Archive for State of the Rangers
This is a guest post received from Pat Keogh, who reached out to me yesterday with this idea. It was something I touched on via Twitter, and Patrick does a great job summing it up. Be sure to follow him on Twitter here.
The Philadelphia Flyers placed defenseman Andrew MacDonald on waivers this week, sparking some discussion on Twitter due to the size of his contract and his reputation as a reliable, shot blocking, “stay at home” defenseman. Rangers fans in particular may have found amusement in a close rival making this kind of roster move, but also perhaps frustration, given the similarities between Andrew MacDonald and Rangers stalwart Dan Girardi. At the same time as Girardi detractors can seem overly critical, apologists for the defenseman often ephemeral qualities such as “grit” or “heart”. A closer look at the stats helps clarify the comparison, which may bear more similarities than some Rangers fans would like.
Below are graphs of Girardi and MacDonald’s respective WOWY (With Or Without You) CF% numbers, including CF% as well as zone start adjusted CF%. While many of MacDonald’s teammates demonstrate a larger share of the shot attempts taken on ice without MacDonald, the same could be said for a greater proportion of Girardi’s teammates. Here we see the comparison is actually less flattering for Dan Girardi than for Andrew MacDonald.
The Rangers are likely looking at a slow start this season and anything better than treading water will be a bonus for Alain Vigneault. Fans should not expect miracles to kick off the season for multiple reasons. While Dave has already discussed the Rangers looking at all their line-up options to begin the season, the fact is only one line offers stability. The trio of Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello will start the year together and that should come as no surprise but beyond this, there will be significant tinkering with the line-up. It’s not just line-up decisions however that could cause a slow start.
Looking beyond the obvious roster decisions and the Rangers have a tough start when you factor in the early schedule. Starting in Chicago is tough enough but throw in a back to back with the talented (and presumably now healthy) Blue Jackets makes the Rangers opening three games a real baptism of fire for the 15/16 season. It doesn’t get much easier. With Eastern conference heavyweights Montreal on tap inside the first two weeks and the San Jose Sharks due two weeks today, the Rangers have a lot of talented opponents to begin the year. ‘Relief’ should come in the form of games against the Devils and the Coyotes but a .500 record after eight games would not be such a bad thing given the opponents up first to kick off October.
Tanner Glass returned to practice today, skating as the 8th defenseman with Dylan McIlrath. Glass missed two days with a leg issue. The only other item of note from practice was Emerson Etem swapping in with Jesper Fast for fourth line reps. This doesn’t mean Etem will play over Fast, just that he’s getting reps in at his usual position.
When Henrik Lundqvist went down with a fluke vascular injury last season, all eyes turned to Cam Talbot. A very short time after inking a very reasonable one year, $1.45 million extension, Talbot was thrust into starting duty. After his impressive rookie season as backup to the King, this was his first big test. Long story short, Talbot delivered and the focus began to shift to the ultimate offseason return for the former University of Alabama-Huntsville keeper. Whatever we may think of the value he brought in hindsight, his departure to Edmonton left the Rangers without a reliable backup in the system. Especially in light of Mackenzie Skapski’s injury.
On the very same day Talbot was shipped out to western Canada, the front office turned Ryan Haggerty into Antti Raanta. While a somewhat under-the-radar move, I think everyone assumed the Rangers had found their backup. Raanta had a very short NHL track record (39 career games), but had put up excellent number this past season. At 26 years-old, he was an ideal backup with some upside.
While the preseason is all about getting into game shape, finding line combinations and putting a competitive roster together it’s also about asset management. The Rangers have several selection dilemmas coming up and it will be another test for new general manager, Jeff Gorton.
Several Ranger prospects are in danger of being waiver claims and as a club with a relatively shallow prospect pool (thanks to graduations, a strong, young roster and asset stripping trades) the Rangers cannot afford to lose players for nothing. There isn’t the organisational depth to accommodate several losses.
A player such as Oscar Lindberg looks increasingly assured of a roster spot so ‘managing’ Lindberg will be more about putting him in a position to succeed. Lindberg has made a good start to the preseason and with several teams around the league reportedly interested in him (according to the always well informed Elliotte Friedman) the Rangers need him to make the team.
Much was made yesterday of Alain Vigneault’s decision to dress defenseman Kevin Klein back-to-back nights this week given the developing competition for the final spots on the blueline in training camp.
On the one hand, Klein only dressed Monday because Dan Boyle was a last minute scratch, so perhaps some are reading into it too much. However, there were many other players Vigneault could switched with Klein last night, but he still chose to play the 30-year-old veteran again.
Despite Klein’s struggles late last season, it was still widely assumed that the final spot on the bottom pairing was all his entering training camp, but there are a few other things to consider. Read More→
It may have been just one preseason game, and I may just be overly excited about hockey, but last night’s game against the Devils really helped me believe that the depth signings the Rangers made this summer were solid. While most of these players aren’t going to be full time NHLers, most of these guys can be fine players in the bottom-six as a call-up if needed. We saw it last year with the injuries sustained early in the season and eventually in the playoffs, guys that can fill roles help teams win.
Brian Gibbons (pictured above)- The speedy yet undersized forward was a pain in the butt two years ago for the Penguins on the fourth line. Last year when he signed with the Blue Jackets I was really expecting him to become a full time NHLer, but he only ended up playing 25 games for them. His forechecking ability, defensive prowess, great speed, and underrated shot can really fit in well with this team if/when he is called upon. Gibbons is flexible, and can play center or wing. He was impressive against the Devils, and could move up the forward depth chart quickly.
Henrik Lundqvist is the most critical Ranger of all, Rick Nash is the Rangers’ solitary elite goalscorer and Ryan McDonagh is the undoubted leader of the Rangers deep and experienced blueline but the impact of Mats Zuccarello’s season ending injury last year was undeniable. As Marty St Louis slumped into retirement the Rangers lacked offensive punch and consistency as they lost to Tampa in the Conference Finals and they absolutely missed their Norwegian playmaker.
Entering a new season the Rangers have several new faces and multiple question marks throughout the line-up. How much will Cam Talbot be missed? Can Ryan McDonagh quickly get back to his best and who will pick up the slack following St Louis’ retirement? Above all however is the health of Zuccarello and his ability to get up to speed quickly.
During the Alain Vigneault era, the Rangers have had a tendency to get off to slow starts to the regular season. In fairness, it really isn’t his fault, per say. For the start of the 2013-2014 season, AV had to completely undo five years of John Tortorella’s collapse and cycle system. The transition to the uptempo, transition-focused system the Rangers employ today was hardly seamless. Combine that with a difficult road trip during MSG renovations and we had a recipe for serious growing pains. As a result, the Rangers limped to a 3-8 start to the season, and had many questioning if the coaching change was the right decision, after all. Read More→
Update (5:20pm): To address the goaltending question, both Cam Talbot and Henrik Lundqvist were way above league average in adjusted goals saved above average (adjGSAA) which by definition compares goalies and, “as definitively as possible, regardless of circumstance, and in consideration of the tools we have and the variables we can actually account for, Goalie A is performing better than Goalie B.” Since these two goalies are above average, we can assume that they bail out their defense on high-danger shots on a regular basis.
Throughout this golden era of Rangers hockey, a period of time in which we have seen the most consistent success from the Rangers (still missing that one essential piece though), their vaunted defense has been the subject of much praise. That was until very recently, about the mid-point of two seasons ago, when the Rangers faced a critical decision with Dan Girardi. They re-signed their franchise defenseman, and then re-upped Marc Staal the following year. This locked up two core pieces for what could be the remainder of their careers.