Category: State of the Rangers

Is Benoit Pouliot forcing an extended Rangers stay?

Pouliot: Riding recent success to a new deal? Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Image

Pouliot: Riding recent success to a new deal? Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Image

Inconsistent, journeyman pro, never sticks with one team, will never live up to his draft status. The list of criticisms labelled at Benoit Pouliot is a long one, and by and large most criticisms and assumptions about the Rangers winger have been or are true. Pouliot will never live up to being 4th overall in 2005, nor is he particularly consistent, but in recent weeks something inside of the highly skilled, big winger may have clicked.

We wrote pre-season with excitement at the potential steal the Rangers may have signed when they took on Pouliot. We then watched Pouliot stumble through the first 25 or so games of the season, as he looked like a free agent mistake. In the past month or so, Pouliot has been one of the Rangers better players and may even manage to stick with a club beyond one season for the first time since the club that drafted him (the Wild). Of course, this if he can continue his great recent form.

At 6’3 and 200 lbs Pouliot is big, can skate well, is very skilled, and works hard. He’s not a defensive liability either, but it always appeared something was missing. All of a sudden (at least recently) Pouliot is consistent and, above all, dangerous. Using the breakaway against Dallas as an example, he doesn’t give up on plays. In short, Pouliot is working his butt off to stick with the Rangers or at least prolong his NHL career.

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Mailbag: Del Zotto and Girardi rumors; Surging Rangers; Playoffs and more

Received three good questions over the past few weeks, so hopefully I can provide three good answers as the Rangers continue to surge in the standings.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Do you think the Rangers will trade both Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto? What can they bring back in a trade?

This really depends on how the Rangers are playing both at the Olympic roster freeze and at the trade deadline. With their recent surge, I don’t think they will be sellers unless they lose ten games in a row and fall four spots in the standings. Since they will be buyers (most likely), I doubt they move Girardi. I understand the concern about getting him signed, but making a big playoff push is more important than getting a good return on the veteran defenseman.

As for Del Zotto, he’s playing much, much better of late. He got moved back to the left side of the ice, and he’s been a force on defense since. That said, I think his days in New York are numbered. He’s been wildly inconsistent this year, and Alain Vigneault has made it clear that he doesn’t trust him as much. AV has also made it abundantly clear that he would rather deal with the same type of play from John Moore –who has significantly less NHL experience– than MDZ.

In terms of value, Girardi would likely fetch two solid NHL ready prospects, a top farm prospect, and a first round pick (think Marian Hossa deal). If the Rangers fall out of contention, trading him would single-handedly retool the team. MDZ’s value is at an all-time low, but a 24-year-old defenseman who has proven he can play in the NHL while producing is still worth a decent amount. I think you can package him and a lower level prospect (along the lines of Ryan Bourque) for a top-six right-handed defender around the same age as MDZ.

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Could Del Zotto’s return to form represent a dilemma?

If Del Zotto finds form, can the Rangers afford to let him go?

If Del Zotto finds form, can the Rangers afford to let him go?

With Michael Del Zotto back in the line-up consistently and finally cobbling together some consistent form the likely trade suitors will increase as Del Zotto starts to rack up the assists (3 in his last 4 games). Of course, with Del Zotto improving in recent weeks (as has most of the roster) the Rangers stand to benefit. Here’s the dilemma: if Del Zotto is playing well, it might make him more attractive to other teams but all of a sudden the Rangers can’t afford to deal him.

In theory, Del Zotto should thrive in Alain Vigneault’s system. It’s been his decision making that has let him down. Vigneault encourages defenseman to step up into the play, play aggressively and try and keep plays alive in the offensive zone. All those theories fit with Del Zotto’s skill set. When Del Zotto is playing well he is still a unique player on this roster.

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Rangers’ core beginning to heat up.

The Rangers are thankful for Lundqvist's improved form (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The Rangers are thankful for Lundqvist’s improved form (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Perhaps the most encouraging part of watching the Rangers during their recent upturn in form is seeing several core players begin to find some much needed form. Any club will only go as far as their best players take them and it’s no coincidence that now that the spine of the Rangers are collectively finding their games, the team has found some level of consistency and are beginning to show evidence of creating an identity.

Rick Nash has started to find his offensive game and it’s no coincidence that he has started to score a few goals and be harder to deal with as he has (finally) started to go the dangerous parts of the ice. Nash’s game winner against the Stars came as he was falling, looking to crash the night. With his size and ability Nash has to be around the puck more, not stay on the perimeter and he simply has to go to the net. It’s not easy to move a man of his size. Simple hockey theory.

As Dave discussed this week, Dan Girardi’s improved form has given the Rangers more consistency on the back end, helped reduce the errors in front of Lundqvist and generally made the Rangers harder to play against. Girardi is not one of the Rangers more talented players but whsomeone plays as many minutes as Girardi does and matches up against the opponent’s best forwards, if he’s on his game it will usually bode well.

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The resurgence of Dan Girardi

Part human, part cyborg.

Part human, part cyborg.

It’s no mystery. Dan Girardi was pretty terrible to start the season. The switch from a shot-blocking system to an overload system exposed the defenseman’s skating a bit, and he was torched by the same players who he used to defend so well in previous years. The problems weren’t just limited to defense either. Even though he’s not known for his scoring, Girardi still took a whopping 15 games to record his first point and 18 games to notch his first goal.

Over those first 25-30 games, Girardi took a whipping from us. But over the last 15-20 games, Girardi has found his legs, and appears to have adapted to the system. It’s tough to quantify a defensive defenseman’s worth via stats, especially when there’s a chance his stats could be skewed by playing with Ryan McDonagh. That said, Girardi is still being used as the team’s top defenseman on the right side. He gets a ton of PK time, he is facing top competition, and he is doing so with less than 50% of his starts happening in the offensive zone. Axel Fant-Eldh was able to put together this chart showing how Girardi’s resurgence has been evident as well.

But it is the qualitative (eye) test that really shows Girardi’s improvements over the last month or so.

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Attempting to quantify goalie puck handling

This was literally the only picture I could find of Henrik handling a puck. I think this was ’06.

The request for this post came from reader Max Steuer.  Keep those suggestions coming! If you have a post idea you’d like one of us to run with, make sure to reach out to your desired author via email or twitter.

Throughout Henrik Lundqvist’s stellar career to date, one of the common detractions from his game has always been his inability to play the puck effectively.  The past couple years have highlighted this weakness in his game, as Marty Biron, and now, Cam Talbot have been effective and capable puck handlers. This skill has been somewhat anecdotal (though, I have always included it in my style analyses) throughout the evolution of goalie development.

It’s nearly impossible to quantify in any meaningful way, and was always viewed as a bonus when a goaltender was blessed with strong stick skills.  After a quick Google search for the purposes of researching this post, this was all but confirmed.  Many instructors and YouTube aficionados have drills and technique suggestions and the like, but no one out there seems to have a handle on how to quantify it.

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The curious case of Derick Brassard

Does Brassard's future lie in New York?

Does Brassard’s future lie in New York?

With the Rangers roster facing significant change in the near future, one player’s situation that is a difficult one to predict is Derick Brassard’s. A player of immense natural ability, Brassard started his New York career in brilliant style as a game changing, point per game force last season. His performance left players such as Rick Nash in his shadow during the playoffs.

This season however has been a different story. As he was in Columbus, Brassard has been (until recently) maddeningly inconsistent. His game has been littered with defensive mistakes, careless passing that reminded many of Brad Richards last season, and several times Brassard simply went missing from games. Then there’s the other side of Brassard’s game that excites so many.

Brassard is a great playmaker, with soft hands and vision not often matched by his teammates. In fact, apart from Richards (surely a goner after this season) only Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan have the same level of vision as Brassard. It’s his offensive skills that the Rangers sorely need; especially with a general lack of top end skill on the roster.

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Where would the Rangers be without their power play?

Derick Brassard has been money on the power play lately

Encouraging signs have been far and few between for much of the 2013-2014 season, but somehow the Blueshirts remain a single point out of a playoff spot in the awful Metro Division.

One of the chief reasons New York has been able to hang around is its suddenly potent power play.  What was a team weakness for years has turned into a huge strength – and if the Rangers do end up making the playoffs in the spring, improved special teams might be the No. 1 reason.

At even strength, the Blueshirts have tumbled down the league rankings.  New York’s offense ranked 15th in the league last season, but is 24th this year.  The team’s once vaunted defense and goaltending allowed the fourth-fewest goals against last year, but is ranked just 15th during the current campaign.

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Appreciating Benoit Pouliot’s recent play

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Image

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Image

When the Rangers signed Benoit Pouliot in the offseason, we viewed it as a solid depth signing that could lead to some great tertiary scoring. Pouliot was one of the league leaders in P/60, and the Rangers got him for a bargain of a contract. It was low-risk, high-reward at its finest.

However the signing didn’t work out as planned –at least to start the season– for the Rangers. As the team adapted to the new system, Pouliot was one of the players who really struggled. He didn’t register a point until the ninth game of the season. Through two months, he had a measly four points (2-2-4) and was the target of many angry Ranger fans.

Then December came around. Since the beginning of that month Pouliot has 11 points in 15 games (6-5-11), including a seven-game point streak. Five of those points (4-1-5) came on the powerplay. In the span of 15 games, Pouliot has gone from whipping boy to tenth on the team in scoring and sixth in goals. That is probably the fastest turnaround we have ever seen.

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Value for money? Not in New York.

Rarity: Chris Kreider is one of few that represent value this year. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Rarity: Chris Kreider is one of few that represent value this year. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Who gets the blame; the General Manager? The coaching staff? Or perhaps the players themselves? When you look at the Rangers’ disappointing position in the standings and general up and down performances from a game to game basis, one thing that may go unnoticed is how the Rangers are not getting value for money from their roster. In the cap era, getting good return from your investments is critical and is something found on almost every successful roster.

With New York it obviously begins with Rick Nash ($7.8 million) , Brad Richards ($6.667 million) and yes, Henrik Lundqvist (at present, $6.875 million). When judging the financial returns solely on this season, none of the critical trio named are giving the Rangers acceptable production. Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and in fact almost every Ranger player on a sizeable cap hit hasn’t produced.

Whatever the mitigating circumstances, the underwhelming returns continue with Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto and, until recently, Derick Brassard. No ‘core player’ has produced as anticipated. Considering cap hits of $2 million dollars and above, it can be argued only Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello have produced above expectations. When you consider, from a financial perspective, almost an entire roster hasn’t lived up to its billing it’s a huge area for concern.

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