Archive for Players
Over the weekend, news broke that Keith Yandle has put off extension talks with the Rangers. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Yandle’s minutes since coming to New York have been minimal. He’s been relegated to third pairing and second powerplay time, after playing 20 minutes a night in Arizona. You can make the case that the Rangers have a deeper defense than Arizona, which is true, but you cannot defend playing inferior players over Yandle on a nightly basis, especially when you consider the cost to acquire him.
Yandle cost the Rangers Anthony Duclair, a first round pick, a second round pick, and John Moore. Moore was included to make room for Yandle, and the first/second round picks are the cost of doing business in the NHL. The biggest piece was Duclair, who is having a great year in Arizona with a line of 12-11-23 thus far. He was a first round talent that fell to the third round, and the Rangers got 18 games and one-and-a-half seasons of a misused Yandle for him. Horrible asset management. And that’s not even the crux of the issue.
One of the more perplexing stories this season has been the usage of Keith Yandle. Less than a year after the Rangers paid a steep price for the All Star defenseman, he has been relegated to bottom pairing and second powerplay minutes. When he was acquired, Yandle was supposed to be the guy that helped bring balance to the Rangers powerplay and provide more offense from the position. He’s also the only pure puck without gray hair on the roster.
The general counter argument to giving Yandle more time is that he’s not good in his own zone. And yes, to an extent this is true. He’s not someone you want going up against Sidney Crosby. However you can’t, with a straight face, say that Yandle’s mistakes have been more costly than anyone else’s on the current blue line. They’ve all had their issues in their own end. This is about getting the most out of your very expensive asset, and utilizing him in a manner that gives your team the best chance to win.
Alain Vigneault stunned fans the other day when he called out Kevin Hayes’ work ethic and performance of late while confirming that Hayes would be a healthy scratch for the Rangers’ ECF rematch against Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. Given the kind of controversy this decision has provoked, it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the underlying numbers in evaluating Hayes’ status as a healthy scratch.
On a basic level, when looking at Hayes’ Corsi this season through 37 games as compared to last season through 37 games, this move is a bit of a head scratcher. Although Hayes’ CF% this year so far at 47.7% is lower than it was last year through the same amount of games, when he posted a 50.8%, it’s worth noting that the Rangers’ possession numbers have been tanking this whole season, and that Hayes’ relative numbers are actually better than they were last season. Looking at the relative numbers Hayes has a 1.2 relative CF% this season as opposed to 0.7% last season, making this move questionable from a shot generation perspective, given the Rangers’ struggles in that department.
This past offseason the Rangers were forced into a difficult position, as the salary cap forced them to part with Carl Hagelin. Hagelin was a fan favorite, but at $4 million he was a luxury the Rangers could not afford. Such is life in a cap world.
This offseason, the Rangers may find themselves in a similar situation with Chris Kreider. Kreider is an arbitration eligible RFA coming off a deal that comes with a $2.475 million cap hit ($2.6 million in salary this season). He’s due for a pretty hefty raise, as noted by the Justin Abdelkader contract signed this year. His down year certainly works in the Rangers’ favor, but Kreider is still going to get around $4-$4.5 million for his next deal.
Earlier this month, I used Josh’s PSAM tool to help determine a rough estimate for Keith Yandle’s next contract. The conclusion: Expect him to get at least $5.75 million, but probably closer to $6 million over a long term contract. This puts the Rangers in a pretty pickle, as they already have $54.775 million committed to just 12 players. If the cap goes to $74.5 million, then that’s $20 million to re-sign key players.
In addition to Yandle, whom I believe to be the Rangers top priority this summer, the club has to deal with expiring contracts for Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Dylan McIlrath, and Emerson Etem, in order from likely most expensive to likely least expensive. Kreider alone will likely get Justin Abdelkader money, which is around $4.25 million. That makes things even tighter.
So the major question looming over this team is: Will they be able to re-sign their most important defenseman beyond this year?
Although Derek Stepan’s injury has caused some issues for the Rangers, with lines being shaken up and a lack of offense jump being evident from time to time, the lack of one of their top offensive players hasn’t been entirely disastrous due to the recent play of Derick Brassard. While Brassard has always been an important part of the Rangers’ top six his significance has been drawn into high relief by Stepan’s absence. Brassard has responded with merit by stepping up his game and contributing at a time when the Rangers need him the most.
Starting with the stats, Brassard’s possession numbers have been pretty good for a team that’s otherwise struggled with offensive production this season. In the five games since Stepan’s been out Brassard has an even strength CF% of 48.8, as well as a relative CF% of 2.06%. Although at first glance these aren’t phenomenal numbers once again its worth noting that the Rangers have struggled with possession, as well as the fact that these numbers are brought down by two clunkers (at least where Brassard’s concerned) against Philadelphia and the Islanders; he’s got a CF% above 50 in their other three games the Rangers have played since Stepan’s injury, against Carolina, Colorado, and Ottawa. On a similarly positive note, in those same games he has a scoring chances for% in all situations of 53.96%, with his relative SCF% being 10.62%. If the Rangers have a want for offense in Derek Stepan’s absence it certainly doesn’t have much to do with Brassard.
When the Rangers traded Carl Hagelin for Emerson Etem this past summer, it was seen mostly as a cap move. The Rangers could not afford a $4 million third line player, and needed someone cheaper with more offensive upside. Etem is certainly cheaper and definitely more skilled, but it came at a cost of certainty. Etem has been a relative unknown for his short career, and his time in New York has continued that trend.
Josh touched on this yesterday, and I have to agree that the usage of Emerson Etem has been highly questionable. Before even getting into the numbers –which aren’t all that good, to be honest– you have to at least wonder why the team would target Etem and not use him. Hagelin had significant trade value, and the club targeted Etem for a reason. Trading for him, and then not playing him over some of the other players on the roster, deserves some questioning.
One of the many questions coming into the season, once the roster was finalized, was how Dylan McIlrath was going to fare in the NHL. The former first round pick fell from grace rather quickly, as questions about skating filled column inches, blog pages, and Twitter feeds. Folks were calling him a bust as late as this past draft. He was by far the biggest question mark coming into the season.
Fast forward to the beginning of December, and folks are clamoring for him to be an everyday player in the lineup at the expense of someone else on the blue line. While the conversation among fans has shifted towards who he can replace, and that conversation takes many forms, the one conversation that appears to have ended is whether or not he belongs in the NHL. He may not be a top pairing defenseman, but McIlrath has proven he belongs.
The Rangers are in a cap crunch, one that won’t be resolved by next June. That can prove to be troublesome as Keith Yandle, their best puck moving defenseman and top scoring defenseman, is set to be an unrestricted free agent. Yandle is on pace for another 40 point season, which would be his seventh straight season with a 40 point pace (he had 30 in the 48 game lockout season). Yandle is one of the best powerplay quarterbacks in the league, and is the only Ranger defenseman that has an offensive skill set like this.
Yandle’s current contract carries a $5.25 million cap hit, although the Rangers are only paying $2.625 million of it this season. Forty points at that salary is a clear bargain, especially when you consider he’s been fairly consistent –considering realistic expectations, not the dream that he’s Brian Leetch– this season. But the major question is about his next contract, and if the Rangers can afford him.
Part of my enjoyment of watching hockey goes so much further than whether or not the Rangers win or lose on any given night. Obviously, the goal every year is to win the Cup, as it should be. However, as I always say, for me it’s not just about the end results, but admiration for the process took to get there.
Mats Zuccarello is a great example of the process the Rangers took in putting together a team that has more or less been in contention for the last four to five years. Unlike others, he wasn’t a big money signing, where the Rangers just out-resourced a smaller market team for his services. Nor was he a shoe-in first round draft pick.
Signing Zuccarello was a gamble and his rise from an obscure Norwegian national teamer to a top six forward on a contending team wasn’t guaranteed. What Mats Zuccarello exemplifies is one way you can develop a skill player.