Archive for Forwards
Full disclosure: this is pure speculation, but did the Rangers prioritise J.T. Miller when dealing with their own Free Agents? The Rangers wrapped up the Miller situation on Wednesday, agreeing to a new two year bridge deal with a cap hit of 2.65m per year. It’s clearly a prove yourself deal, which goes against the recent league wide trend of committing long term to younger players and is a deal that has frustrated a lot of the Rangers fanbase.
I personally have no problem with a bridge deal. Its already good value for the team, if Miller breaks out in a big way it’s a bargain, and in two years time Miller may indeed get a bigger deal but he’ll also get tied up for a lot longer. Rick Nash, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Tanner Glass (at a minimum) are highly unlikely to be Rangers in two years time. That’s a lot of money coming off the books. Retaining Miller shouldn’t be a problem unless he becomes a 60 goal scorer and demands max terms. But I digress…
The Rangers’ bottom six isn’t what it used to be, and that’s a problem. While it’s hard to pin the decline on just one player’s departure it doesn’t require too much of a logical leap to say that the Carl Hagelin trade, while necessary, hurt the team’s depth. While Emerson Etem’s potential was promising he was mishandled and failed to impress in the time he was allotted, leading up to the eventual trade for Nicklas Jensen.
Some fans may have been a bit disappointed with the return on Etem, given that Jensen too has failed to produce consistently in his professional career so far. Still, when looking at the Rangers’ bottom six, and the fact that they’re going to be right up against the cap yet again this season, the young Dane may be a helpful addition to the big club.
It’s well understood around both the Rangers organization and fan base that some serious changes to the team are going to be necessary if the squad hopes to be a serious contender this time next year, although obviously what changes will be made remain to be seen. Most of the focus immediately goes to the defense, and rightly so given the Rangers’ struggles with shot suppression and breakout passes this season, but something that’s flown somewhat under the radar is the state of the fourth line.
The Rangers’ fourth line was one of their strengths two years ago when they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, so it’s a little disheartening that these days it’s considered one of their weaknesses. Consider that season, when the fourth line consisted of Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle, and either Dan Carcillo or Derek Dorsett. That season the fourth line was crucial in the Rangers’ success, helping to shut down opponents’ top competition, put the other three lines in a position to succeed on the ice, and score the occasional goal. Not surprisingly, their possession numbers in the 2013-2014 season were pretty solid, with the fourth line posting a CF% of 49.21% with Carcillo and 52.52% with Dorsett.
As we have discussed a few times, and from a few different angles, the Rangers are approaching a period of significant change over the next summer or two. With players (Girardi, Dan and Staal, Marc to name just two) regressing, contracts expiring (Eric Staal amongst others), other cumbersome contracts causing reason for concern (Rick Nash is making almost 8m? Really?) and a lack of can’t-miss prospects on the way, the Rangers are going to have to be both creative and proactive as they look to build on the fly as they try to stay in contention.
Jeff Gorton’s trade savvy will need to be in full beast mode over the next summer or two and maybe one player worth exploring might be Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman. Hoffman, despite emerging as a legitimate goalscorer, hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the Sens coaching staff this season and at times has even been demoted to the fourth line .
One of the major complaints some fans have about the Rangers is that they “lack a number one center.” Pat debunked that yesterday, citing that the Rangers, in fact, have a pair of top line centers in Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard. The pair of them give the Rangers great flexibility and matchup advantages, as no team can focus on just one of them.
That extends down the lineup, as the Rangers are able to keep Kevin Hayes sheltered as the third line center. On most teams, Hayes would be a second line center based on his even strength production (remember that he gets no powerplay time on a team this deep, which affects his overall numbers). Keeping him on the third line presents the opportunity for mismatches, as few teams have the depth to handle three top-six centers.
Every once in a while, the idea that the Rangers don’t truly have a #1 centerman pops up in Rangers discourse and I wanted to unpack this idea for a couple of reasons. First, it implies that neither Derek Stepan nor Derick Brassard is a true 1C, and second it undersells what is otherwise actually one of the Rangers’ major strengths: their center depth.
Both players have similar styles of play, functioning primarily to set up scoring opportunities for guys like Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, or Mats Zuccarello. While Brassard is perhaps a little bit flashier, making slick, highlight reel passes with favored scoring partner Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan is no less proficient at distributing the puck. Defensively they play similar games as well, with each center being positionally responsible and adept at providing puck support down the middle.
The Caps are making most of the headlines (and justifiably so) while the Bruins, Lightning and the Islanders are all streaking at the right time of the season but, despite their inadequacies on the blueline and on special teams, there is no team in the East that the Rangers should fear as playoff season approaches – thanks to their depth at center.
The team’s center ‘situation’ however figures to change significantly over the short term almost regardless of how successful this year’s edition end up being. Against the Kings two summers ago, the Rangers were dominated at center and that difference up the middle left an undeniable imprint on the organisation and the acquisition of Eric Staal will have certainly been influenced by the organisation’s desire to control center ice, as well as find the ideal running mate for the team’s one elite forward, Rick Nash.
With that said, the Rangers’ situation at center promises to get serious scrutiny over the summer. Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard (barring abysmal – but unlikely – finishes to their respective seasons) are locked in for the immediate future but with JT Miller, Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, Dominic Moore and Staal on the roster, the Rangers have seven players who can play center on the current roster alone.
It’s been a few games since the trade with the Carolina Hurricanes that brought Eric Staal to Broadway and reunited him with his brother Marc, and so we’ve begun to see what AV’s lines are going to look like from here on out for the season. While Rick Nash remains out with injury and is sure to change things substantially, here are some quick thoughts on the lineup as it currently stands and as it might be improved.
Right now the Rangers top line consists of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, and Jesper Fast, the second line is one of either Kevin Hayes or JT Miller (depending on who’s drawn the ire of AV), Derick Brassard, and Mats Zuccarello, the third line is Eric Staal between the two ‘Bergs, and the fourth line is whichever one of Hayes/Miller isn’t on the second line, Dominic Moore, and Tanner Glass.
The Rangers have been up and down pretty frequently this season, but lately they’ve been up. The team has won 6 of their last 8 games, dating back to January 25th against Buffalo, despite missing Rick Nash for around a month now and Ryan McDonagh since the game against Philadelphia in which he sustained a concussion. Suffice to say the Rangers are persevering, finding ways to win and making a case for themselves as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
As always this is a multifaceted phenomenon, with Lundqvist’s goaltending, JT Miller’s offensive production, and Keith Yandle’s overall form being major factors, but one of the things that’s flown under the radar lately has been the one-two punch of their top centermen, Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.
Chris Kreider has approached a crossroads in his Rangers career. Kreider has the opportunity to make himself either untouchable (and in line for a new fat contract) or very quickly place himself in the cross hairs of General Manager Jeff Gorton as the team approach the trade deadline.
One assumes that the Rangers (whether you like it or not) are likely to be buyers at the deadline. They need to add to the core if they’re going to have realistic designs on a deep playoff run and with draft picks at a premium it’s likely to be young roster players that are the focus of any potential trading partners. There’s a handful of underperforming players on the roster at the moment and teams covet upside – particularly upside that’s attached to an expiring contract.