Forget Mike Kostka. The one-game experiment with the 28-year-old defender notwithstanding, the Rangers’ depth has been extremely impressive so far this season.
It hasn’t been easy.
Poor planning down the middle during the summer forced first Martin St. Louis and now Kevin Hayes into unnatural positions, but both players have done well learning on the fly. The center problem has been felt most at the faceoff dots, but that’s never been Stepan’s hallmark anyway. And though Stepan’s myriad of contributions obviously can’t be replaced, the absence of the No. 1 center has done nothing to affect the team’s primary scorers on the wing. Rick Nash is off to an unreal start, and rotating top-liners St. Louis and Chris Kreider have found the scoresheet early and often even without No. 21. Stepan has been missed more in the defensive end, but the entire team has been awful in its own zone thus far, so the subs would be hard to fault for that.
Three losses in four games and 12 goals against in the first two home contests certainly isn’t how the Rangers wanted to start the season, but it’s not altogether unexpected. With No. 1 center Derek Stepan and No. 4 D Dan Boyle on the shelf, and a slew of raw youngsters in the lineup, it’s no surprise that the Blueshirts have been a dumpster fire in their own end. There are certainly very real causes for concern, but there is plenty of time to right the ship – just take a look back at how last season started.
So since it’s all gloom and doom in Ranger-land this morning, let’s check out some of the things that are going right for New York, many of which have come as pleasant surprises:
– Rick Nash has six goals in four games. That’s a pretty decent start, by any measure. The #fancystats crowd insisted Nash would bounce back after a horribly unlucky postseason, but this offensive explosion has eclipsed anyone’s wildest dreams. This confidence boost will be huge for Nash after he was forced to take a long look in the mirror last spring, and it could be the start of a monster year.
No one could have predicted that Martin St. Louis would end up being New York’s first-line center, or that 19-year-old Anthony Duclair would beat out a slew of veterans and near-NHL ready prospects for a top-nine spot to start the season. But St. Louis’ position change is only temporary, as Duclair’s stay in New York could be.
The first month of the 2014-2015 season will be about treading water in Derek Stepan’s absence, first and foremost, and determining if prospects like Duclair and Kevin Hayes deserve to stick. Read More→
Black and Blueshirts like Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan are gone and in their place are players with much more skill, like Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis. Vigneault arrived with a reputation for being a proponent of analytics and a master of matchups, but his actual top priority since arriving in Manhattan has been far simpler: get the team to score more goals.
Entering training camp last fall, there was an intense battle for the final forward spots between youngsters Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo. Fast actually won the job out of camp, but an early injury combined with Kreider’s emergence put an end to the competition.
Miller, Fast, Lindberg and Kristo are all clearly on the fringe, and with a strong second-half, Ryan Bourque joined the fray. Free agent signings Kevin Hayes and Ryan Haggerty are also in the mix for NHL jobs in the near future.
Miller looks all but assured of a spot out of camp this year, but that means there are still as many as five more near-NHL ready forwards knocking on the door. Read More→
We’re (finally) just one day away from training camp! There will be a whole lot of real Ranger news coming up, but since we’ve exhausted pretty much every type of camp preview imaginable this summer – allow me just one more random post before the action kicks into high gear.
What would happen if you were to pit the 2014 New York Rangers against the best lineup of former Blueshirts still currently playing in the NHL?
Here’s my take on the best hypothetical roster of ex-Rangers that takes into account positions and logical scoring and checking lines:
Prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season, few could have imagined that the Rangers would trade their heart and soul captain, Ryan Callahan, at the March 5 trade deadline. But such is life in the salary cap world – GM Glen Sather determined a contract number he wouldn’t exceed for both Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi. Girardi proved willing to negotiate within Sather’s limits, Callahan did not, and he was stunningly traded for Martin St. Louis.
Why bring this up now? Because just as with last fall, the Rangers are about to open camp with a few mega contracts looming on the horizon. New York has a bit more financial wiggle room this time around, especially with the salary cap ceiling likely to increase, but there are still tough decisions to be made. So what lies ahead?
Who will be the captain? – Not all of the major personnel decisions are financial – who will be the next face of the Rangers is as important a decision as any. The logical candidates – Girardi, St. Louis, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh – all come with questions. Girardi’s play dipped dramatically in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs after he signed a six-year, $33 million contract, so it could be a risky move to give the 30-year-old blueliner this honor without knowing if he can maintain his previous level of play. St. Louis has just one year remaining on his contract and is 39 years old, so while he might be the perfect veteran leader right now, that could represent flawed short-term thinking. Like St. Louis, Staal has just one year left on his deal and faces an uncertain future with the organization. That all leads to McDonagh, who’s certainly the unanimous choice among fans. It would be a major shock if he didn’t receive the C, but that’s also a lot to throw onto a 25-year-old who’s still blossoming as a player.
Immediately after July 1, it looked like the Rangers would have several forward spots open to competition at training camp. However, the eventual signings of Matt Lombardi, Lee Stempniak and Kevin Hayes have made it much more difficult for anyone else to earn a spot in the lineup. The likes of J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg still figure to duke it out with some of those depth signings for the final spot or two, but it’s going to be exceedingly difficult for anyone else to enter the fray. With that said, here’s a look at the handful of forwards and defensemen that could conceivably be in the mix with a standout performance at camp.
Ryan Malone – This one is a real long-shot not only because of the legal questions surrounding Malone, but because the Rangers would have to ship out a player to fit Malone under the 50-contract limit. Malone was once an effective power forward and is presumably being invited to training camp on the off chance the Blueshirts catch lightning in a bottle in their search to replace Benoit Pouliot, but unless Malone dominates, it’s highly unlikely he makes the team.
Last year: 34-37-11, eighth in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by 14 points.
Key subtractions: Evgeni Nabokov, Radek Martinek (likely)
Franchise direction: The Islanders’ rebuild has been very slow, but it really does look like things are starting to change. The additions of Halak, Grabovski and Kulemin were major pieces and the Islanders clearly are hoping to make a splash when they begin play at the Barclays Center in 2015-2016. New York needs several of its prospects to fulfill their promise in order to become a perennial playoff team, but they certainly have the talent to make that a reality over the next couple seasons.
If you’ve been paying attention this offseason, you’ve noticed that several NHL teams have hired advanced stats experts. Though #fancystats still have opposition, you don’t need to look further than the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings for proof that they offer valuable insight. No longer are these metrics exclusive to a small community of mathematicians, they are now mainstream in hockey.
Last summer I reviewed Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract and began to fall deeper into the rabbit hole of advanced stats. Rob was kind enough to give me a copy of Hockey Abstract 2014 – co-written by Tom Awad and Ian Fyffe – again this year, and it was even better than the first edition.
Vollman’s greatest strength is in putting what appear to be complicated formulas, graphs and figures into words that anyone can understand, whether they’re good at math or not. In fact, I’ll readily admit that I glossed over many of the charts in the book, because the real value is in Vollman’s translation. I’m much more concerned with what the numbers mean than how they’re reached, so I enjoyed Vollman’s thought process and conclusions most of all. Read More→