Category: Players

John Moore getting more comfortable in Rangers’ system

Photo: New York Times

Photo: New York Times

When the Rangers traded Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the deadline this year, the concern was adding more grit and toughness to the lineup.  Having already added Ryane Clowe, the attention turned to what Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett bring to the group.  John Moore was something of a mystery player.  He wasn’t a throw in by any stretch, but he was a player that most of the fan base was unfamiliar with, and thus has no idea what we were getting back in the former first round pick from Chicago (hometown, not drafting team).

During his abbreviated tenure in New York (eight games, to be exact), Moore has been impressive.  It’s becoming clear that he is becoming more comfortable in the system and is starting to make some really intelligent hockey decisions to go along with his raw tools. Read more »

Grading Gaborik’s career as a Ranger

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Throughout the course of his career as a Ranger, I was always pretty supportive of Marian Gaborik. While I understand some fans appreciate powerforwards more so than pure snipers, I try not to weigh one skill set vs. the other. At the end of the day, teams need skill and will players to create offensive balance.

Indeed, Gaborik wasn’t one who created offense by lugging the puck through 3 zones, putting moves on 3-4 players and then finish by dekeing out the goalie. He was simply a snipeshow whose strengths were his shot release and his foot speed.

For me, the questions with Gaborik were never really about fitting our aggressive forechecking system or staying healthy, but rather about finding consistency and elevating his game.

After almost four seasons as a New York Ranger, the answers to those questions are still a bit of a mystery to me.

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Gaborik playing for his Rangers future

Marian Gaborik's Rangers future on shaky ground

Marian Gaborik’s Rangers future on shaky ground

Marian Gaborik hasn’t exactly torn up the league this season. With a very up and down campaign the Slovakian winger’s future with the Rangers is very much up in the air, something that beat writer Andrew Gross has also speculated on this week. While Gaborik is among the Rangers’ leading point scorers his production, based on his age, expectancy, and most importantly his salary cap hit is underwhelming to put it mildly. When you’re pulling down $7.5 million per season you need to deliver more than a game here and a game there.

Gaborik is just one of the problems that this Rangers team is facing at the moment. The team in its entirety seems stuck in neutral unable to get sustained, consistent performances out of anyone not named Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, or Rick Nash. The reason this team is battling for its playoff lives is that the vast majority of the roster is under performing, and that begins and ends with Gaborik (and Brad Richards).

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Returning Kreider to AHL is not the end of the world

AP Photo/Nick Wass

AP Photo/Nick Wass

Rangerland was torn yesterday when Chris Kreider was returned to the AHL. On one side, many blamed Torts for not playing the kid enough to allow him to grow. On the other (note: more rational) side, many looked at is as a way for Kreider to get some solid playing time to work on the aspects of his game that need maturation. It’s clear how we feel on the matter.

This isn’t the first time the Rangers have sent a player back to the AHL to work on some things. Most recently, the Rangers did this with Michael Del Zotto, and it paid off wonderfully. For those that forgot, MDZ was in the middle of an awful sophomore season when the organization returned him to Connecticut to work on his game and rebuild his confidence. Now, he’s a top-four defenseman.

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Is Boyle becoming what his pedigree promised?

If you hang out around hockey rinks long enough you always encounter guys who played at a pretty high level, but could never make that jump to the Show either due to some unfortunate injury or because they were told they didn’t have the size.

Although NHL forwards are getting smaller, the fact of the matter is there are thousands of players who have to walk away from their NHL aspirations every year because they “just weren’t big enough.”

Then you have a guy like Brian Boyle, who in skates is a towering 6’7. The narrative for the 27 year old has always been the opposite. Yea he’s big, but what else can he contribute? Well ladies and gents, we are starting to see what exactly Brian can do when he uses his colossal size to his advantage.

In the past 12 games Brian Boyle has scored 8 goals. That is a pace this man has not seen before, even looking back at last year when he potted 21 goals. Boyle is getting it done simply because he is using his size and strength to out-match his defenders. He may not be the greatest skater or have the smoothest hands, but when he has the puck and he’s driving towards the net, few defenders can force him off the puck and out of the danger zone.

Brian is also providing more than just goals. He has been the most consistent forward throughout the playoffs (and the preceding push) in all areas of the ice and he is receiving more ice-time as a result. He is getting to loose pucks, he’s blocking shots, he’s making plays, and most importantly he has been physically engaged. This is exactly what you need from your bottom six forwards in the playoffs.

Now I know some of his critics won’t be able to look past his subpar regular season numbers. However, when you take his stats and give them a little context, you realize maybe he wasn’t so average after all.

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Mailbag: The most under publicized captain

Long time fan of the blog Andy sent me an email this morning with a link to an article put together by Jay Adams of Cave Magazine. The article looks at Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, and how he could be the most under appreciated and under publicized captain in New York sports today:

Knicks captain Carmelo Anthony had a reality show on VH1. Giants captain Eli Manning has been on the cover of every major newspaper twice in the last five years. Jets captain Mark Sanchez was a GQ cover story. And Yankees captain Derek Jeter? Well, we know more about his ex-girlfriends than we do about the entire Yankees outfield.

To be fair, this is true for a reason. Adams points out that Cally is under publicized, but hockey as a sport is under publicized. Is it all that surprising to see that the blue collar captain, the heart and soul of the Rangers, isn’t well known in New York?

Considering his stats this year, which are better than most really give him credit for, it is a bit surprising that mainstream media hasn’t picked up on him the way they have with the aforementioned captains:

Callahan had 29 this season. That’s more than Claude Giroux, Thomas Vanek, Anze Kopitar, Martin St. Louis, Eric Staal, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler and Dany Heatley.  For the record, Callahan played fewer games than any of them.

I had to read that twice to really have that sink in. It shocked me. All those players hold such star power in the NHL, but it is Callahan who has more goals than all of them. Perhaps it is the fact that he does it in a blue collar way, and doesn’t flash the skill that any of the above players show. Cally does it by getting to the net and banging home garbage goals.

Callahan is under publicized because he is not the flashy guy on the team. He has a quiet nature about him. He leads by example, but he has the entire locker room following his lead. In fact, Callahan reminds me of another Ranger great. One that was never highly publicized. One that played blue collar hockey and the fans loved him for it.

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The durability of Marian Gaborik

When the Rangers signed Marian Gaborik before the 2009 season, they knew what type of player they were getting. When healthy, Gaborik is an elite scorer in the NHL, with skills that make it almost impossible to defend against him. In eight previous seasons, Gaborik had reached the 30 goal mark five times. He averaged a point per game in four of those seasons. But therein lies the problem, his health.

Gaborik’s groin had always been an issue, dating back to 2001 when he missed three games with that wonky groin. In 2005, Gaborik missed six games with a groin injury. In 2007, it was another 34 games. He missed another three games in 2008 because of his groin, but other injuries (back, hip) caused Gaborik to miss all but 17 games before he signed with the Rangers. In fact, excluding his 2007-2008 season, Gaborik hadn’t played 70 games in a season since his 2002-2003 campaign.

But, the Rangers took the risk, and after a new procedure on his groin (the same one that Alex Rodriguez had done), Gaborik appeared to be a new man. He only missed significant time last season (17 games) when he separated his shoulder. He missed six games with a concussion that year as well, but his other injuries have been of the day-to-day variety (or the freak accident type). In three years with the Rangers, he has missed only one game due to his groin.

Gaborik has been amazingly durable through his first three years as a Ranger, and makes the organization look extremely smart in this risky signing. With a pair of 40 goal seasons already under his belt, Gaborik is the elite scorer the Rangers had desperately needed when Jaromir Jagr left town. And now with Brad Richards in the mix, if Gaborik can remain healthy, he could be one of those rare free agent signings that actually works out.

Henrik Lundqvist on HBO’s Real Sports

Dubinsky’s biggest problem

No, it isn’t Carl Hagelin, although that’s a pretty big issue for Dubinsky right now. Dubinsky is clearly the forgotten man in the Rangers offense right now and his biggest problem this season is consistency.

Anyone who watched the Islanders game will have seen Dubinsky was strong on the puck and his line generated plenty of chances all round. Dubinsky then followed it up with a game against Carolina where he was a complete non-factor and ended up with the third least ice time among forwards bettering only fourth line stalwarts Mike Rupp and John Mitchell (who still managed to make some good plays in his ice time).

These two games – against cellar dwellers no less – sum up Dubinsky’s year. Yes you can point to the emergence of Carl Hagelin, who has provided effort, production, speed and a cheap solution to the left wing spot.  And yes, you can say Dubinsky hasn’t finished enough of the chances that have come his way – you’ll not find disagreement on any of this.

However, trust is earned with Tortorella and the coach simply cannot rely on the well paid Dubinsky to back up one good game with another. Dubinsky has twelve regular season games and the playoffs to save his Rangers career. He certainly won’t be a hurdle for Chris Kreider to jump given the organisation’s lust for the BC winger to be in NY as soon as possible. He’s well behind the eight ball if it’s a Hagelin vs. Dubinsky debate. And don’t even get started on a Nash/insert free agent name vs. Dubinsky debate.

Dubi doesn’t need to score at a crazy rate to finish the season to have a chance to remain a Ranger, but he does need to show something that has often eluded him his entire Ranger career – consistency. Note: there’s a big difference between consistency and streaky. If Dubinsky can show he can be counted on to be a factor for the remainder of the season, then both he and the franchise will benefit from it. It may be Dubinsky’s last chance to remain a Ranger.

Not just numbers

You always have to overpay for talent in free agency regardless of the talent bought, but especially for elite talent. With that simple hockey assumption out the way let us discuss Brad Richards and his arrival on the Rangers. His numbers are important (obviously), but he’s not just about the stat line and should not be judged as such.

With a little luck and some extended form (and anyone who has watched the Rangers recently shouldn’t discount such a run of form) Richards could still flirt with a 70 point season. NO, it isn’t the heady 90 point years he’d recently put up with the Stars, but look back at how many players hit the 70 plateau the last few years – not many. Twenty four players broke 70 points last year, 30 the season before and roughly the same amount in 08-09. It’s not a mark that many reach. I’ll wager Richards puts up a few 70+ seasons as a Ranger.

That said, Brad Richards is beginning to do what he’s, in part, been paid to do – peak at the right time. His best play as a Ranger is coming now, as the Rangers look to win the conference. It’s coming at the tail end of the regular season as we head in to the playoffs, it’s coming as the pressure from behind has never been more intense this season.

Richards is playing exactly as the free agent packaging avertised. He’s carrying the puck with confidence, distributing it intelligently, displaying his wicked wrist shot and using it with frequency. Oh, and anyone doubting his big moment ability may have overlooked his 8 game winning goals which, just happens to be tied for second in the league. Again, statistics can be twisted to cater for a writer’s argument just as I have done to an extent here.

Richards is not all about the numbers. When the Rangers acquired the veteran they also bought a winning attitude. They bought experience and an ability to play under immense pressure – such as the big lights of Broadway (almost a point/game at home). They bought a player to show the other Rangers how to win when it mattered. Carl Hagelin’s interview during the Canes game was telling, as was Richards’ comments reference Hagelin afterwards.

Apparently Hagelin is making plays he’d never thought of making recently – since forming a line with Richards coincidentally. While Hagelin is a quick learner Richards is a quality and willing teacher – crucial on this team and shown also in the huge development Del Zotto has undergone this year.

Richards has made this team more skilled, deeper down the middle, given the team an additional veteran leader and has naturally added to the team’s offensive production – crucial against the likes of Thursday’s opponents. Also, think about this: you think it’s a coincidence that the first year of Richards being in NY is the first time since dinosaurs roamed the earth that the Rangers are challenging for the President’s trophy?

It’s fair to argue, as some will, that the Richards deal will only be a true success with either a Cup (several would be nice) or extended playoff runs littered throughout the almost decade long deal. Hey, free agency is an overpayment. That said, Richards is having a good first year on Broadway, he’s making a positive impact – so let’s not nitpick that he’s just a one-time All Star hey? Richards’ is here to stay and that’s a good thing. So far Richie can only be judged as a success whether you’re judging numbers or not.