Archive for Forwards
The Rangers kick off their preseason schedule tonight against the Devils, and seven of the forwards in the lineup tonight are slated to be competing for roster spots. There are, by my count, four open roster spots (3C, 3RW, 4LW, 4RW) in addition to the 13F and 7D spots. In total, that’s six roster spots up for grabs for forwards.
Alain Vigneault is on record saying most of the kids headed to Juniors will be cut on Wednesday –with a select few (Duclair) sticking around, of course– so the natural feeling is that Groups A and B will comprise the NHL roster and most of the guys competing for the open spots.
Let’s look at the front-runners for each spot:
Yesterday I posted on how center depth could be a concern for the Rangers heading into this season. It’s not to say that the Rangers are flawed, that’s just one hole that could pose a problem. On the flip side, wing depth appears to be a strength for the Rangers. Most of their wingers from last year are returning, with some shrewd signings and some kids on the cusp fill in the rest of the holes.
The top six wingers will likely be some combination of Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, and Marty St. Louis. This –finally– bumps Carl Hagelin down to the third line, as he was miscast as a top-six winger in previous seasons. It’s expected that Lee Stempniak will quietly slide into Benoit Pouliot’s spot as the 3RW, meaning there isn’t much turnover from last year’s wingers.
While the baby Rangers are playing in Traverse City, the big club is preparing to defend their Eastern Conference crown. They do so after buying out Brad Richards, their second line center, and letting Brian Boyle, their fourth line center/wing, walk via free agency. There were no free agents signed to replace these departed players, unless you count re-signing Dominic Moore.
As it stands today, the Rangers are slated to have Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard as their top two centers. The third line center position is up for grabs, and the fourth line center position (probably Moore) will be determined by who wins the 3C job. It’s not exactly the best situation to be in, considering center depth has been a common ingredient in recent Stanley Cup winners.
Whether or not you like it, Stepan will be the 1C this year. He’s not going to be a Sidney Crosby, a Claude Giroux, or an Anze Kopitar, but he will put up close to 60 points while playing solid two-way hockey. An improved powerplay should theoretically increase his offensive output, but I get the feeling that will be limited because his decision making abilities are a bit slow. That said, he will likely get the majority of his PP time on the off-wing –likely with the top unit– because he’s one of the few right-handed shots. He’s not the best 1C in the world, but he will get the job done.
Per Larry Brooks, forward Ryan Malone will be joining the informal skates with the Rangers this week. Brooks noted that Malone was invited by some Ranger players, as the team cannot formally invite him yet since he is not under contract. Brooks noted that Malone has been cleared to sign a contract –he had been dealing with issues stemming from his cocaine arrest– and it is likely he will sign a two-way contract with the Rangers, not a PTO.
Malone is certainly an intriguing addition, especially since this is a low risk contract. My only real question is about the number of contracts, as I noted when these rumors first surfaced. My understanding is that the Rangers are at 50 contracts (including John Moore, not including Ryan Graves), but clearly I’m missing something. I’ll assume that Anthony Duclair’s contract does not count towards the 50 contract limit, despite the fact that it doesn’t slide. I can’t find any verbiage on this, so if anyone can provide insight on this CBA nuance, it would be greatly appreciated.
Update: Since Duclair is 19 and will be sent back to Juniors (likely), his contract, even though it does not slide, will not count towards the 50 contract limit. That is why the Rangers have the space for this move.
Last night, the Rangers re-signed their final arbitration eligible RFA, locking up Derick Brassard to a five-year deal at $5 million per season. This came a few days after locking up another key RFA, Mats Zuccarello to a one-year deal at $3.5 million. The reactions to the Brassard and Zuccarello contracts seem to be a bit mixed. Fans are clearly happy the players are back, but the contracts seem to be “backwards” as most have communicated.
It’s true, the Rangers took a calculated risk with Zuccarello, and a little less of a risk with Brassard. But let’s tackle the first question: Why did the Rangers give Brassard more than he was asking for in arbitration?
The answer here is simple: Arbitration for Brassard was a one-year request, and it would make him a UFA at the age of 27, where he could cash in big time from a team in need of a 2C/3C. The Rangers bought four of those UFA years, through the age of 31 (remember, Brass will be playing out his twenties in New York, not his thirties). That costs money. In fact, it only cost them $50,000 more per year for those seasons.
Derick Brassard is the third and final RFA that filed for arbitration this month (Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider). I’ve looked at both Kreider’s and Zuccarello’s next contracts already, and with arbitration dates coming up, it’s time to look at Brassard’s potential deal.
Brassard is an interesting case, if only because of his high salary and inconsistent production. Despite his inconsistencies, he was a part of the most consistent line and powerplay unit for the Rangers last year. Brass has been a 50-point pace guy in the regular season, and has actually been a nice playoff producer as well. He is just off his second contract, which paid him $3.7 million last year (his QO) at a cap hit of $3.2 million over hit over the four years of the contract. At 26 years old, the Rangers will be buying his UFA years.
Per Pat Leonard, Derek Stepan indeed traveled with the team to Montreal for Game Five tonight. Alain Vigneault noted that Stepan will get a look in the morning skate before he makes his decision on inserting him into the lineup. As expected, Stepan will wear full face protection (cage) if he plays.
Also, Oscar Lindberg traveled with the team to Montreal. per Arpon Basu. The highly touted prospect has yet to play an NHL game, but played a very strong campaign in the AHL, his first in North America, putting up a line of 18-26-44 in 75 games. It’s safe to assume that if Stepan cannot go, then it will be between Lindberg and Jesper Fast for the fourth line spot. J.T. Miller, who played in that spot in Game Four, played just three minutes before being cross-checked into the goal post (no penalty was called). He did not return to the game.
Miller did not travel to Montreal.
For those who are still aboard the “Nash is a tire fire” train, James Mirtle wrote this fantastic piece about why that just simply isn’t true. This isn’t an article about analytics, it isn’t an article about #fancystats, it’s just an article about why Nash is doing more than just meets the eye. Sure, there are some more stats involved than just what’s under the “Goals” column, but that’s to be expected to have a complete analysis of the situation.
If you haven’t already, you should definitely check it out.
It’s always difficult to evaluate a player’s postseason performance. Stakes are high. Blood pressures are through the roof. Sample sizes are small. Right now opinions of our top forwards range from “hey their puck possession numbers are terrific, they’re just not scoring,” to “they **** suck, trade them!” As always, somewhere between apathy and empathy is where reality lies.
For me, I don’t think any of these guys deserve the vitriol they’re receiving, but that’s not to say they don’t need to play better. They need to step it up and if they do not, they shouldn’t be immune from criticism, so long as it’s constructive.
Right now, Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and to some extent Derek Stepan aren’t playing to their capabilities. And make no mistake, unless these guys go full throttle from here on out, we can kiss our Cup dreams goodbye.
The problem is I don’t see one consistent issue with all of these players. Everyone’s troubles seem a little different and that puts AV in a tough spot. And that’s not to suggest AV should get a pass. He’s wallpaper at this point, but that’s an article for another day.
Not a single team currently ranked lower than the Rangers in face-off percentage this year will be in the playoffs. The last four Stanley Cup Champions (Chicago (twice), LA and Boston) rank 5th, 3rd and 8th respectively in face-off success. All three of the Rangers centers relied on for their offense – Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards (so, not Dom Moore and Brian Boyle) – have less than a 50% success rate, with Stepan winning a paltry 45.2% of his face offs. Can you see the point we’re trying to make?
When Brad Richards leaves the Rangers this summer, the team must ensure his replacement(s) count face-off ability among their skill sets. Face-off weakness is also one why reason why Derick Brassard being retained isn’t a guarantee. Aside from resolving Marc Staal’s contract situation this summer, perhaps the biggest focus for the Rangers needs to be acquiring proven face-off centermen.