Archive for State of the Rangers
Raphael Diaz was recalled by the Rangers yesterday, much to the chagrin of many fans, as Dylan McIlrath seemed to finally be getting a legitimate chance with Dan Girardi out of the lineup. The hope was fair, as McIlrath really had done everything he could to warrant a longer look with the team. Alas, he was limited in his playing time in Game Two, and only saw ice time late because Kevin Klein was in the box.
This led to the speculation of the Diaz recall, and to be fair, Diaz is an NHL defenseman. He’s another one of those guys, like Matt Hunwick, that floats under the radar because he isn’t flashy or physical. He just moves the puck up the ice and starts the breakout. Couple that with his skating ability –which is significantly better than McIlrath’s– and you have a guy that is exactly what the Rangers need.
I’m not a pessimist, in fact I am usually quite the (complete) opposite but here’s a grim statement for all you Rangers fans out there: barring a remarkable turnaround in performance, momentum and decision making the Rangers will be enjoying the offseason in about ten days time.
Here’s another pretty bold statement for you: this season Henrik Lundqvist has saved Alain Vigneault his job. At first glance Lundqvist’s numbers are not their usual Vezina standard until you dig a bit deeper and see what incredible numbers he’s actually put up against the quality of shots he’s facing. Lundqvist has never had it harder and yet has never been more important to the Rangers success.
Leading up to the Rangers and Penguins first round match up on Wednesday evening, the boys from Pittsburgh find themselves in a strange situation. Their starting goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, practiced yesterday, but is unconfirmed to make it back in time for game 1. Their backup, and highly touted rookie, Matt Murray, is day-to-day after having his bell rung by Braden Schenn in game 81. He is also unconfirmed to be available for the start of the postseason. They have last year’s backup Jeff Zatkoff ready to go, and have called up (slightly less highly touted) rookie Tristan Jarry, just in case. Read More→
As we have discussed a few times, and from a few different angles, the Rangers are approaching a period of significant change over the next summer or two. With players (Girardi, Dan and Staal, Marc to name just two) regressing, contracts expiring (Eric Staal amongst others), other cumbersome contracts causing reason for concern (Rick Nash is making almost 8m? Really?) and a lack of can’t-miss prospects on the way, the Rangers are going to have to be both creative and proactive as they look to build on the fly as they try to stay in contention.
Jeff Gorton’s trade savvy will need to be in full beast mode over the next summer or two and maybe one player worth exploring might be Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman. Hoffman, despite emerging as a legitimate goalscorer, hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the Sens coaching staff this season and at times has even been demoted to the fourth line .
Over the course of the season, we, along with many other folks, have beaten to death that the Rangers defense is not what it used to be. While we’ve addressed some of the root causes, we have not addressed what specifically changed from last year. The personnel is the same. The system is the same. So it’s fair to expect similar results.
As with anything in sports analysis, it is very rarely one thing. A culmination of factors can conspire to change something that once appeared static and reliable.
First, let’s take a look at age. The average age on the blue line is 29.7 years old. That is not a young group. Dan Boyle’s spritely 39 years obviously skews things a bit, but Ryan McDonagh and Dylan McIlrath are the only members of the defense significantly under 30 (Yandle is 29). Especially for the less mobile defenseman, there are a lot of miles on those bodies.
One of the major complaints some fans have about the Rangers is that they “lack a number one center.” Pat debunked that yesterday, citing that the Rangers, in fact, have a pair of top line centers in Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard. The pair of them give the Rangers great flexibility and matchup advantages, as no team can focus on just one of them.
That extends down the lineup, as the Rangers are able to keep Kevin Hayes sheltered as the third line center. On most teams, Hayes would be a second line center based on his even strength production (remember that he gets no powerplay time on a team this deep, which affects his overall numbers). Keeping him on the third line presents the opportunity for mismatches, as few teams have the depth to handle three top-six centers.
Every once in a while, the idea that the Rangers don’t truly have a #1 centerman pops up in Rangers discourse and I wanted to unpack this idea for a couple of reasons. First, it implies that neither Derek Stepan nor Derick Brassard is a true 1C, and second it undersells what is otherwise actually one of the Rangers’ major strengths: their center depth.
Both players have similar styles of play, functioning primarily to set up scoring opportunities for guys like Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, or Mats Zuccarello. While Brassard is perhaps a little bit flashier, making slick, highlight reel passes with favored scoring partner Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan is no less proficient at distributing the puck. Defensively they play similar games as well, with each center being positionally responsible and adept at providing puck support down the middle.
For the past several years, there has begun a philosophical shift in how the game of hockey is analyzed. The emergence of advanced statistics and more intricate systems-based strategies have highlighted this rift between the new and old school. Player evaluations and scouting fundamentals have evolved and the game has slowly taken on a new image.
This season, more than ever, I have observed a fundamental division of thought in what we characteristics and skills we value in a hockey player. For example, conventional wisdom has always taught us that a guy who will deliver a big hit, block a shot, or otherwise sacrifice his own well being for the betterment of the team was the type of player worth valuing. As our understanding of the game has evolved, we have come to look at the information that surrounds those traits. The reality is that when a player is performing those types of actions, it generally means that they don’t have the puck. Even the old edict will tell us, the other team can’t score when they don’t have the puck. Read More→
The Rangers are in a pretty pickle right now. They are in second place, sure, but does it really feel like they are in second place? It does not. This team hasn’t given everyone that warm and fuzzy feeling that the previous two teams has. It has us asking if you can really trust this team come playoff time.
One area that needs addressing is the powerplay. Alain Vigneault spent an eternity thinking Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle can anchor the top unit, relegating Keith Yandle to second unit minutes. This was, in a word, stupid. Yandle is the Rangers’ best powerplay guy, and while it took way too long to get him on the top unit, he is there now and playing the most powerplay minutes on the team (among defensemen) since Christmas.
The Caps are making most of the headlines (and justifiably so) while the Bruins, Lightning and the Islanders are all streaking at the right time of the season but, despite their inadequacies on the blueline and on special teams, there is no team in the East that the Rangers should fear as playoff season approaches – thanks to their depth at center.
The team’s center ‘situation’ however figures to change significantly over the short term almost regardless of how successful this year’s edition end up being. Against the Kings two summers ago, the Rangers were dominated at center and that difference up the middle left an undeniable imprint on the organisation and the acquisition of Eric Staal will have certainly been influenced by the organisation’s desire to control center ice, as well as find the ideal running mate for the team’s one elite forward, Rick Nash.
With that said, the Rangers’ situation at center promises to get serious scrutiny over the summer. Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard (barring abysmal – but unlikely – finishes to their respective seasons) are locked in for the immediate future but with JT Miller, Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, Dominic Moore and Staal on the roster, the Rangers have seven players who can play center on the current roster alone.