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Category: State of the Rangers

Preseason games begin with spots to be earned

Why is no one talking about Fast? (Photo: Blueshirts United)

The Rangers kick off their preseason schedule tonight against the Devils, and seven of the forwards in the lineup tonight are slated to be competing for roster spots. There are, by my count, four open roster spots (3C, 3RW, 4LW, 4RW) in addition to the 13F and 7D spots. In total, that’s six roster spots up for grabs for forwards.

Alain Vigneault is on record saying most of the kids headed to Juniors will be cut on Wednesday –with a select few (Duclair) sticking around, of course– so the natural feeling is that Groups A and B will comprise the NHL roster and most of the guys competing for the open spots.

Let’s look at the front-runners for each spot:

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A quick look at potential defense pairings

Future captain? (Elsa/Getty Images)

With training camp in full swing, we had a bit of a preview into how Alain Vignault will deploy his defense pairings. Group A had Dan Boyle and Marc Staal together, essentially Boyle subbing in for the now departed Anton Stralman. John Moore was also in Group A. Group B had Dan Girardi paired with Ryan McDonagh, as per usual, and also had Kevin Klein. Both groups had kids vying for an NHL roster spot.

Leaving the kids out of this for a moment, as it is unlikely one of the kids will break camp with the big club unless there is an injury, all signs point to AV keeping McDonagh-Girardi as his top pair and Moore-Klein as his third pair. That of course leaves Staal and Boyle as the second pair. It’s what makes logical sense given the departure of Stralman, and keeps the lineup relatively balanced.

But some, including myself, have wondered how McDonagh would fair without Girardi. It’s no secret that Girardi draws mixed reviews among fans. His playoff performance against the Kings was woeful, as his footspeed was exploited on numerous occasions. But, he’s the longest tenured Ranger, rarely misses a game, and has that “warrior” factor in the sense that he’s probably made of robot parts. The fact that he’s never had a serious injury with the number of blocked shots is astounding.

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The on-ice style evolution of Henrik Lundqvist

The 2014-2015 season marks Henrik Lundqvist’s tenth NHL season. He broke in during the first post-lockout campaign in 2005-2006, and has commanded the Rangers crease ever since. While Lundqvist has been a noted style icon off the ice, his aesthetic choices on it have been far more divisive.

From 2005-2009 Hank was the poster boy for TPS Hockey (formerly Louisville). After an ill-fated merger with Sherwood, the King was scooped up by Bauer Hockey to be the face of their new One100 line, and he has been decked out in the company’s gear ever since.

While training camp has started and we will soon be awash with interesting hockey news and happenings, let’s indulge one more silly off-season post with a brief history of Henrik Lundqvist’s pad choices.

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A second Staal in New York?

Will Marc Staal return to his dominant best?

Could they both be wearing Ranger blue ?

Marc Staal has brothers, this is not new to you by now. Most of them as you will surely know are in Carolina and the longer Rangers defenseman Marc Staal goes without a new contract there will be the same old assumptions that he will end up in Carolina with his brethren. Recently, media reports have reported that Staal has begun to discuss a new contract with the Rangers – perhaps a new deal could come during training camp, which kicks off today. What hasn’t been discussed is the potential for Eric Staal to join Marc in New York.

Think about it for a second. The Rangers have a need for a top line center (unless Derek Stepan has a season we would all die for). They need size and skill down the middle to compete with the Kings and Bruins of the world and they have their own Staal brother to entice Eric to New York. With a cap ceiling that continues to grow, a move for the high priced Hurricanes captain is a legitimate possibility. Most assumptions are that Marc would join Eric but perhaps the smarter money would be on Eric changing zip codes and heading to NYC.

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Wing depth a strength for the Rangers

Bourque

Bourque

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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Center depth could be a concern for the Rangers

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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Poll: what to do with Cam Talbot

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 »

How David Krejci’s new deal influences Derek Stepan

Is Stepan about to strike it rich? AP Photo/Bruce Bennett, Pool

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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Rangers facing several more key personnel decisions again this season

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game Three

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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Ryan Malone joins informal skates

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.