Archive for Players
With the spectacle this past week of Alex Rodriguez taking over the sports world, it was hard to not take notice of the superstar legacy that was (is?) his career. Since this is a hockey blog, the details are unimportant; the point here is that, whether you like him or not, he will go down as one of the best to have played the game. And for most of his career, not even at his natural position.
So you may be asking what this has to do with said hockey blog. Great question, friend. While thinking about Rodriguez’ infamous career, it brought about a lot of questions about sports and icons in general. The idea of him going out as a pariah is a joke, but that speaks more to the institution of the MLB and the club that didn’t protect him than anything. How about other guys with talent flowing out of their every pore and their public persona?
The Rangers head into this season having lost their best defenseman in Keith Yandle, and with Dan Girardi and Mac Staal hanging around things aren’t looking so hot on the blue line. There’s still some reason to feel hopeful at least, given that the Rangers 28th overall pick from the 2012 draft, Brady Skjei, is due for a real shot with the Blueshirts after just dipping his toes in the water last year. That’s not to say however that Skjei will replace Yandle, who is truly one of the elite puck-moving defensemen in this league, but it will at the very least be fun to watch him grow and develop throughout the season. Given his skillset and pedigree, here’s what to expect.
In Skjei’s first season as a University of Minnesota Golden Gopher, he registered three points in 36 games, but he picked it up from there and found himself producing 14 points in 40 games the following year and 10 points the year after that. Following the conclusion of his 2014-15 college campaign he joined the Harftord Wolf Pack, with whom he played eight regular season games (registering no points) and 15 playoff games, notching a goal and two assists.
The Rangers began their retooling of the bottom-six by signing winger Michael Grabner to a two-year deal this summer. He was the first of numerous signings with the purpose of addressing the bottom-six and the penalty kill, and easily the most high profile signing they made this summer.
The 28-year-old speed demon is a former 30-goal scorer, putting up 34 goals in his first full NHL season. He then put up 20 goals his following season, then a 30-goal pace in the lockout shortened 2013 season. All these came with the Isles. Since then, Grabner has topped out at 12 goals, and has seen his goal totals in decline since.
Dan Girardi has been a polarizing player this offseason, by no fault of his own. The 32 year old defenseman, who has spent his entire career in New York, played most of last season with a cracked kneecap. For all of his faults, Girardi has brass cajones for playing through the entire season like that. But that said, he is 32, is coming off this injury, and has a lot of wear and tear on his body.
The front office and coaching staff are expecting Girardi to have a bounce back season. Those who have been looking at his underlying numbers for the past few seasons don’t believe this is possible for a number of reasons. But is it possible for Girardi to have this bounce back season that we all hope for?
Although I was a big fan of Derick Brassard I’m also a believer that when one of your favorite players is traded its best to just stomach it and move on. With that said I think the Rangers got the better player in the trade, and am pretty excited about Mika Zibanejad.
All the excitement got to me and I decided to do a dumb thing: I broke down every one of his goals (shootouts included) for the past two seasons. You can catch the lists below, which correspond with the two following videos, and afterwards I’ll recap a little bit of what I saw in case you want to skip to the big picture stuff.
One of the biggest questions looming over the offseason for the Rangers is how they will manage their RFAs. They have four players potentially headed to arbitration, the most important piece being Chris Kreider. Kreider’s combination of skill, size, and speed is difficult for opposing teams to match up against, making him priority number one for the Rangers. Initial guestimates had Kreider coming in on a multi-year extension worth $5 million per season. Steep price to pay for Kreider, but that’s the market value nowadays.
Enter Kyle Palmieri of the Devils, who this week inked an extension to stay in New Jersey for five years at a $4.65 million cap hit. The contract includes a modified no-trade clause for the UFA years, the last three years of his deal. Prior to his 30-goal campaign this past season, Palmieri had never even hit the 15-goal mark, with his career high being 14 goals.
One of the more interesting viewpoints this offseason is that the Rangers need to trade Derek Stepan. The thought process here is that he “is not a true 1C”, “he doesn’t make anyone around him better”, and “he is overpaid.” Add on the apparent interest from the Minnesota Wild, and you have a lot of smoke around this.
While I am not opposed to trading Stepan in the right deal, I take issue with the above three statements. Stepan is not in the elite class of centers like Sidney Crosby or Anze Kopitar, but those are generational/elite talents, and few teams are privileged to have them. Stepan is in the class below that, as a solid center who can be any team’s 1C.
Viktor Stalberg was a bit of a revelation for the Rangers, perhaps their best free agent signing since Benoit Pouliot. Stalberg, like Pouliot, was grabbed for a cheap one-year deal to serve as a bottom-six player with speed. Stalberg certainly impressed most people this year, even without putting up major points (just 9-11-20 in 75 games).
Stalberg is perhaps the perfect depth player for a team like the Rangers. He’s a great skater, he’s a two-way guy who can score and play in his own zone, and he’s a worker. At just $1.1 million, he was a welcome addition to the third and fourth lines, bringing stability to a forward group that sorely needed it late in the season.
Continuing with the fun of checking out each player’s best moments of the year, let’s look at the middle depth players on the Rangers. You can find part 1 here
- Without a doubt in my mind if there is one thing we will all remember about Kevin Klein it is his uncanny ability to somehow score an important game winner. So naturally one of my best memories is his overtime goal against the Red Wings on February 21st.
- Another awesome game winner that Klein provided us this season was his GWG against the Dallas Stars almost a week after his OT goal against the Red Wings. The puck ended up on Derek Stepan’s stick in the slot, who gently slid it to Klein who immediately ripped it top shelf on Kari Lehtonen. Sick shot.
- Finally we have Klein’s “dominance” –and I use that term loosely, as the whole Rangers team was swamped against Anaheim on the west coast trip– as he scored both of the Rangers’ goals against the Ducks in a 2-1 win.
This offseason is a critical one for Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers. A team with significant holes and cap problems, the Rangers will need to get creative and possibly break a few fan’s hearts in order to get back to respectability and a true chance at the Stanley Cup. Because one thing is for certain, the team as constructed cannot win a Cup.
While much of the focus has been on the albatross deals to Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, there has been some focus on whether or not to trade Rick Nash. Nash’s $7.8 million cap hit is second to Henrik Lundqvist, and for some that means he should be the highest scoring forward on the team. We can get into the flawed logic of salary equals production, but that’s a discussion for another time. For now, let’s focus on what Nash brings to the lineup.