Category: Defense

Is Ballard worth the risk?

Is Ballard worth the risk?

Is Ballard worth the risk?

With the NHL draft behind us, the attention turns to the free agency period beginning on July 5th. In the mean time, teams begin to offload salary and make roster changes in anticipation of auction season. One of the moves that has already been made has seen Vancouver place Keith Ballard on waivers (regular waives, not buyout waivers). While the Rangers have already attempted to add blueline depth by adding Justin Falk, the Rangers could consider taking a risk on Keith Ballard.

Ballard has been a marginal player for the Canucks despite having a cap numbing $4.2m cap hit. His contract doesn’t come off the books until after the 2014/15 season. That said, Ballard is only 30, can skate well and is a solid player at both ends of the rink when he’s on his game. Much of the decision here depends on the organization’s intentions with Michael Del Zotto (once again thrown into the rumour mill by Brooks) and the health of Marc Staal. With Mike Sauer no longer in contention, the Rangers would really solidify their blueline if Ballard would pan out.

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Rangers final grades: Defense

Defense was a hallmark of the 2011-2012 New York Rangers.  It was arguably the key ingredient in their run to the Eastern Conference Finals.  They had an unwavering commitment to shot-blocking and solid play in their own end.  Even without a ton of roster turnover, the unit was not as proficient as they were last season, but still had a solid campaign overall.  Let’s look at the individual contributions of each blue liner…

Ryan McDonagh

McDonagh experienced a slight drop off from his 2011-2012 form, but overall showed off a much more well-rounded game.  Although his point totals remained very similar to last season, he showed an increased willingness to jump up into the play and be more involved in the offense.  He still plays a top-notch, shutdown defensive game and can eat workhorse minutes.  As his offensive game improves, he could develop into a Norris level defenseman.  Let’s not forget, he’s only 24.  A-

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Estimating Ryan McDonagh’s next contract

Ryan McDonagh is going to be the trickiest RFA to sign.

Ryan McDonagh is going to be the trickiest RFA to sign.

 When news broke yesterday of Roman Josi’s new contract with the Nashville Predators ($28 million over 7 years), focus immediately shifted to Ryan McDonagh. After all, McDonagh and Josi are very comparable players. They are both coming off their ELCs. They are both top-pairing defensemen. They are both arbitration eligible. Most importantly, they are both likely to receive some attention on the RFA market.

However, that is where the similarities end. Josi has just one lockout-shortened full season, and 52 games in his rookie year last year. He has put up lines of 5-11-16 and 5-13-18 in each of those seasons respectively. Meanwhile, McDonagh has an extra full season under his belt, and has a 30 point season as well. On paper, McDonagh is the more credentialed defenseman.

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Michael Del Zotto is safe in New York, for now

Del Zotto needs to improve, and he will be given the time to do so.

Del Zotto needs to improve, and he will be given the time to do so.

Michael Del Zotto is a whipping boy for many, and his underwhelming season hasn’t helped him convince certain groups of fans –and media– of his long-term future being in New York. That said, Del Zotto is here to stay for the foreseeable future.  Depending on how the offseason plays out, the Rangers are not exactly blessed with a ton of offense from their blueline, emphasizing the need for an in-form Del Zotto. Unless John Moore’s development is a lot quicker than anticipated, Del Zotto remains the number one offensive blueliner in New York.

Then there is the relatively painful, drawn out contract situation that went on last offseason. Glen Sather doesn’t go through such a protracted –at times public– negotiation if he doesn’t a) believe the player is the right fit for the Rangers, or b) he doesn’t have viable alternatives. Del Zotto should factor into both aspects, as there are a clear lack of alternatives at any level of the Rangers system. Should Del Zotto find some consistency, his game fits well with the Rangers current DNA.

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Stay or go: Steve Eminger

(Photo: Blueshirts United)

If there’s one problem that has plagued the Rangers longer than the broken power play, it’s a lack of depth on defense.

You’ll never confuse Steve Eminger with a Norris Trophy candidate, but the 29-year-old has provided tremendous support for New York’s top blueliners over the last three seasons. Whether Eminger was asked to sit in the press box or absorb major minutes in the stead of an injured member of the rearguard, he has shown up ready to do his job. You can’t ask for more than that from a guy that made $750k last year. Read more »

Finding a puck mover like Torey Krug is more important than finding a cannon point shot

Photo by Joe Makarski, Bruins Daily.

Photo by Joe Makarski, Bruins Daily.

As some of you may have noticed, the Rangers were awful on the power play again in 2013.

One of the simple fixes suggested by many has been to bring in a guy with a cannon point shot.  That’d be a nice luxury to have, but the truth is that there are very few players in the league as effective at Zdeno Chara at breaking Ryan Callahan’s limbs calmly holding the blueline in the offensive zone while intermittently directing 100+ mph slappers through traffic at enemy goalies.  New York has no one capable of doing that – in fact Dan Girardi probably has the hardest shot on the team, which is likely the sole reason John Tortorella has stubbornly deployed him on the man advantage in recent years – but few teams do.

Give me a puck mover like Boston has apparently found in Torey Krug over that point blast any day.  Krug may have just enjoyed the best five-game stretch of his career, but he also single-handedly transformed one of the few power plays in the league worse than the Rangers into a high octane unit that converted 33% of its chances against the world’s best goalie.  The Bruins already had Chara’s legendary rocket, but it was Krug’s heat-seeking shot, speed, decisiveness and poise with the puck that gave the Bruins a new dimension. Read more »

Until Marc Staal comes back, the defense will struggle against deep teams

Al Bello/NYDN

Al Bello/NYDN

Something that was very obvious during yesterday’s loss was that the Rangers defense had a lot of trouble matching up and shutting down the Bruins forwards. Prior to the series, coach John Tortorella swapped his defense pairings to prepare for a much deeper Bruins club. In doing so, he split up Dan Girardi/Ryan McDonagh, and put Girardi with Michael Del Zotto.

Let’s be clear about one thing, Del Zotto is a top-four defenseman in this league. He’s a top-50 guy, which puts him in the upper echelon of second pairing defensemen. He’s not perfect, he’s not going to do well against the top scorers in the league, but he will be able to hold his own. That said, the pairing of Del Zotto/Girardi has never worked. It didn’t work two years ago, it didn’t work last year, it won’t work this year.

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The Rangers do not have a single player averaging over 27 minutes of ice time

Photo Credit: US Presswire

Photo Credit: US Presswire

A lot of noise has been made about how coach John Tortorella deploys his defensemen. Most of this is due to the coach playing five defensemen during last year’s playoff run, but some new noise has been made recently when Steve Eminger was benched for half of Game Four. But a lot of this is just noise, and the Rangers don’t even have a defenseman in the top-five in playoff ice time among defensemen.

In fact, only Dan Girardi is int he top-ten in ice time, averaging 26:53 of ice time per game, good for seventh highest in the playoffs. You read that correctly, not a single Ranger averages over 27 minutes of ice time. Next on the list –as expected– is Ryan McDonagh, who averages 24:57 of ice time, good for #17 on that list. This makes perfect sense, as this is the Rangers top defensive unit, and they should be getting a good portion of the minutes. When you have stud defensemen, you play them.

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With Staal out and Eminger benched, the bottom pairing becomes a problem

Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Last night, Marc Staal was a last-minute scratch from Game Four, forcing Steve Eminger back into the lineup. In Games One and Two, Eminger got enough ice time to give the others a rest, playing 10 minutes in Game One and 14 minutes in Game Two. After sitting out Game Three (with Staal in the lineup), Eminger played just six minutes in Game Four, and didn’t see the ice after a gaffe in the offensive zone that led to the Caps first goal.

Perhaps that is just a one game benching, much like we had seen with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik this season. But we’ve also seen the other end of the spectrum (see: Bickel, Stu) where repeated gaffes led to barely five minutes of playing time per game. Eminger has seen his fair share of benching, but he has also seen top-four minutes under Torts.

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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 »