Archive for Forwards
The Rangers are off to a magnificent start this year, and the feel is different from last season. At the risk of beating this drum again, the Rangers were heavily reliant on goaltending during their run last year. This season they are steamrolling opponents through sheer domination of scoring chances. It’s a full four lines that are able to press on the opposition.
In terms of scoring, the Rangers are getting contributions up and down the lineup. As of the writing of this post (before the Vancouver game last night), the Rangers have ten skaters (Miller, Hayes, Grabner, Nash, Stepan, Zibanejad, Kreider, Vesey, McDonagh, Zuccarello) with at least ten points, another two (Skjei, Pirri) with nine points, and another two (Buchnevich, Fast) with eight points.
Now that the Blueshirts have pulled off another late-summer coup and added coveted prospect Jimmy Vesey to their lineup for the coming season, the club is loaded with forwards and many are wondering if the next domino to fall is a deal for help on defense.
But though the Rangers are well equipped to trade from their excess depth, finding a trade partner will be no easy task. This late in the summer teams have basically assembled the rosters they intend to bring to training camp. Adding free agent scraps is one thing, but making a blockbuster move at this point is extremely rare.
The Rangers had three glaring holes coming into the offseason: The defense, the bottom-six, and the penalty kill. Two of the three –the bottom-six and the penalty kill– were addressed with a pretty massive overhaul. The Rangers signed three players and cut loose two in an effort to get younger, faster, and better defensively.
Michael Grabner, Nathan Gerbe, and Josh Jooris give the Rangers a ton of options. Losing Viktor Stalberg is a bit of a wash with Grabner, but it’s arguable that Jooris and Gerbe can be effective replacements for Dominic Moore. Deployment is key, but versatility can make the Rangers dangerous.
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.