In his column yesterday, the Post’s Larry Brooks wondered if New York’s choppy start is in part due to an inability to find the proper motivation for relatively meaningless early-season tilts, as well as general fatigue and wear and tear suffered by key players.
Whether or not that’s a viable excuse for the team’s uneven performance thus far – and no one within the organization would ever admit it if it was – one of the early trends of the 2015-2016 season seems to be a conscious decision by coach Alain Vigneault to put an increased emphasis on resting his squad, specifically, its biggest stars. Read More→
Chris usually gets to have all the fun with these musings posts, but my thoughts are all over the place with so many interesting developments in the first four games of the season. So here are some of my early impressions:
- It seems like entering each year now, there’s buzz about how the upcoming season will be the Rangers’ last real chance at the Cup and the window is rapidly closing. But that’s really a bunch of baloney. The end of this run could come, and it could come suddenly – but if it does, it will only because Henrik Lundqvist has finally fallen from his perch atop the mountain of NHL goalies. Four games into this season, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon. Lundqvist has responded to coach Alain Vigneault’s challenge to start the year better with a sparkling stretch of unbelievable saves. Lundqvist’s reflexes look faster than ever, and if he’s actually able to continue this hot streak for the first few weeks and months when Lundqvist usually struggles, then you might as well hand him the Vezina Trophy now.
- One of my biggest problems with trading Carl Hagelin was that I thought his speed was essential to the team’s identity. Bu this year’s version of the Blueshirts plays as frenetic as ever. There’s still speed to burn up and down the lineup and it has to be a nightmare to defend.
He’s not Vladimir Tarasenko and he’s not Cam Fowler. To this point, Dylan McIlrath’s professional career pales in comparison to those other 2010 first-round picks selected just after him. But to his credit, McIlrath is finally on the cusp of being an NHLer.
When McIlrath was selected 10th overall, he was a feared pugilist and open ice hitter with a grand total of 24 WHL points in his draft year and 19 fighting majors to his name. The Rangers drafted him for being a tough guy, with the dancing vision of a future Chris Pronger-like player no doubt dancing through their heads. Read More→
Much was made yesterday of Alain Vigneault’s decision to dress defenseman Kevin Klein back-to-back nights this week given the developing competition for the final spots on the blueline in training camp.
On the one hand, Klein only dressed Monday because Dan Boyle was a last minute scratch, so perhaps some are reading into it too much. However, there were many other players Vigneault could switched with Klein last night, but he still chose to play the 30-year-old veteran again.
Despite Klein’s struggles late last season, it was still widely assumed that the final spot on the bottom pairing was all his entering training camp, but there are a few other things to consider. Read More→
Training camp is a day away, so we are nearly through the brutal August days when there’s no Rangers news to talk about. But honestly I’ve talked and thought about last year’s faults and analyzed potential new line combinations as much as I care to, so before we (finally) get down to the business of training camp, I figured it would be a good time to try something a little different.
Zuc could have a post to himself with all the hilarious photos he’s been in.
Stealing Kevin Hayes from the Blackhawks last summer may prove to be a coup of nearly the same magnitude as the Ryan McDonagh trade back in 2009.
Hayes racked up 45 points as a rookie and showed improvement with almost every passing game in the second half of the year. He’s already a huge part of the Rangers’ present and future, but there’s some uncertainty over where he fits into the lineup entering the 2015-2016 season.
Hayes thrived as New York’s third-line center for most of last year, but he played primarily right wing at Boston College. On an individual level, the biggest knock on Hayes playing center is his ugly 36.3% faceoff win percentage. To many #fancystats gurus that’s a non-issue, but it’s still a factor the Rangers are likely to consider (although the Blueshirts have deployed Stepan as their primary pivot for several seasons now and he has never won more than 46% of his faceoffs in a single season). Hayes also struggled defensively in his freshman season. Read More→
Last year: 45-26-11, second in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Key additions: Justin Williams, TJ Oshie
Key subtractions: Mike Green, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Tim Gleason
Offense: The Capitals usually high-flying offense added shootout guru Oshie and Mr. Game Seven Williams this summer, giving Washington the most talent up front its had during the Ovechkin era. The two veterans will give coach Barry Trotz all kinds of options, but the biggest reason for excitement is the continued growth of forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. Kuznetsov seized control of the No. 2 center role as the season progressed and looks poised to become an opposing coach’s nightmare after focusing matchups on Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. 20-year-old Burakovsky demonstrated flashes of his explosiveness against the Blueshirts in the playoffs, and has the luxury of being brought along slowly thanks to Washington’s impressive depth. The Capitals did lose 59 goals with the departures of mainstays Brouwer, Ward and Fehr, but Washington shouldn’t have any difficulty replacing that production with increased roles for younger players and the aforementioned Oshie and Williams. And don’t forget about 2014 first-round pick Jakub Vrana, who could hit the ground in the NHL with two feet running.
Last year: 42-35-5, fifth in the Metro Division. Missed the playoffs by nine points.
Key additions: Brandon Saad, Gregory Campbell, Zach Werenski, Gabriel Carlsson, Mike Paliotta, Paul Bittner
Key subtractions: Marko Dano, Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu, Jeremy Morin, Jack Skille
Offense: A team already loaded with young talent pulled off the shocker of the offseason by landing the 22-year-old Saad from Chicago. In the process, Columbus identified its three pillars up front to build around, with Saad joining superstar in the making Ryan Johansen and new captain Nick Foligno. Former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky was a critical cog as recently as 12 months ago, but he’ll be in more of a depth role going forward and will be expected to provide a tremendous example for the younger players. David Clarkson’s contract sticks out like a sore thumb and Scott Hartnell might join him before long, but it hardly matters. The aforementioned trio along with Boone Jenner, Alex Wennberg, Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson and Matt Calvert represent the present and future for Columbus, with top prospects Sonny Milano, William Karlsson, Kerby Rychel and Oliver Bjorkstrand following close behind. The Jackets have an embarrassment of riches and just need to take some time to determine who else is part of the core alongside Johansen, Foligno and Saad.
Last year: 33-31-18, sixth in the Metro Division. Missed the playoffs by 14 points.
Key additions: Sam Gagner, Evgeny Medvedev, Michal Neuvirth, Colin McDonald
Key subtractions: Chris Pronger’s contract, Zac Rinaldo, Nicklas Grossmann
Offense: The Flyers had no choice but to reward Jakub Voracek with a massive extension after he finished fourth in the league in points last season. Between him and Claude Giroux, the Flyers have the start of a dynamic offense. Unfortunately, they’ve had trouble filling in holes around that duo, not dissimilar to the Penguins’ struggles to find running mates for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. There were high hopes for Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, but while both fill valuable two-way roles, neither has proven capable of posting big offensive numbers. The next-best scoring threat remains power forward Wayne Simmonds, who is virtually unmovable in front of the net, especially on the power play. Perhaps newcomer Gagner will finally blossom, or someone like Michael Raffl or Matt Read will really emerge, but Schenn and Couturier remain the two players squarely in the spotlight. 2015 first-round pick Travis Konecny could be the answer before long. Read More→
Last year: 30-41-11, eighth in the Metro Division. Missed the playoffs by 27 points.
Key additions: Noah Hanifin, Eddie Lack, James Wisniewski
Offense: The Staal brothers are still serviceable players, but they are no longer stars capable of carrying an offense. The present and future lies with junior Elias Lindholm and 23-year-old Jeff Skinner, whose quick rise has been thwarted by a myriad of injuries. Lindholm, Skinner and Eric Staal are really the only players that should even be sniffing top-six roles on a decent club. There are few players with upside like Victor Rask, but for the most part Carolina’s anemic attack is comprised of recycled parts. Read More→