Ex-Ranger Alex Kovalev has officially retired from hockey after 24 years. Kovy last played for the Panthers in the 2012-2013 season, putting up a line of 2-3-5 in 14 games. Kovalev played four full seasons and parts of two more seasons in New York (303 total games), scoring 86 goals and 208 points. Kovalev was the last active member of the 1994 Stanley Cup team.
Mats Zuccarello is the second of two must-sign RFAs for the Rangers this summer. Zuccarello, who was probably the best non-ELC bargain in the entire league last summer, is coming off his one-year, $1.15 million deal signed last summer. This will be Zuccarello’s fourth contract, and he is arbitration eligible.
Before this year, Zuccarello and John Tortorella never seemed to click, even though Zucc was about a 40 point per season kind of player. But Zucc found his spot with Alain Vigneault, to the tune of 59 points (19-40-59) in 77 games. But with Zucc it was more than point production, it was his ability to maintain puck possession and his strength on the puck. His vision on the ice has become his greatest weapon as well.
Chris Kreider is one of five RFAs for the Rangers this year, but he is one of the two most important RFAs that the Rangers need to get signed. It was very apparent in the playoffs that the Rangers missed Kreider’s rare combination of size, speed, and hands until his return in the Pittsburgh series. Kreider is coming off his entry-level deal that paid him $900,000 in base salary. However, this season was just his first full year at the NHL level.
Kreider’s success isn’t something new, he excelled during his first year in the 2011-2012 playoff run. His defensive shortcomings were overshadowed by his production, but they could not be overshadowed throughout the lockout shortened 2013 season. His style of play (note: defensive issues) were not a fit for John Tortorella, and he was even cut by Alain Vigneault to start the 2013-2014 season. However, he found his place and his game and finished the season with a 17-20-37 line in 66 games. He was nearly a point-per-game in this year’s playoff run, putting up 5-8-13 in 15 games.
Yesterday Anton Stralman gave an interesting quote, stating he is “looking for security for his family,” basically stating he is looking for a contract. Many of us took that to believe that Stralman will price himself out of New York, as the Rangers may not have the cap space to sign their second pairing defenseman. But that also brought up an interesting question, one that no one has been able to agree on a consistent answer: What is Anton Stralman’s value?
Stralman is a #fancystats darling. He drives puck possession with the best of them, as his 56.5% Corsi puts him in the top-30 (#28) in the entire league. He was tops on the Rangers as well. His solid defensive play makes him a very good defenseman to have on your team. He is someone who quietly does his job, while also finding ways to tilt the ice in his team’s favor.
The problem is that Stralman doesn’t put up offensive numbers. In three seasons with the Rangers, he has just seven goals and 38 points. He doesn’t play on the powerplay, he’s not a fighter, he’s not a bruiser, he’s not a burner. He’s just very steady and very heady. He never panics with the puck, and he always makes the smart first pass. But the smart first pass doesn’t show up on the score sheet.
It’s funny how some things turn out. Rick Nash has often been derided for his play in the postseason as a Ranger, and he certainly deserves his fair share of criticism for his lack of production. All of a sudden however, Nash has a modest two-game goal scoring streak to back up his excellent work off the puck and his play on the penalty kill. The Rangers also find themselves within two games of the Stanley Cup Finals with two elite wingers (including Martin St. Louis) slowly heating up. Things could be worse in Ranger town.
Much like Marian Gaborik once was, Nash has been accused of letting his teams down when it mattered most (the postseason). His lack of goals has often overshadowed the fact that Nash has been a solid contributor in so many areas of the game this year for a Rangers team that has spread the wealth offensively. The Rangers are where they are because they can ice four lines that can hurt the opposition. Luckily, Nash hasn’t needed to be brilliant offensively.
His record in Game Seven’s is borderline outrageous: 5-1 in game sevens, 1.00 GAA, .965%. Numbers that only get better when looking at the last four Game Sevens. He’s 10-2 when facing elimination. All eye popping numbers and the list goes on and on. Imagine if he had received better offensive support in recent years?
When you remove Lundqvist’s difficult start to the season, you can begin to make a legitimate argument that not only is Lundqvist the best goaltender in hockey but he’s the most clutch performer in the entire sport. Name another goaltender that has received as little offensive support as Lundqvist and has done more with it than the former Vezina winner? Lundqvist always steps up in big games and that’s all you can ask from your best player.
When Chris Kreider went down with his hand injury in March, the immediate effect wasn’t apparent. The Rangers kept winning, and the hole in the lineup, specifically on the second line, wasn’t exposed. That’s to be expected when you consider the relatively easy March/April schedule for the Rangers, but with the playoffs looming, the club had a real problem on their hands. They didn’t have the depth to replace a top-six forward.
The hole was something that New York struggled to fix. Jesper Fast proved to be effective in a defensive role, but lacked the offensive punch (for now) to be a mainstay in the lineup. J.T. Miller had the exact opposite problem, as his play without the puck was too erratic to counter his aggressive play. Dan Carcillo was certainly effective, but he has always been more of a wild card than a reliable offensive force. Call him the new Sean Avery, circa 2011. None of these three had the ability to fill the hole Kreider left, and it showed.
Relative to his offensive expectations, Brian Boyle draws a lot of unnecessary heat from Rangers fans. There are a few reasons why fans seem to think he’s “useless” and “an oaf,” although many of them aren’t really thought out. Common arguments are that Boyle doesn’t score anymore –he’s not a scorer– and that Boyle isn’t a physical presence –he is. But, people see what they want: A 6’7 forward who once scored 20 goals who doesn’t drop the glove twice a game. These appear to be the main issues with Boyle.
But what people miss about Boyle is that he is probably one of the best fourth line centers in the game. He pretty much lives in the defensive zone, he gets huge minutes on the penalty kill, and, relatively speaking with his zone starts, is decent at driving puck possession (i.e.: not a tire fire because he spend less than 30% of his time in the offensive zone). But perhaps the biggest contribution is his willingness to sacrifice his body to block the shot, something we saw in Game Five.
Derick Brassard has a ton of ability and has flashed it countless times as a Ranger. Along with Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot he was part of the Rangers’ most consistent line all season, however was Brassard individually consistent enough to warrant being brought back next year?
Brassard came in from Columbus last year and was an impact player for the Rangers. Brassard was one of the few Rangers who distinguished themselves in the playoffs last season, but this year has been different as Brassard has been underwhelming in the playoffs following a streaky regular season.
Two big questions surround Brassard’s future in New York. How much of his (limited) success was a result of Mats Zuccarello’s breakout year and how much will Brassard demand to stay with the Rangers? Both questions aren’t easy to answer. The chemistry that Brassard showed with Zuccarello and Pouliot isn’t easy to measure or replicate. Secondly, given the weak free agent class this summer Brassard could make more money on the open market, if he gets there. Brassard was the fourth highest paid Ranger forward this year as he made $3.2m in salary during 2013-14.
With the news of Chris Kreider’s imminent return to the Rangers line-up (likely tonight), it’s fair to say the sooner the talented winger is back in the line-up the better the Rangers chances are to overcome the Penguins. The fact that a rookie – who has had a solid yet unspectacular first full season with the Rangers – is almost seen as a saviour for the offense can be seen as an indirect criticism of most if not all of the Rangers big name offensive players up front, most notably Rick Nash.
How Chris Kreider fares in this year’s playoffs and the start of next season will have a direct impact on the future of Rick Nash. Many Rangers fans have already begun to jump off the Nash bandwagon amid his distinct lack of playoff production. If Kreider could come back and become the consistent scorer everyone thinks he could be it could spell danger for Nash’s Rangers future.