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.
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Is Miller ready for a big role?
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.
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Cam Talbot has been an interesting story since joining the Rangers in Marty Biron’s stead at the beginning of last season. An undrafted free agent who blew the lid off his ceiling and went on to have a mini-breakout season as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. He put up tremendous numbers (12-6-1, 1.64 GAA, .941 sv%), and by virtue of his age, can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this coming season.
Now, this puts the club in something of a pickle. He has an incredibly small sample size of games to judge his true talent level. What complicates things further is that most goalies of NHL caliber talent can put up quality numbers in a small set of games. What makes a starter is the ability to hold up that level of play over a fairly grueling 55-65 game sample. We have no idea if Talbot is up to that task, and unless something goes catastrophically wrong, we’re unlikely to find out this season. Read more »
Is Stepan about to strike it rich? AP Photo/Bruce Bennett, Pool
Within the next twelve months, Glen Sather has some pretty significant decisions to make. Not least is deciding what Derek Stepan is worth to the organisation and the value that his worth brings. Over the past couple weeks Boston Bruins center David Krejci signed a long term deal to remain in Boston and did so for a whole heap of cash. For a club with cap issues, the Bruins gave a huge commitment, earlier than necessary, to their top center.
Krejci’s deal impacts Stepan’s future with the Rangers – he’s a solid comparable – and Stepan’s agent will surely point to the Bruin in upcoming negotiations. You can argue that Krejci is ahead of Stepan at this stage of his career and you would be right, but there are similarities. Both players are similar in size (around the 6ft mark, around 190-195lbs) and are both playmaking centers that are pass first pivots. Both players have moved up their respective organisations quickly to become the top dog at the center position.
Statistically there is not a huge difference either. Krejci can be counted on for 60-65 points per season at 28 years old, while the younger Stepan is a guarantee for 55+ per year if you factor in his almost point/game pace in the lockout impacted year. This is without considering the merits of the strength of each roster and the two centers’ line mates: Krejci has enjoyed success with a stronger roster around him.
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Prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season, few could have imagined that the Rangers would trade their heart and soul captain, Ryan Callahan, at the March 5 trade deadline. But such is life in the salary cap world – GM Glen Sather determined a contract number he wouldn’t exceed for both Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi. Girardi proved willing to negotiate within Sather’s limits, Callahan did not, and he was stunningly traded for Martin St. Louis.
Why bring this up now? Because just as with last fall, the Rangers are about to open camp with a few mega contracts looming on the horizon. New York has a bit more financial wiggle room this time around, especially with the salary cap ceiling likely to increase, but there are still tough decisions to be made. So what lies ahead?
Who will be the captain? – Not all of the major personnel decisions are financial – who will be the next face of the Rangers is as important a decision as any. The logical candidates – Girardi, St. Louis, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh – all come with questions. Girardi’s play dipped dramatically in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs after he signed a six-year, $33 million contract, so it could be a risky move to give the 30-year-old blueliner this honor without knowing if he can maintain his previous level of play. St. Louis has just one year remaining on his contract and is 39 years old, so while he might be the perfect veteran leader right now, that could represent flawed short-term thinking. Like St. Louis, Staal has just one year left on his deal and faces an uncertain future with the organization. That all leads to McDonagh, who’s certainly the unanimous choice among fans. It would be a major shock if he didn’t receive the C, but that’s also a lot to throw onto a 25-year-old who’s still blossoming as a player.
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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.
With optional skates beginning to start and the Traverse City Tournament and NHL Pre-season just around the corner, we are almost ready to get excited about hockey again. One of the most interesting story lines of the pre-season will be opportunities for prospects and depth veterans to step up and seize important minutes. A game of musical chairs, indeed.
Most of us were fairly underwhelmed by the clubs work in free agency. Solid contributors to last year’s finalists Anton Stralman and Beniot Pouliot bolted for greener (read: money) pastures, defensive stalwarts Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett are now employed elsewhere and Brad Richards’ buy-out saw him take a smaller money deal in the Windy City.
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Nash is integral to the Rangers hopes for 2015
Last season, it can be reasonably argued that no other ‘contending’ team had to put up with as much inconsistency from their top line than the New York Rangers. In fact, the Rangers were surely the only team to go deep in the playoffs who couldn’t even identify a clear top forward line. Injuries, a lack of cohesion, a new system and a poor start to the year were all factors in the Rangers not having a legitimate top line almost all year.
If the Rangers are going to repeat or better their Stanley Cup final appearance in June they will need a clear, dominant top line to emerge. They can’t rely on their bottom six to out work other teams any longer. It all begins and ends with Rick Nash. Nash is the second most important Ranger, behind Henrik Lundqvist, and in front of Ryan McDonagh. After all, if McDonagh falters the Rangers still have two quality top line defensemen in Staal and Girardi to rely on, without considering the merits of Dan Boyle and Kevin Klein.
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Well, here we are. The Top 10. I hope you enjoyed the ride, I know I sure did. In case you missed it, here are the previous two entries in this years list (30-21) and (20-11). Without further adieu, your 2014-2015 Top 10…
10. Mike Smith- Arizona Coyotes. Last year’s ranking: 10
- Smith has become more famous for his goal at this point than his puck stopping abilities, but those should absolutely not be overlooked. For a big guy, he moves exceedingly well and has cemented his status as a top-notch positional goaltender over the past few seasons. I mentioned in my first Top 30, that I expected perennial Vezina-caliber campaigns out of Smith, and while he has been slightly off that lofty standard, he has been a rock in the Arizona (Phoenix?) net. His large frame and third defenseman puck-handling skills make him an integral part of the ‘Yotes franchise and remains one of the league’s top tenders.
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Loads of armchair GM’s have had one thought on the backburner of their mind since Ryan Callahan was traded last March: who will be the next captain? Instead of instantly naming a new captain, a move which the Lightning made immediately upon the captain-for-captain swap of Callahan for Martin St. Louis, the Rangers simply promoted Dan Girardi to full time alternate. Joining Marc Staal and Brad Richards proudly wearing the ‘A’ on their sweaters was a promotion of sorts for Girardi, who signed an extension during the regular season.
Around now is when I would cite some reliable sources about the most recent news as to who will be leading our beloved Blueshirts through seasons to come, but quite frankly I would rather irresponsibly yap about my opinion and play a few rounds of Devil’s Advocate. We know that Richards can’t be the captain, leaving us with two logical guesses in Staal and Girardi. Many are convinced that Ryan McDonagh is a lock for the role. How about veteran and former captain St. Louis? Or another former captain in Rick Nash? The possibilities are endless.
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