Archive for Players
Oscar Lindberg deserves to play. This sounds like an obvious statement, because it a way it is, but it needs to be said plainly. The Rangers’ forward depth is their strength this season, and heading into this playoff run the team needs to put its best possible lineup out there in order to maximize their odds of winning a Cup.
Alain Vigneault’s continuous scratching of the versatile Swede, who started off the season on something of a scoring streak before predictably cooling off, remains perplexing in its logic. Just a few weeks ago he was clicking well with the newly acquired Eric Staal, and yet these days he remains in the press box while Tanner Glass still sees time on the ice. The scrappy Lindberg even brings an element of the grit and toughness that Glass is known for, without all of the useless hits and defensively irresponsible play. Still this isn’t enough for Alain Vigneault.
Could the Rangers be a contender without Rick Nash on their roster? If you think the answer to that question is yes, then you may have come to a similar conclusion about what the Rangers should do with Rick Nash as I did. Let me qualify this by stating I am a huge Rick Nash fan.
I’m a proud owner of a blue #61 jersey, a signed Nash puck and have followed his career since he emerged as a major prospect for the OHL London Knights. However, after this season comes to an end – and regardless of how it ends – it may be in the Rangers’ best interests to move Nash and the final two years of his $7.8m/year contract.
At some point your best players need to be just that. At some point, the forward you pay $7.8m a year to score goals needs to score goals. At some point, hustle, a defensive conscience and ‘driving possession’ isn’t enough. Nash needs to produce on the ice.
It would probably have been better timed to publish this post after Aanti Raanta stonewalled the Caps last week. Raanta was of course, in the middle of some solid form while subbing for Henrik Lundqvist. While Raanta was certainly shaky in the (ugly) loss to the Isles on Sunday night he wasn’t the main problem. You could have put any goaltender in front of that defensive performance on Sunday and very few would have come out on the right side of the win/loss column.
The fact is though; the Rangers have found another solid keeper in Raanta. They have developed another NHL quality goaltender and critically, have found someone they should be able to keep under relative cost control in the short term (despite his pending status this summer). Raanta should be a strong backup for the Rangers while the prospects develop out of the New York spotlight and while Lundqvist continues to do his thing.
One of the major questions facing Jeff Gorton this offseason is what he will do with defenseman Keith Yandle. Yandle is headed for unrestricted free agency, and will likely come in at a price that the Rangers cannot afford. While Yandle has been the focus of the blue line at the deadline, the injury to Ryan McDonagh may open up a need for an upgrade.
It’s not expected that McDonagh will be out much longer, as he does not have another concussion. The Rangers dodged a bullet there, and assuming Yandle continues to get more ice time, then the improvement we’ve seen from them recently should continue. However there is always room for improvement, and the focus is on three players that have been the subject of the most debate this season.
Through the end of January, it seemed to be a sure bet that the Rangers were going to trade Keith Yandle. The club has Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal locked into long-term deals and have Brady Skjei –their 2012 1st round pick– knocking at the door. That’s a pretty crowded left side. Getting the most for Yandle, especially considering the cost, made the most sense.
Even before the season started, many wanted to keep Yandle and preferred to trade one of Staal or Dan Girardi. Yandle is one of the premier puck movers in the game, and both Staal and Girardi either were regressing prior to the season or have regressed since the season started. Either way, Yandle is a better option than both at the moment.
Now that the season is more than half over, we are seeing Yandle emerge as the best option on the blue line. He’s thrived in his recent usage (20+ minutes per game), and while he does make a gaffe here and there, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
It’s amazing how quickly public opinion can turn on a player. Last year Kevin Hayes could do no wrong, aside from faceoffs. This year, he’s the worst player on the team and needs to be traded. I find this to be humorous, because these are not only opposite ends of the spectrum, but incorrect talent evaluations. It’s one made from subjectivity, not objectivity.
In reality, Kevin Hayes is just fine. Hayes has seen better performance in relative Corsi (up to 3.0 from 2.2 last season), shots on goal (on pace for 144 this season, to 111 last season), and assists (on pace for 30 assists to 25 last year). People are focusing on his seven goals, which is down from last year. But in reality, I think it’s just unrealistic expectations that are causing all this unwarranted hate.
Early in this season the Rangers defense was in crisis, hemorrhaging shot attempts on a nightly basis and struggling to breakout of the zone cleanly. It was obvious during this period that Dan Girardi and Marc Staal were struggling, but perhaps most surprising of all were captain Ryan McDonagh’s struggles. Of course lately we’ve seen the Rangers tightening up their blue line, with their overall possession game trending upwards and their dangerous habit of giving up massive amounts of shot attempts evening out to reasonable levels. As the Rangers’ process has improved overall, so has the situation of their captain, sort of.
Let’s start with the obvious: Ryan McDonagh has seen less ice time with his usual defense partner Dan Girardi, and his game is better for it. While CF% alone isn’t perhaps the best way to evaluate a player, it is pretty notable that McDonagh’s CF% is 40.5 when the two are on ice together and 55.1% otherwise. Kevin Klein’s play this season has allowed the Rangers the option of splitting McDonagh and Girardi up, and the benefits are plain to see.
We’re at the halfway point of the 2015-16 season and one thing that’s been readily apparent about the Rangers so far is that their often vaunted defensive game has struggled. Although the team has improved considerably in the recent weeks, it’s no secret that their defense corp is not what it once was, with injuries catching up to Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Even Ryan McDonagh has struglged at times. One bright spot along the Rangers blue line however has been Kevin Klein, who not only has improved since last season but has stood out among his peers and helped to stabilize the Rangers’ defensive play.
Klein’s play has improved considerably this season in almost every area, with the stats to show it. Last season he posted a high-danger scoring chance against rate of 11.7 per 60 minutes, a scoring chances against rate of 24.3 per 60 minutes, and a Corsi against rate of 56.2 per 60 minutes, all of which have improved to 9.9, 23.3, and 51.5, respectively. Although he doesn’t have quite the same point production that he had last season, the scoring streak he went on last year was driven mostly by an unsustainable shooting percentage, so tightening up his game defensively is noteworthy. While the improvements may be in some respects modest, it’s plainly evident in his positioning and decision making that he’s operating at a higher level this season than last.
When the season started, many anticipated that J.T. Miller would be third in the pecking order behind Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes. Certainly a solid player, but by no means someone that the Rangers should be counting on daily. He needed to take the next step, but was really looking at a third line role. Forty-two games into the season, and Miller is very clearly having the best season of that trio.
For starters, he leads all three in goal (8), assists (12), and points (20). He’s also the overall team leader in CF% at 50.06%, the only Rangers forward above 50% for the season. But it goes beyond the raw numbers, he’s playing a better all around game, not just with the puck. He’s better in his own end, making smarter passes, is more engaged, and making smarter plays getting to the net and getting the puck to the net.