
Much of the early trade deadline fervor both around the league and in New York has been about what the Arizona Coyotes might do. GM Don Maloney has been screaming “WE ARE SELLERS” at the top of his lungs and Arizona has several attractive pieces, including pending free agent Antoine Vermette. Suit also suggested looking into Yotes defensemen Michael Stone. The Rangers are surely checking on Vermette, but Newsday’s Steve Zipay suggested that another member of the Coyotes, Martin Hanzal, might be a better fit for New York.
On the ice, he might be right. But as always, the financials come into play.
Vermette and Hanzal are very different players. Vermette brings scoring punch, having scored over 20 goals in four seasons. He’s that extra offensive weapon that many past versions of the Rangers would covet.
With the All-Star Game coming up this weekend, we’ve been handing out our annual midseason grades. Dave tackled the goaltending and coaches, Chris wrote about the top-six forwards, and today I’ll be reviewing the defense.
Boyle’s season got off to a slow start after the 38-year-old D-man missed the first five weeks of the year with a broken wrist. But in my eyes, he was brought here to do one thing – fix the power play – and that’s been a resounding success. Does Boyle deserve all the credit? Definitely not. But he has made a major impact moving the puck quickly and decisively on the man advantage, and he’s been better in his own end than I expected. Boyle has been deployed in the offensive zone whenever possible, but he’s made that positioning count by helping the team direct rubber at the opposing net at a terrific rate.
The decision to let Anton Stralman go in favor of Boyle may haunt the Rangers for years, but for the short term, I’m pretty comfortable with the tradeoff.
Grade: A- Read More→
With the Blueshirts’ ridiculous stretch of winning 13 games in 14 now concluded, the Rangers will soon be faced with a decision perhaps as difficult as the one they had to make at the trade deadline a year ago.
Then, the club reached a contract negotiation stalemate with Ryan Callahan and shipped its beloved captain, along with two top draft choices, to Tampa Bay in exchange for then 38-year-old winger Marty St. Louis. It paid off – St. Louis was an integral part of the team that came within three games of the Cup.
The trade deadline is again quickly approaching, and by March 5 GM Glen Sather must decide how all-in he really is.
In their latest team prospect rankings, Corey Pronman and Hockey’s Future each had the Rangers 28th, while The Hockey News put the Blueshirts dead last. Granted, each of those outlets has its own set of criteria, but the general consensus among the so-called experts was that the Rangers didn’t have much talent on the way.
Many that followed the baby Blueshirts more closely knew the future was actually very bright, and a few months later the rest of the hockey world has taken notice as well.
2013 third-round picks Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony Duclair just finished lighting up the World Junior Championships, while the pair of goalies selected in the 2014 draft, Brandon Halverson and Igor Shesterkin also impressed in the top prospect tournament. That duo, along with 2013 sixth-round pick Mackenzie Skapski have turned what was considered a major organizational weakness into one of the best young groups in the league.
Buchnevich and Duclair continue to look like stars in the making, as does 2010 first-round pick Kevin Hayes, whom the club poached from Chicago in August.
Meanwhile it appears the light bulb may have finally clicked on for J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast has become an NHL regular, 2013 third-rounder Adam Tambellini ranks seventh in the WHL in goal scoring, 2011 third-rounder Steven Fogarty is captaining Notre Dame, 2012 first-rounder Brady Skjei has established himself as one of the best college players in the country, and 2013 fourth-rounder Ryan Graves was just named one of the QMJHL’s three stars of the month.
Indeed, things are looking quite rosy for the Rangers’ prospect pipeline.
Tampa Bay has been generally considered to have the best future core of any team in the league after the Lightning integrated a slew of impact rookies into it’s lineup last year, but are the Rangers really that far behind? Here are each team’s players of note 25 years old or younger:
Rangers: Ryan McDonagh (25), Derek Stepan (24), Chris Kreider (23), Kevin Hayes (22), J.T. Miller (21), Jesper Fast (23), Brady Skjei (20), Anthony Duclair (19), Pavel Buchnevich (19), Ryan Graves (19), Igor Shesterkin (19), Brandon Halverson (18)
Lightning: Alex Killorn (25), Tyler Johnson (24), Victor Hedman (24), Radko Gudas (24), Ondrej Palat (23), Brett Connolly (22), Vladislav Namestnikov (22), Kristers Gudļevskis (22), Nikita Kucherov (21), Cedric Paquette (21), Andrei Vasilevskiy (20), Slater Koekkoek (20), Jonathan Drouin (19), Adam Erne (19), Anthony DeAngelo (19)
Of course, 24-year-old Steve Stamkos is Tampa’s trump card, but considering the Rangers have been choosing near the end of the first round for years as opposed to the top of it, that’s not too shabby.
Of course, player development is a tricky business and even the guys that appear to be well on their way can and will hit stumbling blocks, but for now it’s safe to say there is much more in the cupboard than many prospect gurus believed.
Starting tomorrow, the Rangers will be allowed to sign Mats Zuccarello to a contract extension in accordance with a clause in the CBA that prevents teams from re-signing their players until January 1 after they agreed a one-year pact during the summer.
Zuccarello inked a one-year, $3.5 million deal in July despite interest by both sides in a longer term commitment, but the team had precious little cap space, so there was a general understanding that they would revisit a multi-year deal once the new year hit. The Blueshirts were in a similar situation with Henrik Lundqvist back in 2007-2008, and they worked out a six-year, $41.25 million contract by mid-February.
The decision on Zuccarello’s future is more difficult than it was with The King. The all-time leading scorer amongst Norwegian-born players has admitted that his contract is weighing on his mind, but the Rangers might not be in a hurry to ease those concerns.
Though Zuccarello is a fan favorite and a creative player with outstanding vision, he’s occupying one of the key top-six wing spots that are suddenly very crowded. Rick Nash is a lock for one of those positions going forward, and Chris Kreider will also be given more time to round out his game. Talented youngsters J.T. Miller, Anthony Duclair and Pavel Buchnevich all also figure to be in the mix for permanent jobs going forward. The one wild card is Martin St. Louis.
The 39-year-old winger is still very productive and has made it clear he wants to finish his career in New York, but he’s also set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. One would think the Rangers and St. Louis have an understanding that they’ll reach a series of short deals to keep him on Broadway as long as it’s beneficial for both sides, a la Teemu Selanne in Anaheim over the last several seasons. But St. Louis’ status could have a direct impact on Zuccarello.
Obviously it’s easy to see parallels between the two, starting with their size and extending to their similar roles as playmakers and power play specialists. Zuccarello has the huge advantage of being 12 years St. Louis’ junior, but St. Louis comes with a championship pedigree that is invaluable, especially when you consider the relative youth of the aforementioned wingers that figure to be his teammates moving forward.
Sather could deal Zuccarello before the trade deadline, but the return for an expiring contract isn’t going to be great, especially since Zuccarello figures to be interested in seeing what he could command on the open market if he doesn’t remain in New York. Plus, though some of those young wingers figure to make an impact over the next few seasons, none of them are would match Zuccarello’s contributions for this year’s playoff run.
Sather will likely stew on this decision for the next few weeks before deciding whether to dive into negotiations or pursue a Plan B, but eventually, something has to give.
What do you think the Rangers should do with Zuccarello?
There haven’t been too many 6-5 22-year-old rookie centers in NHL history, so it’s a little difficult to project the player Kevin Hayes might turn into. He seems to be getting better and better with each game and has turned into a solid third-line center in no time.
Hayes wasn’t all that impressive in the preseason. Prospect pundits had been gushing over Hayes all summer, but he was totally overshadowed by the performances of J.T. Miller and Anthony Duclair in camp. Then, Hayes suffered a shoulder injury and missed the final exhibition game, as well as the first three regular season games.
At the time, Miller seemed like a lock to stick in New York for the duration, and coach Alain Vigneault seemed enthusiastic about the Marty St. Louis center experiment. Hayes was an afterthought, or so it briefly seemed. Read More→
Stop me if this sounds familiar: a heralded first-round pick impressed immediately in his first professional season, but struggled as a sophomore and spent much of that season in the American Hockey League. In his third year, the prospect looked like a lock for a full-time job out of training camp, but was sent back to Hartford after just a few games. But about a month later, the player was back in New York and the light bulb had finally clicked on – he was a major contributor from then on.
Indeed, Chris Kreider amazed us with five playoff goals in his first NHL action out of college, then spent much of 2012-2013 with the Wolf Pack. He spent six more games in Hartford at the start of last season before reaching Broadway for good.
J.T. Miller’s path has been very similar. The 2011 first-round pick began his pro career at a much younger age than Kreider, but he, too, impressed in 26 games with the Blueshirts in 2012-2013, then left fans a bit disappointed last year by failing to break out and split the season between the Rangers and Wolf Pack. Miller looked like the best forward at training camp in September, but was quickly demoted to Hartford after just three games in October. Miller returned to the Rangers on November 29th, and he’s posted three points in four games since then while playing primarily with Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast before a stint in the top-six alongside Derek Stepan and Marty St. Louis on Monday.
Martin covered Boyle’s impact yesterday, but here’s a little more. It’s Thanksgiving week so forgive me for not rewriting this one.
Though contract length and roster construction played a part, the Rangers basically chose between two distinct skill sets when they elected not to re-sign Anton Stralman and inked Dan Boyle as his replacement in July.
The argument for Boyle was that he was the true offensive defenseman the team had long lacked and a stud power play quarterback. The argument for Stralman was that he was among the league’s best possession players and had emerged as New York’s best defender other than Ryan McDonagh.
While Boyle missed the first five weeks of the season with a broken wrist, the patchwork Rangers’ defense often looked like it might get lit up in beer league and the power play was as inept as always. Meanwhile, Stralman was racking up points at an unprecedented rate and was called “nothing short of sensational” by his new coach, Jon Cooper. Read More→
We’ve spent a lot of time bemoaning the loss of Anton Stralman, whose departure has coincided with a drastic drop in possession numbers. We’ve also talked about the impact losing Brian Boyle has had on the penalty kill and on faceoffs. Heck, we’ve even reminisced about Raphael Diaz.
But one key veteran has been quickly forgotten since his forced exit just days after the Stanley Cup Final.
The buyout of Brad Richards was a foregone and necessary conclusion for the Blueshirts, who were in desperate need of cap space and had one final chance to shed the remainder of his albatross contract without being penalized.