Archive for Players
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.
One of the most pleasant surprises this season, aside from the team’s win streak and the outstanding play of Henrik Lundqvist, has been the way in which Mats Zuccarello has recovered from the scary injury he suffered last spring during the playoffs. Zucc has been one of the most consistent Rangers forwards so far this season, putting up 15 points in 22 games played so far this season, including a hat trick against Toronto. While it might be easy to say that Zuccarello has been the Ranger’s best forward so far this season, by applying certain measures we can see a much more complex picture emerge.
Let’s start with the good news. Mats Zuccarello has outstripped his production at this point last year by a pretty substantial amount. Through 22 games played so far this season he has 10 goals and 10 assists; represented as rates his production is 1.5 G/60, 1.5 A/60, and 3.1 P/60. Compare this to last year when in the same number of games played he had 4 goals and 6 assists for 0.6 G/60, 1 A/60, and 1.6 P/60. Suffice to say that this is marked improvement drawn into high relief by the gravity of the injury he sustained last spring. To say that he’s bounced back would be an understatement.
Per Andrew Gross, Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle is considering retirement at the end of this season. This should come as no surprise, as Boyle is 39 years old and has stated he wants to spend more time with his family. Boyle also said that this is not a physical issue, it’s mental. He wants to be with his young daughters.
Last week, the Detroit Red Wings signed winger Justin Abdelkader to a whopping seven year extension that comes with a cap hit of $4.25 million per season. Abdelkader was set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, the final year of his four-year deal. His cap hit was $1.8 million, but this season he made $2.25 million. The 28-year-old winger has just one 20-goal season under his belt and sports a career line of 66-74-140 in 415 games. This contract puts him in Mats Zuccarello territory.
This leads us to Chris Kreider, who is going to be a restricted free agent after this season. While not direct comparables, the Abdelkader contract can be used as a reference point for Kreider’s agent in negotiations*. Kreider is four years younger, already has a 20-goal season under his belt, and has been a consistent presence in the top-six for the past two seasons.
*-The Abdelkader contract cannot be used as a comparable in arbitration, but can be used by his agent in negotiations outside of arbitration.
The fanbase is obviously divided on Dan Girardi. It couldn’t be any more obvious. Some think he’s a top pairing, shutdown defenseman. Others think he should be fired into the sun with a giant Acme slingshot. The rest think it’s somewhere in between. It’s pretty fun to watch the interactions on Twitter and in the comments.
So that leads me to the newest poll: Where do you think the Rangers should play Girardi? Top pair? Out of the lineup? In between? Vote in the poll below.
Disclaimer: I’m 100% poking the bear here.
The New York Rangers have won five games in a row. They are 7-0-2 in their last nine games, and are sitting atop the Metro Division. But yet the focus seems to be on Rick Nash, at least when it isn’t on Dan Girardi. Nash has just one goal thus far, and has drawn the ire of many fans. But I’m not all that concerned about Rick Nash. And neither should you.
We’ve discussed Nash here and there over the past month, mostly noting that he’s shooting well below his career average of 12.4% (he’s at just 3% now). He’s doing the right things, driving to the net, getting scoring chances, and creating offense for him and his teammates. It’s definitely a slump to start the season. That said, the process is there but the results, to date, have not.
The Rangers beat the Washington Capitals on Tuesday in a game that featured some pretty goals but some ugly defensive play on the part of the home team. Despite their victory they were badly outpossessed in the second and third periods, finding themselves frequently pinned in their own defensive end. The game drew into high relief the Rangers need to play a stronger defensive game, especially against top teams such as Washington, and was notable in part for the absence of Dan Boyle. Perhaps the Rangers could have used the talents of the veteran puck moving defenseman on Tuesday, given how difficult it was for them to exit their own zone at times and given Boyle’s strong first pass out of the zone and positive influence on possession.
Let’s start with Alain Vigneault’s reasons for scratching Boyle. Despite complimenting his defensive play and composure in one on one situations, the Rangers head coach described a need for “quicker decisions with the puck” and noted that he was brought to New York in order to help with puck movement and the power play. AV also made note of the fact that at 39, Boyle is in need of some adjustments due to his age. Still though it seems strange to bench a veteran player for his lack of offensive production when he’s been posting overwhelmingly positive possession numbers in his last few games.
In all reality the Rangers shouldn’t be leaning on Mats Zuccarello. After all, Zuccarello is somewhat middle of the pack when it comes to the big tickets assembled by the contending Rangers. A handful of forwards drop more salary. Zuccarello’s salary rank takes an even bigger hit when you factor in the blueline and a certain All-world goalie residing in the New York net.
The thing is, Zuccarello – also not yet at his best after his scary injury – has been the Rangers best and most consistent forward this season and there hasn’t been much competition. The Rangers just haven’t been good enough up front; whether it’s a lack of finishing (looking at you Mr Nash and Mr Kreider), struggling to establish a consistent forecheck or even helping out their own blueline who’ve faced countless odd man rushes in part because of the miscommunications with their forward brethren. The Rangers forwards aren’t where they need to be. Yet there is Zuccarello on course to smash his career high in goals in part thanks to his hattrick against the hapless Leafs while playing the best hockey amongst the Rangers vaunted top six.