Archive for State of the Rangers
With Martin St. Louis out 10-14 days with a knee injury, the New York Rangers find themselves needing to weather the storm while he heals. We can debate the argument over whether St. Louis needed the rest or not, but the point remains that the Rangers will need to find a way to deal with a top-six forward out of the lineup for 4-6 games.
The Rangers are not expected to make a call up, at least right away, while St. Louis is out. This makes relative sense, as the Rangers have a limited number of call ups until rosters expand for the playoffs. That said, this also means the return of Tanner Glass to the lineup. That’s not exactly ideal.
Last night, the fourth line accounted for all of the scoring for the New York Rangers in their 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers. While the Rangers probably didn’t deserve to win that game (Florida doubled up on them in shot attempts and scoring chances), the game illustrated just how important four line depth is to team success.
The ability to roll four lines is something we talk about a lot here. Aside from the obvious benefits of additional rest time for the top players, rolling four lines is critical to the success of the Rangers, given the way Alain Vigneault deploys his lines. The top-six in an AV system get split starts between the offensive zone and the defensive zone, while the third line usually gets sheltered minutes in the offensive zone. The fourth line gets the defensive zone burden.
In a season where the Rangers, from top to bottom, have done almost everything right the decision to insert Matt Hunwick straight into the line-up is the sign of a missed opportunity. When Henrik Lundqvist went down with an injury the team turned to Cam Talbot. Slowly but surely Talbot has turned himself into a legitimate NHL starter – at worst a high end backup – and moving forward, has developed into an asset for the franchise.
When Lundqvist eventually returns the embarrassment of riches in goal will be a huge advantage for the Rangers. On top of that the team has identified a young netminder in Mackenzie Skapski who may also have a future with the big club. In injury, opportunities lie or so they say.
While Talbot’s form was critical to the Rangers pursuing a high seed and playoff position, there is less pressure (to an extent) on Klein’s replacement in the line-up. Barring a collapse of the most epic of proportions the Rangers have a playoff spot sown up and barring a slightly less but still epic collapse they have a high seed in the bag too. The timing of Kevin Klein’s injury should represent an opportunity to test one of the younger Hartford blueliner’s.
Cam Talbot is starting to put to bed any doubts that he isn’t starter material and is fasting becoming an extremely useful asset for the Rangers. The numbers from the past few weeks bear repeating. Talbot has posted a 3-0-1 record, along with a 0.99 GAA, a .966 SV% (112 saves on 116 shots), and 1 shutout in his last four appearances which alone is incredibly impressive before you even consider who he’s put those numbers up against.
Talbot’s last four appearances have been against the Predators at home and on the road against the Red Wings, Hawks and the Islanders. All four clubs are in the league’s top ten in points and are all rightly tabbed as playoff contenders, so Talbot isn’t just getting the ‘soft games’ like when Henrik Lundqvist previously might have needed a rest.
Fact is, recently Talbot has been nothing short of sensational and has been so at a time when he’s been needed most. The Rangers scoring has dried up as of late just as the schedule has got (much) tougher, so Talbot has not had room for error. Meanwhile he has started 16 of the last 17 games, proving he can handle a heavy load. He has a higher win percentage than Lundqvist and has matched the Rangers uber goalie and resident King in almost every key statistic.
There are precious few quality defensemen that become available in the National Hockey League. It’s why defensemen like James Wisniewski, Ben Lovejoy(!), Marek Zidlicky and Braydon Coburn all fetched far more than any of them should have done at the trade deadline. Most of them still have their uses for sure, but the prices that they were moved for were certainly inflated in each case. This all brings us to Rangers defenseman and the owner of one well discussed, long term and onerous contract, Dan Girardi.
It’s highly unlikely that Girardi gets moved any time soon. This is because Girardi has been incredibly loyal, is well respected inside the organisation and is an absolute iron man. He logs big minutes, he’s a low maintenance kind of guy and he’s a leader. That said, Girardi is regressing; he’s a possession disaster and his (average) skating and puck moving ability don’t really fit well with Alain Vigneault’s system now, let alone as he ages. However, the market for defensemen has never been weaker – get your supply and demand caps on – which means moving Girardi is something the Rangers must consider. This summer the Rangers should be able to find a taker for Girardi as teams are increasingly desperate for defensive help.
The New York Rangers have been rolling lately, and when you’re rolling, you don’t mess with what works. That said, there is a growing concern with the second line of Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Martin St. Louis. The line, which has been together for almost 50 games thus far, has been very inconsistent, with all three experiencing prolonged scoring droughts. They’ve been prone to defensive lapses, and simply haven’t driven puck possession (all of this at even strength). That’s a trifecta of issues that can cause concern.
Starting with scoring, Stepan is in the middle of a six-game scoring drought and has just two assists in his last eight games. Of course, he has seven points (2-5-7) in his three games before this slump, so that needs to be considered as well. But that is still a six-game scoring slump. Also worth noting (although not a major part of this post): Stepan hasn’t registered a point on the powerplay since January 18, and that one point (a goal) is his only powerplay point in 2015.
James Sheppard makes his Rangers debut against the Detroit Red Wings tonight so from a Rangers perspective we know very little about Sheppard. What we do know about Sheppard is that he brings faceoff skill (better than all but Dom Moore on the Rangers), versatility and defensive ability to the table. As a top ten pick back in 2006 he brings pedigree and perhaps some untapped offense as well (was tabbed as a scorer before he got rushed by the Wild).
In the past Sheppard has had a tough time staying healthy but resurrected his career in San Jose via the AHL. He has become solid depth player at the NHL level even if Minnesota expected more when they drafted him. Sheppard’s arrival also means (health allowing) we’ve seen the last of Oscar Lindberg in New York this season after a mere one game cameo.
The bigger question now becomes what Sheppard’s arrival means for Lindberg in the mid to long term. After all, there’s only so long a prospect is allowed to dwindle in the minors and only so long before that prospect wants a change for the sake of his own career development as well.
Once again it seemed like Rangers GM Glen Sather had little to no maneuverability under the salary cap, and once again Slats found a way to wriggle his payroll under the cap ceiling.
By exploiting a to this point little-used clause in the new collective bargaining agreement, Sather got Arizona to eat half of Yandle’s contract. Of course Sather had to sweeten his offers to persuade the Coyotes to offer financial aid, but Sather still shrewdly found a way to take on salary and improve his club when it seemed to be nearly impossible.
The Coyotes will absorb half of Yandle’s cap hit again next year, but the $2.625 million the Rangers have added to their payroll is still going to be difficult to work around given that the guys Yandle is replacing, John Moore and Matt Hunwick, counted just $851k and $600k, respectively, against the cap this season. Read More→
Perhaps the biggest concern with the deal for Keith Yandle is that the Rangers gave up Anthony Duclair to land Yandle. There was plenty of outrage over dealing Duclair, and it’s tough to really blame people for the outrage. Duclair isn’t even 20 yet, cracked the roster out of camp, and was showing significant promise as a potential impact player.
Despite what he showed in camp, Duclair was still a prospect, and thus a relative unknown. He may turn into a 30-goal scorer, he may not. We may look at this as the Anthony Duclair trade in five years, we may not. The Rangers needed to give something of value to get Yandle at half his cap hit, and Duclair was the guy they selected to give up.
Looking into the roster construction, it’s fairly easy to see why they sent Duclair to Arizona.
At last season’s trade deadline, the Rangers played chicken with their captain. Ryan Callahan was demanding a relatively outrageous contract extension that the Rangers were extremely hesitant to hand out. He was looking for top line dollars to play a well rounded, third line game. Down in Tampa, the Bolts’ long-time captain wasn’t feeling the love anymore. A first-ballot Hall of Famer left off the Olympic roster by his own GM. It was a recipe for bad blood.
Glen Sather was forced to make a choice between a legitimate top 6 upgrade or letting a homegrown, valuable player walk for nothing if his contract demands did not back down into reasonable territory. Ultimately, I still believe that Sather gave up too much ancillary value in the form of two first round picks, but such is life. The point is, it was appropriate for Sather to make that call in the middle of a competitive run. Upgrades are upgrades. Draft picks can be sorted out later. Read More→