Photo: Kevin Hoffman, USA TODAY Sports
Brad Richards has been a bit of a disappointment this year. He hasn’t been consistent, and he hasn’t been that top line center and powerplay quarterback that the Rangers thought they were getting. That said, Richards has been getting hot at the right time, and his hat trick last night could be just the beginning of a strong run for the veteran center.
In ten games this April, Richards has been scoring at a point per game pace, with five goals and five assists. The points have come in bunches (eight were in three games, five in the past two games), but there’s more to this than the scoring. Richards is finally starting to do the little things, and his luck is beginning to change as he is starting to get those bounces he wasn’t getting earlier this season.
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Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac
Last night’s game was one of the most hard-fought and entertaining games we have seen in the past decade. It was one of the most important games of this season, and possibly the most important game in the Rangers/Islanders rivalry in almost 20 years. This is the type of game where –given coach John Tortorella’s penchant for leaning on his most trusted players– you would expect some of the depth players to see maybe four or five minutes of ice time. That was not the case last night.
Save for Arron Asham, each Ranger player spent the appropriate amount of time on the ice as per their role on the team. Darroll Powe, who is a fourth line player that kills penalties, saw 13 shifts and 9 minutes of ice time. Eight minutes of that was at even strength, and another minute was on the penalty kill. Taylor Pyatt, Powe’s linemate, does not kill penalties. He saw 8:15 at even strength and that was it (I’m discounting the four seconds of PP time for both, as that was the end of the PP for matchups).
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Stepan for the Steven McDonald?
Unless your name is Ryan Callahan, then you likely haven’t even come close to winning the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. Cally has won three of the past four awards, and will certainly be in contention this year for his second in a row and four in the past five years. But, there is a growing sentiment that Derek Stepan should garner most of the attention this year, and this isn’t without cause.
Stepan has been unreal this year, better than anyone could have imagined. Currently second on the team in scoring (14-20-34 in 40 games), Stepan is on a six game point scoring streak, and has 24 points since the start of March (21 games). The offense is impressive and a true testament to Stepan’s skill, but it’s on the other side of the puck where he has made the most improvement.
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Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News
Up front, the Rangers will have a lot of moving parts this summer beyond their top six. With Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan certainties to be retained (a question of how much rather than if) and the club focused on developing the young players such as Chris Kreider and JT Miller, there’s not a lot of space on the roster. With the club committed, at least financially, to Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, Brian Boyle, Arron Asham, and Taylor Pyatt there’s maybe no space for the likes of Mats Zuccarello, no matter how he plays this year out.
The natural assumption is that the Rangers will trade guys to make room for others. But the problem with this assumption is that the cap is coming down to $64.3 million, and assuming the Rangers can move a now expendable guy such as Taylor Pyatt (and his $1.55 million cap hit) is a dangerous assumption. There’s also no guarantees the club can move a Boyle or a Pyatt should they choose to. Now, do the math. That’s ten players listed without considering Ryane Clowe, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and Darroll Powe. That’s also not considering any players from the Whale, CHL, Europe, NCAA, or free agency. Log Jam folks.
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Could Zuccarello’s arrival mean the end for Gaborik?
There’s a strong chance that after such an impressive performance against the Flyers (no matter how unimpressive the Flyers have been this year) that John Tortorella will stick with the line-up that pulled out the victory, and certainly the 5-2 win perhaps affords the coaching staff time with re-acquainting themselves with Mats Zuccarello. That said, when Zuccarello does eventually re-enter the line-up – and he will, why else bring him back? – his play will have a significant impact on the future of Marian Gaborik.
The Rangers have a young roster and enough moving parts that cap space isn’t a huge concern at the moment, even if it does need monitoring for next year. However, moving Gaborik or buying out Richards gives the Rangers much more maneuverability going forward. Therefore, a successful return by Zuccarello and/or an immediate impact by the also incoming Jesper Fast make Gaborik a luxury.
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Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
Though he was last year’s playoff hero, Chris Kreider got off to a tough start with the CT Whale during the NHL lockout, and his confidence was at an all-time low when he joined the Rangers for the start of the NHL season. Kreider had been asked to round out his game in the AHL and the learning process was more difficult than he may have expected. As a result, his offensive numbers took a nosedive.
Still, the Rangers saw just how valuable Kreider could be last spring and handed him a job to start the season despite his struggles. One highlight reel goal against Martin Brodeur notwithstanding, Kreider failed to generate much of anything offensively in third line duty, so the Blueshirts made the difficult decision to return Kreider to the Whale two weeks ago while keeping 20-year-old JT Miller with the big club. Read more »
A microcosm of Bickel’s last year in blue.
When Stu Bickel came to the Rangers as a midseason call up last season, he made a lasting impression on the team, the coaching staff, and the fans. He played with that edge that the Rangers lacked since Michael Sauer went down with his concussion. But, we started seeing some questionable aspects about his game, and it started affecting his ice time last season, specifically in the playoffs.
On the ice, Bickel has been nothing short of a disaster. His skating isn’t what Torts needs it to be (he looks like a pylon), he misses assignments (both on forward and on defense), and he contributes nothing offensively. A physical presence only gets you so much, and all this is evidenced in Bickel’s ice time. Bickel is lucky to get five minutes per game when playing defense, and luckier to get eight minutes per game while playing forward. Torts simply appears to have lost trust in Bickel. That is not a recipe for success.
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The time has come where the Rangers need to make a decision on rookie J.T. Miller. Miller played his fifth game last night, and once he plays his sixth game, the first year of his entry-level deal will count. If the Rangers send him back to the AHL, and do not use him for a single NHL game for the rest of the year, including the playoffs, then his deal will slide once more. If his deal slides, then his initial ELC won’t expire until after the 2015-2016 season. If he plays one more game, it expires a year early.
With the new CBA, the salary cap is going to drop to $64.3 million next season, and likely drop again the season following. This puts additional strain on the Rangers, who have three key RFAs (Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh) this season. The added cost certainty of Miller’s ELC will go a long way to keeping the core pieces in blue.
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Kreider’s development into an offensive threat is needed… now
The Rangers have been up and down all season long and there has been absolutely no consistency from any unit, line, and from any one player. All that needs to change, but above all the Rangers need that much, much discussed issue of secondary offensive to be resolved quickly.
Chris Kreider’s shot that resulted in his goal against the Devils was a thing of beauty. Yes, perhaps Brodeur shouldn’t have been beaten from such an angle, but Kreider had almost nothing to aim at and still found a hole up high. It’s an example, isolated as it is so far this season, of Kreider’s undoubted ability.
The Rangers are suffering right now, without doubt. They are desperate for secondary scoring, desperate for Ryan Callahan to return, and getting pretty desperate for any kind of prolonged spark to ignite their season. It’s because of all these combined facts that Kreider’s development into a legitimate scoring option needs to happen quicker than ever.
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Taylor Pyatt has been the one exception to an almost universal rule
Countless factors go into individual player evaluations, but one quality continues to dictate how the Rangers construct their roster: speed.
It’s not exactly a new revelation, the altered NHL demands that players possess speed and skill as the league has phased out the plodding physical specimens that were impact players in the 1990s. But few franchises have put as strong an emphasis on skating ability as New York. Just look at three of the team’s most recent first-round picks: Chris Kreider, JT Miller and Brady Skjei. What do all have in common? Tremendous skating ability.
There’s simply no room on Broadway, especially under coach John Tortorella, for players that can’t outskate the opposition.
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