Archive for Players
The Rangers’ defensive unit was the story of the season in October. According to the pundits, they are “one of the league’s best” and “one of the deepest.” But through six games, they’ve been the story for a totally different reason. They have hemorrhaged shots, they are constantly out of position, and they have forced Henrik Lundqvist to make spectacular saves. This is not the start this six man unit wanted. Only Kevin Klein and Keith Yandle are off to good starts.
While much of the vitriol has been directed at Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle, and Marc Staal, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Ryan McDonagh has truly been struggling. While we don’t know if he’s still dealing with lingering injury issues from last season or whether it is dependent on his partner, we do know that he simply hasn’t been the number-one defenseman the Rangers need.
Dan Girardi is probably the most interesting Ranger on the roster. He is the subject of a very vocal amount of criticism that is only equaled by the vocal amount of praise. It’s an age-old battle of “watch the game nerd” versus “#fancystats.” Here’s the dirty little secret of the eye-test and #fancystats: If you’re only using one, you’re doing it wrong. We’ve all seen what the numbers say on Girardi, it’s been discussed ad nauseam around these parts. Suffice it to say, they are not favorable.
The disconnect is tying those numbers his play in the defensive zone. And in the defensive zone, system matters. There is a major difference between John Tortorella’s low-zone collapse and Alain Vigneault’s overload/man coverage hybrid (shift to man coverage when the puck is below the goal line). In a low-zone collapse the goal is to defend the high risk areas and block shots. This requires that all players be proficient at blocking shots –which is a skill, no doubt– and understanding when to block the shot and when to let your goalie make the save.
In an overload, the goal is to outnumber the opposition on the wall and create pressure on the puck carrier. When the puck is below the goal line, players switch from an overload to man coverage. Everyone is always moving, and the scheme is a difficult transition from a collapsing team. Those 9-2 and 6-0 losses on the west coast two seasons ago are constant reminders. This kind of system is incredibly reliant on quick skaters and gap control.
You can only ignore text messages and tweets from Dave Shapiro for so long. I knew if I didn’t get off my rear, dust off my laptop, and start typing again, next thing I’d know Dave would be lurking outside my window Quagmire style.
Anyhow, the Blueshirts season is three games old and already narratives are being expounded about the Rangers defense, mostly in the form of demeaning Dan Girardi and pleading for Dylan McIlrath. And while the defense is certainly the area of the roster to keep tabs on while the season unfolds, the player I’ll be zoning in on is Keith Yandle.
The Rangers haven’t had an elite offensive defensemen since Brian Leetch. Many have tried to fill his skates over the last 15 years (e.g., Tom Poti, Wade Redden, Michael Del Zotto, etc.), but none have succeeded. While Yandle isn’t Leetch, having a d-man with his pedigree shouldn’t be overlooked for several reasons.
1) He’s A Potential Long-term Solution For The Power Play
Three conference finals and a Stanley Cup appearance is no mean feat, whatever franchise you are. The Rangers have had a strong run over the past half decade or so; they have done it despite the ongoing need to develop young talent, spend to the cap to retain their own and recruit the biggest names on the market. Despite the absence of a Stanley Cup, the Rangers have balanced youth and (relative) success very well. The current roster has a young core and even the most key players have plenty of miles left. With this week’s roster decisions it appears the Rangers are continuing with their dedication to youth.
This week’s announcement that 2010 top ten draft pick Dylan McIlrath made the Rangers opening night roster over cheap and flexible roster part Raphael Diaz wasn’t just the right decision (McIlrath had consistently been the better of the two all preseason) but it was another example of the Rangers dedication to youth. Oh how times have changed since the 1997 – 2003 period (what some fans call the lost years). Factor in Oscar Lindberg having likely played himself into the opening night line-up and another season has arrived where the Rangers have managed to inject youth into the line-up with at least two rookies.
He’s not Vladimir Tarasenko and he’s not Cam Fowler. To this point, Dylan McIlrath’s professional career pales in comparison to those other 2010 first-round picks selected just after him. But to his credit, McIlrath is finally on the cusp of being an NHLer.
When McIlrath was selected 10th overall, he was a feared pugilist and open ice hitter with a grand total of 24 WHL points in his draft year and 19 fighting majors to his name. The Rangers drafted him for being a tough guy, with the dancing vision of a future Chris Pronger-like player no doubt dancing through their heads. Read More→
Through four preseason games, much ire has been directed at newly acquired forward Emerson Etem. The ire isn’t without reason, as Etem has underwhelmed thus far this September, but it comes with a little bit of bias. The Rangers were forced to trade fan favorite Carl Hagelin to Anaheim for Etem for salary cap purposes. Etem is making $850,500 this year. Hagelin signed a four-year, $16 million deal with Anaheim. Money was the sole purpose for this trade.
But the trade has been made, and the Rangers have a former first round pick on their team. Etem was taken 29th overall in 2010, and while draft pedigree might not matter five years later, the skill that made him a first round pick does not fade. The skill is clearly there, and we’ve seen flashes of it. Etem needs to put it all together. The Rangers will be patient while giving him every opportunity to succeed.
Much was made yesterday of Alain Vigneault’s decision to dress defenseman Kevin Klein back-to-back nights this week given the developing competition for the final spots on the blueline in training camp.
On the one hand, Klein only dressed Monday because Dan Boyle was a last minute scratch, so perhaps some are reading into it too much. However, there were many other players Vigneault could switched with Klein last night, but he still chose to play the 30-year-old veteran again.
Despite Klein’s struggles late last season, it was still widely assumed that the final spot on the bottom pairing was all his entering training camp, but there are a few other things to consider. Read More→
Training camp is a day away, so we are nearly through the brutal August days when there’s no Rangers news to talk about. But honestly I’ve talked and thought about last year’s faults and analyzed potential new line combinations as much as I care to, so before we (finally) get down to the business of training camp, I figured it would be a good time to try something a little different.
Zuc could have a post to himself with all the hilarious photos he’s been in.
Stealing Kevin Hayes from the Blackhawks last summer may prove to be a coup of nearly the same magnitude as the Ryan McDonagh trade back in 2009.
Hayes racked up 45 points as a rookie and showed improvement with almost every passing game in the second half of the year. He’s already a huge part of the Rangers’ present and future, but there’s some uncertainty over where he fits into the lineup entering the 2015-2016 season.
Hayes thrived as New York’s third-line center for most of last year, but he played primarily right wing at Boston College. On an individual level, the biggest knock on Hayes playing center is his ugly 36.3% faceoff win percentage. To many #fancystats gurus that’s a non-issue, but it’s still a factor the Rangers are likely to consider (although the Blueshirts have deployed Stepan as their primary pivot for several seasons now and he has never won more than 46% of his faceoffs in a single season). Hayes also struggled defensively in his freshman season. Read More→
When the Rangers re-signed Oscar Lindberg to his two-year deal (one-way deal, guaranteeing his salary), they did so with the assumption that Lindberg will make the club. His spot on the roster is still up in the air, as he could be as high as 3C and as low as 13F, but he will be with the Rangers when the regular season starts. Where Lindberg slots in will have a major effect on his production for the upcoming season.
Lindberg has been one of Hartford’s best forwards for two seasons now. Last season he put up 28-28-56 in 75 games, an improvement on his 18-26-44 from the season prior. While with the Wolf Pack, Lindberg played on the top line, getting significant powerplay and penalty kill time as well.