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Category: Analysis

Rick Nash’s resurgence and tempering expectations

Shooting at 22.4% (Andrew Theodorakis/NY Daily News)

Shooting at 22.4% (Andrew Theodorakis/NY Daily News)

In case you missed it, Rick Nash went nuts in January. He scored 11 goals in 11 games last month, sandwiched between two-game point-less streaks. There has been a dramatic shift in the way Nash plays as well. He seems more engaged, more willing to go to dirty areas, and back to the Rick Nash the Rangers thought they were getting two summers ago. On the ice, he’s been a machine.

But let’s take a step back for a moment. In that 11 game span, Nash scored 11 goals on 49 shots. That’s a whopping 22.4% success rate. That is exactly double his career shot percent rate of 11.2%. Suffice it to say, that is simply impossible to maintain. We’ve even started to see Nash hit a snag in terms of keeping with that pace, as he’s 0-for-12 in his last two games.

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Taking stock a month before the trade deadline

Newsday.com

Newsday.com

To say this has been a roller coaster season so far for the Rangers would be an understatement.  After starting the year 3-7 and getting embarrassed by some of the mighty Western Conference’s best squads, it looked like the team was starting to figure it out.  They went 11-6 over their next seventeen, and genuinely looked like the team we all expected them to be this summer.  Unfortunately, they decided to go 1-6 over their next seven, culminating in brutal 5-3 defeat to the Islanders.  Following that terrible stretch of lost hockey, and presumably to drive Ranger fans to drink more, the team has since rattled off a 13-5-1 stretch to climb all the way to second place behind Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division.

In most years, you can glean a front office’s assessment of their team by how they conduct themselves at the trade deadline.  While my little season recap above could seem like fun with arbitrary end points, it has made the overall assessment of this team exceedingly difficult.  Sure, there have been specific instances one can point to that explain peaks and valleys (Nash’s injury/return, Talbot’s call up, Cally injury/return, Carcillo, etc.) but now that everyone is healthy and playing well, is this the team we thought were getting in August, or are they just on another streak?

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Ryan Callahan and his future in blue

Courtesy of NYR Zone

Courtesy of NYR Zone

When the clock strikes 3pm on Wednesday, March 5th signaling the time which any player acquired by a team can be eligible to participate in the postseason (also known as the trade deadline), it is all but certain Ryan Callahan will still be Captain of the New York Rangers Hockey Club. However, what happens between March 5th and July 1st is still anyone’s guess.

Today, we’re going to take a look at a few different scenarios around what the Rangers might look like with and without our Captain heading into next year, and what the cost implications might be. Realistically, barring a trade (which is unlikely to begin with), there are only two scenarios for the Rangers: They re-sign Cally, or they do not re-sign Cally.

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Looking at the Rangers GVT/PVT leaders

Your GVT/PVT leader (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Your GVT/PVT leader (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

For those of you who have been here a while, you know that we like to go deeper into the #fancystats and analyze how the numbers complement what we see on the ice. Most of our analysis is focused on quality of competition, puck possession (Corsi/Fenwick), and zone starts. One stat that we are also fans of is GVT (Goals Versus Threshold) and PVT (Points Versus Threshold). You can read more on all of the stats we use here.

We haven’t spent much time, if any, talking about how the Rangers rank in GVT. There are a few reasons behind that. The first is we were victimized by small sample size in the early going. The second is that the Rangers got off to such a horrendous start that we needed to wait until the averages started balancing out before getting true value from the stat.

For those who don’t want to read a long post on GVT, it can be summarized as the amount of goals a player is worth over a replacement player (Aaron Johnson, Darroll Powe, or any other injury replacement). It is a bit like WAR in baseball. The only difference is that WAR measures wins, and GVT measures goals. That’s why I use PVT, using the commonly accepted rule that three goals is the equivalent of one point in the standings.

So where do the Rangers rank?

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An interesting trade partner emerges in Colorado

A match made in Denver?

A match made in Denver?

For the past month or so, there have been many reports that the Rangers have been scouting the Colorado Avalanche. We don’t play them for another month, so I think it’s safe to assume the Rangers aren’t pre-scouting and may be exploring trade opportunities.

If the latter is true and the Rangers are taking a hard look at Colorado’s roster, then it certainly begs the question — is there a fit? Looking over Colorado’s roster and contract situations, they’re flush at center, short on wings, and somewhere in the middle on defense.

We’re pretty set at wing. Neither Step, Richie, nor Brass are true #1 centers. A right-handed defender remains our biggest need overall. So there are a few trade possibilities worth exploring. 

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Attempting to quantify goalie puck handling

This was literally the only picture I could find of Henrik handling a puck. I think this was ’06.

The request for this post came from reader Max Steuer.  Keep those suggestions coming! If you have a post idea you’d like one of us to run with, make sure to reach out to your desired author via email or twitter.

Throughout Henrik Lundqvist’s stellar career to date, one of the common detractions from his game has always been his inability to play the puck effectively.  The past couple years have highlighted this weakness in his game, as Marty Biron, and now, Cam Talbot have been effective and capable puck handlers. This skill has been somewhat anecdotal (though, I have always included it in my style analyses) throughout the evolution of goalie development.

It’s nearly impossible to quantify in any meaningful way, and was always viewed as a bonus when a goaltender was blessed with strong stick skills.  After a quick Google search for the purposes of researching this post, this was all but confirmed.  Many instructors and YouTube aficionados have drills and technique suggestions and the like, but no one out there seems to have a handle on how to quantify it.

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A look at Rangers player usage

Courtesy of ExtraSkater

Courtesy of ExtraSkater

As the analysis of stats develops, one of the major attributes looked at is player usage. John Tortorella was a big proponent of starting his offensive players in the offensive zone, and his shutdown guys in the defensive zone. Alain Vigneault is no different.

To read the chart above: The X-axis represents zone starts and the percentage of starts each player has in the offensive zone. The lower the percentage, the more often a player starts his shifts in the defensive zone. It should be noted that the stat used here (O/D St%) omits neutral zone starts. The Y-axis represents quality of competition faced. The higher up on the Y axis, the tougher the competition faced.

The size of each bubble is ice time – the larger the size, the more ice time. The color represents Corsi (puck possession). Red represents a negative Corsi, blue a positive Corsi. The darker the shade, the more extreme. For example, Brian Boyle has a darker shade of red than Dominic Moore, so Boyle has a Corsi. Anton Stralman is a darker blue than John Moore, so Stralman has a better Corsi than Moore.

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Rangers midseason grades: The top-six forwards

Derek Stepan is one of several players that need to be better

Derek Stepan is one of several players that need to be better

The Rangers have struggled to score consistently all season. Successful teams get the bulk of their scoring from their top six forwards, but no Ranger forward has covered himself in glory this season. Before going on to look at the individual grades at the halfway mark consider this: Mats Zuccarello is leading this team in scoring – a team designed to win the Cup – and is 71st in scoring in the league at time of writing.

Rick Nash

Offensively this team will live or die on Rick Nash’s production. As of Wednesday night, 156(!) players had scored more goals than Rick Nash (7 goals, 16 points in 24 games). While his injuries are unfortunate, the peripheral play, extended droughts, and lack of dominance from a player with Nash’s skill and size are a concern. Nash is making $7.8 million and is the team’s most gifted forward, but rarely has he come close to earning his salary or leading the Rangers offense. A team with limited skill need more from their sole elite forward, Nash needs a strong second half if the Rangers are going to have success.

Grade: D

Brad Richards

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Fenwick Close: Putting a stat to the compete level of the Rangers

We feel the same way Hank (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

We feel the same way Hank (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard a lot about the Rangers and their compete level. The coach has said there is no compete level. We’ve said this team has no compete level. Your next door neighbor said this team has no compete level. It’s a fairly common phrase. The term, obviously, is used to describe how the Rangers just don’t seem willing to do what it takes to win. We’ve seen it on the ice in every aspect of the game: hitting, defense, backchecking, board work, cycling, moving to tough areas, generating offense, etc.

You know we here love our #fancystats, and compete level is something that we can use #fancystats to quantify. If you are unfamiliar with Fenwick, read our Metrics We Use page for a refresher. Thanks to ExtraSkater, we have a visual representation of how the Rangers compete (using Fenwick) when the score is close (+/- 2 goal differential). This shows us how the Rangers play when the score is close, and if they are able to meet the challenges presented while the game is close. The graph below shows the results, and they are not pretty.

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So, what about Cam Talbot?

Scott Levy/Getty Images

Scott Levy/Getty Images

Now that all the hemming and hawing over Henrik Lundqvist’s contract situation has been completed, Cam Talbot’s future has been an oft-discussed topic.  Whatever you may think about the specific details of the contract, Hank is going to be manning the pipes at the Garden until 2020-2021.

This brings us back to Talbot.  His emergence this season as a viable NHL goaltender have prompted quite a few fans to jump to conclusions about his long-term future in the Rangers organization and his potential trade value and contract status.  Just to get the facts out of the way, Talbot is under contract for this season and next at a very reasonable $562,000 cap hit.  As Dave pointed out in his fantastic analysis of Hank’s contract, the discount between Marty Biron’s salary and Talbot’s hedge quite a bit of the raise that Hank received in the context of overall goaltending cost.

After next season, because of his age, Talbot will be eligible for Unrestricted Free Agency.  Generally speaking, when a player makes his NHL debut, there are usually several cost controlled years at the team’s disposal, either through the ELC or RFA status.  Because goalies are more often than not, late bloomers, the Rangers don’t have this luxury with Talbot. Read more »