– Since my post last week, Eastern Conference playoff teams have lost the following key players: Steven Stamkos, Marc-Andre Fleury, Vincent Trocheck and Travis Hamonic. Once again, having capable fill-ins is absolutely vital this time of year – and why Alain Vigneault needs to keep both Oscar Lindberg and Dylan McIlrath game-ready.
– Despite the massive warts on this Rangers squad and all the negative energy coming out of the weekend, there’s still reason to hope for this playoff run. The aforementioned injuries to rival teams’ star players have leveled the playing field somewhat and are a good reminder of how quickly things can change at this time of year. The Rangers still have the best goalie on their side of the bracket, oodles of postseason experience to lean on and they’ve demonstrated the ability to beat the league’s top teams consistently. And outside of the Capitals, I’m just not all that worried about any of the other teams in the Eastern Conference field. I’m not saying I’m predicting a Cup, but let’s all just remind ourselves that there are reasons for optimism and a chance for a pretty fun ride ahead.
– Eric Staal did a lot to save himself from this chart with two goals on Sunday, but his production compared to other players moved at the trade deadline doesn’t look great. For New York, it’s all about what Staal does in the playoffs, but what’s frustrating about this list is the success of some of the other guys the Rangers could have gotten for next to nothing that would have improved their chances even more.
– You can slam the front office for a number of decisions made over the last couple of years, but one the Rangers absolutely nailed was the signing of Viktor Stalberg. This is a guy that was near being out of the NHL and instead the Blueshirts gave him a one-year prove-it deal that couldn’t have worked out better. Stalberg has done yeoman’s work up and down the lineup and contributes consistently on both ends of the ice. It would be great to have him back, but the new deal he’s earned will probably make that impossible.
– Kevin Klein is such an interesting case because he’d never been much of an offensive contributor until last season, when he shot 11.8% (much higher before he got hurt). The thing is, he’s continued to produce this season and is converting at a 14.5% rate. Now according to most models, Klein’s scoring was and still is destined to come crashing back down to earth. But I think one of the things that gets overlooked when analyzing luck and shooting percentages is that you don’t need a high shooting percentage to be a good player, but you can definitely be a good player if you have a high shooting percentage. I don’t buy that all shooting is even, that all players must fall to the mean. Colorado’s Alex Tanguay has shot a whopping 18.6% over his 1078-game career, which has resulted in an extra 146 goals in comparison to a player with the same number of shots converting at the rough league average of 9%. In other words, Tanguay has doubled his goal total thanks to sharp-shooting, and that’s the difference between being just a guy and ranking 213th on the all-time scoring list. The perception of Tanguay is significantly enhanced because he’s produced at such a high rate and there are a number of players both active and all-time that maintained abnormally high shooting percentages and had much better careers as a result. I think Klein is just one of those guys that picks his spots wisely and is efficient when he does. And he has a little more skill than he gets credit for.
– Interesting idea by Alain Vigneault to create a “tower” line of Rick Nash, Eric Staal and Viktor Stalberg. I still think Staal makes more sense as a winger in this lineup (who takes a ton of faceoffs), but I admit the idea of this monster line harassing the enemy net in the playoffs is tantalizing.
– How much money has Chris Kreider earned with his late-season surge? He’d been in the midst of a brutal year and it seemed like his lack of production would result in a discounted contract, with the savings earmarked for J.T. Miller. But now Miller’s offense has dried up and Kreider is on a tear with five goals in his last nine games and 10 since January 16. Kreider’s usual strong playoff performance will also have a major impact, but he’s now in position for a hefty raise over his current $2.475 million cap hit.
– The news that Dylan McIlrath will miss a couple weeks with a knee injury will likely effectively end his season. Barring another significant injury, there’s no chance Alain Vigneault will look McIlrath’s way upon his return when he won’t immediately be at full speed, nor in the postseason given Vigneault’s preference for the veterans. But it is a pretty huge luxury for the Blueshirts to know that their 23-year-old seventh defenseman and 21-year-old first call-up from Hartford can both be penciled into the lineup for next fall. Dan Boyle will obviously be a goner and at least one of the other five veterans will likely be out as well, but the Rangers are lucky to have two replacements in house.
– While Cam Talbot was busy wrapping up First Star of the Week honors in Edmonton, Antti Raanta was giving up three goals in the first five minutes of the game against the Islanders on Sunday. Raanta has been mostly OK, but there’s been a noticeable drop-off from Talbot last year to Raanta now. Granted, Talbot was among the top backups in the game over the last couple years and Raanta was acquired for Ryan Haggerty (remember him!?), but with Henrik Lundqvist getting older, the backup goalie is only going to be a bigger issue each year going forward. While Chris advocated for keeping Raanta this summer, I’m not as sold. I wonder if Magnus Hellberg could be the No. 2 next season?
- 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.