Pouliot and Zuccarello are not mutually exclusive. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images).
When the Rangers signed Benoit Pouliot to his one-year contract, there were some that suggested that Mats Zuccarello would be sent packing (Larry Brooks started this one). It was a thought process I understood, but was a bit puzzled by. The Rangers currently have Richards, Nash, Callahan, Stepan, Hagelin, and Brassard as the shoo-ins for top-nine work. Pouliot slides in nicely into the third line, so that makes seven players rounding out the top-nine. I’d venture a guess that people are handing a spot to Kreider, and it would shock me if he doesn’t make the team, so that makes eight. Zuccarello makes nine on a fully healthy squad.
For the purpose of this post, let us assume that Moore, Dorsett, Boyle, Asham, and Powe don’t magically find a scoring touch this season and find their way to a top-nine role. This leaves those five competing for fourth line (shutdown, on an AV coached team) roles.
This doesn’t take into account the injuries to Hagelin and Callahan. Although both should be ready for the start of the season, it is likely that at least one will need an extra week. Shoulder injuries are tricky, and it can really affect a guy’s game if he’s playing with a bum shoulder. Due to these, the Rangers are not only in need of a ninth for their top-nine, but two injury replacements.
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Forward usage chart
John Tortorella loved his matchups. One of the major points of his coaching style is giving tough minutes to those he could rely on defensively. If there is one area where he and new coach Alain Vigneault are similar, it is here. Both coaches are known for matchups and zone-starting, deploying the offensive players in the offensive zone draws and defensive players on defensive zone draws. This style plays to the strength of certain players, and particularly keeps the weak defenders away from big draws in the defensive zone. Explaining how players are deployed is tough, but luckily Rob Vollman has HockeyAbstract.com, where we can create player usage charts.
A quick note about the chart above, the Y axis is Corsi Rel QoC, the X axis is OZone start percent. The size of each bubble represents the average TOI per game (larger bubbles for more ice time), and the color represents the RCorsi (red is bad, blue is good). The chart is broken down into four quadrants, which tells us how each player was deployed: Shut Down, Two-Way, Less-Sheltered, and Sheltered. Put it all together, and you get how each forward was deployed on the ice, for how long, and how effective they were at driving puck possession. Also, I set the GP minimum to 20, so that’s why Mats Zuccarello doesn’t appear on this chart.
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The Rangers won’t find a better alternative than Zuccarello
Mats Zuccarello has proven he has NHL ability, even if he hasn’t proven he can score consistently over an 82 game season. However at this stage, whoever the Rangers employ for a scoring role among the top nine wing positions, they will be taking a calculated risk, especially when you look at the alternatives – viable or not – that are still available in free agency.
With a ten percent cushion on the cap over the summer, the Rangers shouldn’t be worrying about squeezing Zuccarello in. Given the likely amount he’ll command, he is worth the commitment, and the Rangers will surely be able to move a half million or so if needed. When looking at alternatives, it is pretty shocking what some players are rumoured to be commanding.
The Detroit Red Wings decided to go down the Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss route rather than keep Damien Brunner on board. A large part of that decision by Wings’ brass will have been about value for money, as Brunner is rumoured to be commanding over $3.5m despite just one abbreviated, yet promising season under his belt. Clearly, the going rate in the NHL is shooting up if you command $3.5m for a 12-goal rookie campaign. It’s this reason why the Rangers need to keep Zuccarello.
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Don’t just assume trades are coming (AP Photo/Seth Wenig).
When the Rangers made their depth moves on July 5, signing Benoit Pouliot (one-year, $1.3 million) and Dominic Moore (one-year, $1 million), many looked to the current RFAs and wondered if the Rangers had room for all of them. Capgeek currently has 12 forwards listed, which does not include the three RFAs, and does not include J.T. Miller. The number does include the recently waived Arron Asham and Darroll Powe, and the question-mark that is Chris Kreider. On the surface, it seems that the Rangers will make a trade.
Looking at the AHL roster, only two players (aside from Miller) have NHL experience: Micheal Haley and Brandon Mashinter. Everyone else is either new to the AHL (Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Michael St. Croix) or a prospect that is a question-mark (Ryan Bourque, Kyle Jean, Marek Hrivik). Suffice it to say, the Rangers are severely lacking when it comes to potential AHL call ups. Tack on the injuries to Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, and the Rangers are all of a sudden thinner at forward to start the season.
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Stepan is the next to get locked up (Photo: UPI /John Angelillo)
In case you missed it this morning, the Rangers re-signed their single most important RFA, locking up Ryan McDonagh to a six-year deal at a cap hit of $4.7 million per season. In doing so, the Rangers got a bargain on McDonagh, who is now signed until he is 30 years old, locking up three all important UFA years at a very reasonable price. With him on board, the next step for the Rangers is to lock up their #1 center: Derek Stepan.
In June, I looked at Stepan’s pending contract and compared his current career path to that of Claude Giroux. The comparison isn’t made at their current NHL level/production, but where they both were at this point in their careers. Without re-hashing the entire post (if you haven’t read it yet, you should), their career paths are shockingly similar. This isn’t to say Stepan should get Giroux’s absurd $66.2 million over eight years, but it is to say that Stepan should look to get Giroux’s second contract – three years at around $3.75 million per year.
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Zuccarello scores pretty goals, will AV get more out of him?
As Glen Sather talked about needing a changing in coaching styles and Alain Vigneault talked about giving his skill players ‘more latitude’, you could get a sense that next season has the potential to be a coming out party for a little Norwegian winger that never seemed to match up with John Tortorella. Could Alain Vigneault’s arrival be a blessing in disguise for Mats Zuccarello?
Known for maximising zone starts for his skill guys, a more puck possession style, and having run teams that have had actual powerplay success, it seems that Mats Zuccarello could be placed in the best situation to succeed with the Rangers that he has ever had. During his time on Broadway, Zuccarello has routinely been the Rangers’ most creative powerplay operator, he’s clearly better with the puck than without, and was never ideal for the grinding, throw the puck deep and chase after it style that was the hallmark of the Tortorella years.
While all the talk may center on what Vigneault can do with Rick Nash, what happens with Brad Richards, and how he’ll be able to get the most out of Chris Kreider the impact the new coaching regime could have on Mats Zuccarello could be huge. The talent has always been there.
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(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Despite a solid first season on Broadway, Rick Nash surely did not reach the heights his talent demands, nor did he become the irresistible force many anticipated. Not over a full season anyway. Some critics will argue that John Tortorella’s system stifled players such as Rick Nash (though the powerplay certainly didn’t help his production) but no one will argue that Alain Vigneault puts his key offensive players in the right situations to produce to their potential.
As has been pointed out over the internet – almost to death – the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows were consistently among league leaders in offensive zone starts under Vigneault. It can be assumed Rick Nash and maybe Derek Stepan will be similar benefactors in New York. Can we therefore assume much better numbers from Rick Nash? Nash is expected to be the leader of this offense and that won’t change with a new coaching staff. However with an improved powerplay, with more offensive zone starts, and with more puck possession and creative license, Nash should produce more.
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A lack of depth up front was New York’s Achilles’ heels this season
As former coach John Tortorella repeatedly mentioned, New York’s depth up front was gutted during the summer of 2012 following the trade of Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov and the free agent departures of Brandon Prust, John Mitchell and Ruslan Fedotenko. The Rangers struggled mightily to replace that depth all season, but had a difficult time doing so in part due to injuries and inexperience. As a result, Tortorella was left with very few reliable forwards and it showed throughout the 2013 campaign.
It was a very disappointing regular season for Boyle, who was an occasional healthy scratch and never regained coach John Totorella’s trust. However, in the playoffs Boyle was one of the best, most consistent Rangers, scoring three goals and finally using his big body along the boards and in front. Boyle admitted to being extremely frustrated by his performance this year, which he blamed partially on his decision not to play during the lockout. He wasn’t the only Blueshirt that was negatively affected by that decision, but it may offer hope for a return to form next year.
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Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
As the offseason progresses, the Rangers are going to have tough decisions to make. They currently have 18 players signed for next season to $51.5 million in cap space. With the cap at $64.3, the Rangers have $12.8 million in cap space to address roster needs, including re-signing their key RFAs. They are in better shape than they were before the Marian Gaborik trade, but addressing their needs may mean seeing a nice piece of the puzzle let go. Ryane Clowe is one of those forwards who may fall on the outside looking in.
When the Rangers traded for Clowe the day before the trade deadline, they were acquiring a big body who is dominant along the boards. Although Clowe hadn’t scored in San Jose, he immediately chipped in offensively with the Rangers (3-5-8 in 12 games). A concussion sidelined him for the last game of the regular season and all but two games in the postseason. Clowe does not have a long injury history, and this was his first concussion. The real question is whether or not the Rangers saw enough in Clowe to warrant re-signing him to what would likely be a contract around $4 million.
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Did the Rangers forwards play up to their ability?
Deciding on grades for the Rangers top six forwards is a bit tricky given John Tortorella’s penchant for mixing his lines and moving players up and down the line up because of his almost infamous lack of patience. Who knows, maybe his propensity for constant change had a part to play in his dismissal. That all said; with another Rangers season over (in underwhelming style) let’s look at the Rangers offensive producers.
It’s probably not in my best interests to admit this when hoping you read to the end, but I have no idea what has happened to Brad Richards or how to explain his startling fall from grace. Richards was brought in to remedy the Rangers depth issues at center and to help improve an under performing powerplay. He’s done anything but in either aspect. Richards followed up an acceptable first year as a Ranger with a disastrous second.
His regular season was full of scoreless streaks, a lack of confidence (that got worse as the season progressed), and his mere presence on the powerplay became enough to worsen the unit. Richards’ game has disintegrated to the point that every beat writer has already written him off as a buy out this summer. What makes Richards’ season somewhat puzzling is the hot streak of sorts at the end of the regular season that offered one final slither of hope that he was rebounding. It was a false dawn. It’s highly likely his last days as a Ranger were spent in the press box. Grade: F
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