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The New York Rangers are running into some cap concerns heading into next season. They have ten players that are pending some sort of free agency. With Derek Stepan due to potentially double his cap hit (currently at $3.075 million), this leaves limited room for the others. The biggest priced free agents –assuming Martin St. Louis is happy with one year deals at lower than his current $5.625 million cap hit, which is a fair assumption– are going to be Mats Zuccarello, Marc Staal, and Carl Hagelin.

All three have their pros and cons, but it is unlikely that all three will be Rangers next season.

So we ask you, if you had to pick one to trade, who would it be? Personally, I’d lean Hagelin because J.T. Miller has shown a nice ability to provide Hagelin’s spark, but with more offense. Plus Anthony Duclair is on the way, as is Pavel Buchnevich.

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In case you missed it, the New York Rangers have won three in a row and 11 of their last 12 games. I feel like no one missed that. What you may have missed is that the Rangers are 17-5-2 with Jesper Fast in the lineup, including 11 straight wins. I’m not usually one to bank on the performance of a team based on the presence of one kid in the lineup, but it’s certainly something looking into.

Fast’s #fancystats aren’t among the league’s best, but he’s certainly no slouch. Primarily deployed in the defensive zone (35.6% OZ starts), Fast’s CF sits at 45.7% (-4.8% relative). That has been a steady increase in effectiveness, as before the winning streak Fast was around 40% CF and -7.0% relative. Fast isn’t paid to put the puck in the net, but he’s put up a respectable 3-3-6, with 1-1-2 coming in this 11 game streak.

All told, Fast’s ability to drive puck possession has been trending upward (rolling five-game average). It’s not perfect, but considering his deployment and solid positioning/play in the defensive zone, you take it. He’s a defense-first forward, so his trend upward in CF is generally related to suppressing shot attempts.

fast cf

Because of Fast’s deployment, you expect him to suppress shot attempts, both quantity and quality, and he’s been doing just that (CA/60 at 50.0, 6th among forwards). All forwards ahead of Fast –except for Dominic Moore– have significantly higher offensive zone starts.

His hextally, identifying shot locations against with him on the ice, is pretty impressive:

fast hextally1

To read this chart you want blue circles in high risk areas, which is what Fast has been able to suppress. He’s doing a better job, comparatively to league average, of suppressing quality shots in the slot. He limits shots to the outside.

Put this all together, and you have a defensively sound player that limits both quantity and quality shot attempts from the opposition. It’s really all you can ask for given his deployment and the relative faith that Alain Vigneault is starting to show in the kid. While the record with Fast in the lineup is not caused directly by Fast, he has certainly been a positive contributing factor to the recent run.

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Rangers send Duclair to QMJHL

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Update (9:15am): Renaud Lavoie has stated multiple sources expect him to go back to the QMJHL. Bob McKenzie has confirmed this.

Original Post: The New York Rangers face a key decision in the next few days: What are they going to do with rookie winger Anthony Duclair? Duclair has bounced between the press box and the lineup, dressing in just 18 of the Rangers 36 games this year. Now, some of those missed games are due to his participation in the 2015 World Juniors (he hasn’t played in December), but he was still a healthy scratch for stretches at a time.

Over those 18 games, Duclair put up a line of 1-6-7, not overly impressive but definitely not bad. The bigger issue was that Duclair didn’t register a goal and had just two assists in November. He bounced around the lineup a bit, but spent most of his time with Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes.

His #fancystats aren’t bad either. He’s on the positive side of relative CF% at 0.4% (51.3% CF). Those numbers should be taken lightly, as Duclair received heavily sheltered minutes (60% OZ starts, fairly easy quality of competition faced). The chart below shows how he ranks compared to other Rangers forwards:


The issue with Duclair is where he would play in the lineup. He needs to play top-nine minutes according to Alain Vigneault, and it’s tough to really argue with that. Assuming the top-six are Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Martin St. Louis, Chris Kreider, Derrick Brassard, and Mats Zuccarello; then Duclair is competing with Kevin Hayes, Lee Stempniak, Carl Hagelin, and J.T. Miller for a spot on the third line.

Hayes and Hagelin are staying on the third line for now, so this turns into a competition between Duclair, Stempniak, and Miller. Assuming Tanner Glass remains a healthy scratch, AV has shown little hesitance in putting Miller on the fourth line with Jesper Fast and Dominic Moore. I have no real complaints with that. I’ve been clamoring for that lineup composition for a while now.

Has Duclair done enough at the NHL level –or at the World Juniors– to show that he deserves to be in the lineup over Stempniak? Stempniak has better numbers, both traditional and #fancystats, than Duclair (5-7-12, 52.6% CF, 3.7% CF rel, tougher competition, fewer OZ starts). We are victims of small sample size here, but it’s tough to argue that Duclair has been the overall better player than Stempniak.

That’s not a slight against the winger, who has shown great improvement in his game with his stint in the NHL. We’ve seen it in his play at the WJC. If he hasn’t taken the spot from Stempniak, and Miller has been lights out, then who does he replace in the lineup?

The biggest problem is that if the Rangers send Duclair back to Quebec in the QMJHL, they lose him for good. Quebec hosts the Memorial Cup this year, so the Rangers wouldn’t be able to recall him until May. One injury means Glass is back in the lineup, and then the forward depth is questionable at best.

No matter which way you look at it, the Rangers have a tough call to make. Can a Stanley Cup contending team deal with another rookie in the lineup? Are they better off with the known entity in Stempniak? There’s no wrong choice to make here. In all honesty, it’s a good problem to have.

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We’ve seen this narrative play out before haven’t we? Popular players in contract years can never seem to avoid fan scrutiny, beat writer adoration, or trade rumors. It’s Cally, Girardi, Henrik, etc. all over again, except this season it’s Marc Staal.

Over the past few weeks, the conversation around Staal has started to heat up. He’s been described as ‘untouchable’ by some and a ‘tire fire’ by others. Somewhere between extremes is where reality usually lies.

Before we evaluate whether or not to resign, trade, or let Marc walk, we have to define what his role will be moving forward. From there we can analyze if there are adequate replacements inside or outside the organization.

Staal’s role

Last spring Marc described his role within AV’s team concept to Steve Serby of the NYPost.

Defensive defenseman. I take care of my own end … try to be great positionally and have a good stick, and make sure I’m getting out of my end quickly, not spending a lot of time there … get transition, give it to the forwards, and let them do their thing.”

Roles like these are always tough to quantify, especially for players like Staal who are typically deployed in their own end zone, against top scoring lines, and don’t contribute much offensively.

Fortunately, has begun tracking shots in the slot/hextally figures and scoring chances – long overdue in my opinion – which gives us a decent view of Staal’s effectiveness.

Some stats

So far this season, Staal’s even-strength scoring chances against (per 60 minutes of playing time) is 25.60, which is right in line with his career average. However, his scoring chances for (per 60 minutes of playing time) is 24.80, which is well below his career average (27.9).

Obviously there are many factors at play here, but the macro takeaway is that he’s still solid in his own zone defensively, but perhaps not at getting the puck up ice. Whether or not this is a blip on the radar or a trend remains to be seen. However, it seems his play is heading in the right direction after a tough stretch between mid-November and mid-December.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 6.14.46 PM

On Ice Scoring Chance Differential

Staal’s value

With limited offensive potential, Staal’s value is ultimately going to be determined by whether or not GMs view him as a first or second pairing defensemen. If they believe him to be a first pairing defensemen, he could probably get $5.5-$5.9M per year for 5-6 years, which is about what most defensemen in his role and age range have been garnering (e.g., Seabrook, Girardi, Carle, etc.).

If they view him as a second pairing defensemen, he’s probably looking at $4.5M-$4.9M and a similar term. Again, this is looking at recent contracts for defensemen in similar roles and age range (e.g., Stralman, Tyutin, Goligoski, etc.).

Staal’s Replacement

I always get ragged on for suggesting that Marc could join his brothers in Carolina. I just have a hard time seeing him sign anywhere else if he doesn’t re-up with NY. The Canes defense is aging and mediocre. They don’t have any d-men (other than Falk) locked up long-term. More importantly, Eric and Jordan have NTCs.

Trading Staal pre-free agency would make sense, but I’m sure every GM is aware of the possibility he could head south this summer. Knowing this, the most we could probably get in return is a pick or a prospect, neither of which help us win a Cup this year.

As far as internal options go, McIlrath (currently in Hartford) is probably a bottom pairing defensemen if he even makes it to Broadway. John Moore still has a ways to go if we’re going to bump him up from the third pairing. Connor Allen (also in Hartford) is probably more of a backup for Moore than a replacement for Staal. Brady Skjei (NYR 1st rounder in 2012) is the likely replacement, but he’s still a year or two away.

The Final Word

Ultimately, if you don’t want to resign Staal for the terms described above, you’re probably looking at a stopgap solution via free agency or an offseason trade until Brady Skjei can take the reigns.

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The New York Rangers have been a bit lucky of late. They hit a nice patch in the schedule against bad teams and took advantage. They have been carried primarily by Rick Nash, and to a lesser extent by Martin St. Louis, Derek Stepan, and Derick Brassard. Mats Zuccarello has finally started to turn up his game and is becoming that scoring machine we saw last year. The last item that remains is getting Chris Kreider going, and that is no easy task.

Kreider’s stats of 5-10-15 in 32 games (38 point pace) this season are a far cry from his 17-20-37 in 66 games last year (45 point pace). Since November 1, Kreider has just three goals and six assists. Just two of those points –both goals– have come on the powerplay. For a top-six forward, that’s worse than a slump. That’s bordering on a terrible first half for a kid that was supposed to take a step forward this season.

Kreider is shooting at the same rate this season, with 2 SOG per game. Looking at his even strength SH% only, he is down from 10.58% last year to a ming-bogglingly bad 3.92% this year. That’s some terrible luck. It will regress back to about 9%, meaning Kreider is due for some sort of hot streak in the near future. That is certainly one culprit.

Another culprit: Kreider’s puck possession is way down this year. Last season, Kreider spent the majority of his time with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, putting up an impressive 55.2% CF. That number breaks down to approximately 55.5% with Stepan and Nash, and about 52% when a part from the pair (rough estimates, but you see the picture I’m painting here).

This year, Kreider has again spent time with Stepan, but his RW is Martin St. Louis. He’s above the break-even line at 51% CF, but that’s still a 4% drop off from last season, which is significant. Things get more interesting when you look at Stepan’s effect on Kreider, which is amazingly bad. We are victims of small sample size here, but Kreider and Stepan together have a subpar 48% CF when on the ice together. When Kreider is apart, his numbers jump to 53.8%, which is more in line with what we expect from Kreider. Stepan when away from Kreider: 36.3% CF. That’s horrible.

*-I’m focusing on Stepan here because the drop from Nash to MSL isn’t significant enough to cause this much of a scoring drought for Kreider.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming Kreider’s slump on Stepan, but it could certainly be a contributing factor. Stepan is a guy that can carry his teammates and drive play, Kreider appears to need that driving force on his line to be a big time producer. The latter part of that sentence is something we’ve seen over the past few seasons. It’s not a bad thing, it’s recognizing that Kreider is an amazing talent that needs a center to get him the puck. I’m just theorizing here though.

It’s only been 34 games, so we are dealing with small sample sizes. That said, Kreider won’t continue shooting a paltry 3.92% at even strength, and Stepan won’t continue being a possession dumpster fire. Kreider’s start is a big cause for concern, but the numbers say his bad luck won’t continue.

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The idea which has been floated around by Rangers beat writers all season that Marc Staal is an extremely important piece of this Rangers team and therefore must be signed to a contract extension is simply not true. Staal is an average to below average NHL defenseman at this point in his career due to, among other things, concussions and the eye injury we all remember very well. Turning 28 in January, Staal is believed to be seeking a six year deal worth $6 million annually, while the Rangers are offering him a deal similar to that of Dan Girardi’s six-year $5.5 million deal. Either contract would be a terrible deal for the Blueshirts.

Staal would be on the wrong side of 30 midway through his deal and if his numbers this season (5v5: CF% of 48%, P/60 of 0.48, CA/60 of 52.36) are any indication of the future, the Rangers would be wise to cut ties. In 162:05 TOI (yes, small sample size) defensive partner Dan Boyle has a 5v5 CF% of 48.5% when they’re on the ice together. In 115:50 TOI when Boyle is without Staal, he has a 5v5 CF% of 54.7%. Despite the small sample sizes my belief is these numbers wont change drastically one way or the other.

Beyond the #fancystats Staal just simply hasn’t been the same force on defense he was prior to those gruesome injuries. We’ve seen him get burned, we’ve seen his decision making take a hit, and we’ve seen his overall play diminish.

I would imagine that teams around the league still find value in a player like Staal, however misplaced it may be. He has name recognition, a first round pedigree and has been a part of a relatively successful Rangers team over the past several years. The Rangers should be looking to trade him, not extend him.

If Staal was looking for reasonable money and a short term extension I would be all for re-signing him. But he’s not. With plenty of UFAs and RFAs needing new contracts at the end of the year (Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast), if the Rangers give Staal big money they’re likely going to have to part with St. Louis or Zuccarello, two incredibly important pieces to this team, specifically Zucc.

Glen Sather would be hurting the Rangers for years to come should he give Staal the type of contract the two sides are discussing. A cap-strapped team with young talent that will be lost due to poor decision making and overvaluing defensemen due to their size and strength would make for a pretty bad situation for this franchise as well as its fans. As much as it hurts to see another home grown Ranger leave town, it would be the wise move to make.

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Thoughts following the Talbot extension

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In case you missed it yesterday, the New York Rangers extended backup goalie Cam Talbot for an additional year at $1.45 million. That represents more than a 200% increase in salary for the 27-year-old backup. Talbot took over the backup job after Thomas Hertl deked Martin Biron into retirement, posting a 14-9-2 record with a 1.81 GAA, .936 SV%, and 5 shutouts.

The deal came rather unexpectedly, as there weren’t even any rumors that the Rangers were in discussions to extend Talbot. Ninja Sather struck again, and honestly, there’s not much to dislike about this deal.

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What is Kevin Hayes’ ceiling?

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Kevin Hayes gets better and better with every game

There haven’t been too many 6-5 22-year-old rookie centers in NHL history, so it’s a little difficult to project the player Kevin Hayes might turn into. He seems to be getting better and better with each game and has turned into a solid third-line center in no time.

Hayes wasn’t all that impressive in the preseason. Prospect pundits had been gushing over Hayes all summer, but he was totally overshadowed by the performances of J.T. Miller and Anthony Duclair in camp. Then, Hayes suffered a shoulder injury and missed the final exhibition game, as well as the first three regular season games.

At the time, Miller seemed like a lock to stick in New York for the duration, and coach Alain Vigneault seemed enthusiastic about the Marty St. Louis center experiment. Hayes was an afterthought, or so it briefly seemed. Read More→

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Derek Stepan’s Bozak-ian season

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Stop being Bozak.

Derek Stepan is always a focal point of discussion for Ranger fans. He’s the teams 1C, but he’s not an elite center, so people think he’s better off as a 2C. Since returning from injury, Stepan has put up 14 points in 16 games, and has helped stabilize –prior to Derick Brassard’s mumps diagnosis– the center position. But something is off this year, and it’s fairly alarming.

As Zachary Ellenthal pointed out, he’s not exactly driving possession this season. It’s not like he’s off by a little bit, Stepan is a 43.6% Corsi player this season, so far the worst of his career. The last time he was under 50% was 2011-2012, and his ability to positively drive possession is what makes him more valuable than guys like Tyler Bozak (a 42% Corsi player), who puts up points because he’s playing with Phil Kessel. Stepan makes his teammates better, Bozak does not.

Except for this year. Stepan’s numbers this year are comparable to Bozak’s, and that’s not a good thing.

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Streaky Kreider in midst of a slump

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Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

In case you missed it yesterday, Chris Kreider skated on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast, signaling that the winger’s continued lack of production is starting to catch the coaching staff’s ire. Kreider is certainly having an off-year thus far, with just 13 points (4-9-13) through 24 games. While that isn’t too far off his pace last year (13-20-37 in 66 games), the issue is a bit beyond his point pace.

Kreider hasn’t scored in 11 games, and has just 3 assists in that span. Considering his top-six minutes, primarily with Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis, that’s a pretty bad slump. Kreider is shooting about 3% below his career average at the moment, with no goals on his last 19 shots.

The good news is that Kreider is still on the positive side of the puck possession arrow (50.8% CF), but that is in 56% offensive zone starts. His QoT is in the top-six on the team in terms of ice time, which is expected. However, Kreider is tops on the team in terms of linemate CF% at 52.6%.

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