Archive for State of the Rangers
The Blueshirts had pushed their chips to the middle of the table and with Henrik Lundqvist now 33 and reaching an age when he could logically be expected to decline, sacrificing draft picks and prized prospects at the expense of the team’s future was no longer of much concern.
The looming salary cap crunch meant a difficult decision lay ahead this summer between key free agents Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis, followed by another class of increasingly expensive FAs in 2016 including Yandle, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes.
But the late stages of the season and the start of the playoff run have changed things. Specifically, Lightning legends St. Louis and Boyle have quickly drifted from critical veteran cogs to afterthoughts, while the figurative torch has been passed to young emerging Blueshirts.
It was once assumed that Hagelin would be the odd man out this summer, but now it’s almost impossible to imagine the organization choosing to retain St. Louis over the Swedish speedster (although St. Louis could still re-sign for a bonus-laden veteran deal). Boyle likely plans to conclude his career when his deal expires following next season anyway, but the hole he’ll leave has already been patched with a much younger power play ace in Yandle.
The Blueshirts will still be up against the cap even subtracting these two players, but their young players are already exceeding the price tags of their rookie deals and have fortified the club’s core.
Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller were both terrific in the season’s final weeks and have continued that strong play into the postseason, while Kevin Hayes has only scratched the surface of his potential. Other young pieces like Kreider and Derek Stepan will bloom on Broadway for years to come. And there are still a couple more blue-chip prospects to come, with Pavel Buchnevich and Brady Skjei potentially joining the fray as soon as next season. Heck, if it were possible, plugging in Buchnevich and Skjei for St. Louis and Boyle might make the Blueshirts better right now.
Finally, after 82 games and 187 days, the Rangers now know they will be facing in the first round of the playoffs. After a relatively strong start to the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins, suffering from a number of significant injuries, limped into the 8th and final playoff spot on Saturday. In preparation for the start of the series on Thursday, we will be running some preview posts so we can see what lies ahead for the Blueshirts in the opening round.
First up is an analysis of Marc-Andre Fleury, who will have the esteemed honor of playing behind an absolutely injury ravaged defense. Fleury had a nice renaissance of sorts this season, posting numbers far above his career averages (2.32 GAA/.920 sv% vs career averages of 2.59 and .911, respectively). He was far from the problem for the Penguins this year. I actually did a preview of Fleury way back in 2012, and the scouting report has definitely changed a bit. Quick refresher if it’s been a while; I’ll cover Stance, Crease Movement/Depth, Equipment, Puck-Handling Ability and Exploitable Weaknesses. Let’s get after it… Read More→
It’s almost unfair. Every article I read about coach of the year candidates, Alain Vigneault barely gets any ink. As beloved as AV is by the NY beat, outside of the metro, he might as well be a ghost.
Deciding who should be the coach of the year is almost an impossible exercise. No one really knows what goes on during film sessions, private meetings with players, etc. Despite years of detailing hockey tactics and systems, most who cover this game still can’t explain which coaches employ an overload and why. Instead, postseason wins and losses are unfairly the only metric.
Make no mistake though. Alain Vigneault is a very good coach. If it weren’t for Roberto Luongo becoming allergic to pucks in 2011 or matching up against one of the deepest NHL teams in recent memory last summer, AV would share more ink with Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville.
There used to be an obsession with team toughness and in some circles people connected to the Rangers (including some in the media) bemoaned the ‘vanilla’ Rangers. Well, this year’s Rangers are the President Trophy winners who are aiming for back to back Stanley Cup Final appearances and who are far from a physically intimidating or ‘tough’ opponent.
The Rangers lack an intimidating presence but the truth is, they don’t need it; basically it’s an outdated demand placed on teams (it’s also why Tanner Glass is even more unnecessary but we digress) by some in the media who conform to old stereotypes.
If you watch the Rangers closely the Rangers don’t back down from anyone, they’re more than happy to engage with physical opponents but this Rangers team have taken a different route to success. This year the Rangers are 24th overall in penalty minutes (699 at the last count), they are 24th in major penalties and 24th in fighting majors. This team isn’t a nasty team that visits the penalty box frequently but this team wins games. A lot of games.
Despite being lumbered with Tanner Glass as a linemate, Dominic Moore has once again provided the Rangers with a quality depth player, the kind of player who makes a difference in the playoffs. In the playoffs, games are traditionally much tighter affairs and it is often the role players that need to step up (think Mike Rupp for the Devils or Alec Martinez for the Kings last summer) and Moore is a player that always works hard and contributes in so many ways. Indeed, Moore has given the Rangers a little bit of everything this season.
On a team that struggles in the faceoff circle, Moore has been the Rangers best faceoff specialist with a 54.3% success rate (at time of writing), a number that’s also good for a top twenty ranking league wide (players with at least 500 faceoffs taken) and that skill has played a big part in helping Moore be a key part of the Rangers penalty kill which had risen to 7th in the league. Moore leads all Rangers forwards in shorthanded ice time and also has two SH goals to his name.
People questioned the amount Glen Sather gave up for Marty St Louis, baulked at the cost of Rick Nash and panicked when Anthony Duclair was part of the Keith Yandle package. Move forward from each of those deals however and each star acquisition brought into the Rangers fold has made a tangible impact on the Rangers helping turn the organisation into an annual contender. (Of course, Keith Yandle’s true impact is still to be truly measured).
What has allowed Sather to make all these bold moves and show almost blatant disregard to the importance of early round draft picks is the way the Rangers roster has progressively become younger, more talented and well established. The Rangers have eight players who have scored at least 10 goals, five of which have only ever played for the Rangers, while Derick Brassard is just 27 and tied into the Rangers for the long term. That number of ten goal goalscorers doesn’t count JT Miller whose impact is now being felt consistently and who should hit double figures.
When the New York Rangers announced that goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been cleared to return to practice, most of the Ranger Twitter-verse united in cheers of “WOOHOO!” But a few people stated that the Rangers now have a goalie controversy. Cam Talbot has been playing out of his mind the past few games, and has done a fantastic job of filling in for Lundqvist while he was injured.
Let me be clear: There is no goaltender controversy for the Rangers.
Talbot has been great after a few shaky games to begin his run as a starter. He’s carried the Rangers through major SH% regression, leading them to a likely division win and a potential President’s Trophy. That said, Henrik Lundqvist is the starting goaltender for the New York Rangers. Period.
The next two weeks may tell us a lot more about JT Miller’s future. With Marty St Louis out injured for up to eight games the opportunity for JT Miller to really show his worth to Alain Vigneault has never been greater. Whether Miller gets moved up to the second line or Kevin Hayes goes from third line center to second line wing, it appears more ice time and responsibility will fall on the two young forwards.
While Kevin Hayes has recently been flavour of the month (to an extent deservedly so) and has begun to prove his ability at the NHL level, Miller is still very much in the prove-it stage of his development. That said, even Miller has started to earn praise from Vigneault recently and now is the time Miller can really establish himself as a Ranger moving forward.
Right now, the Rangers are struggling to score and it’s largely thanks to their defensive play but particularly their goaltending that they’re still winning in bunches. With a stretch of difficult games ahead (Chicago, Anaheim and a hot Ottawa amongst others), Miller’s ability to come through offensively wouldn’t go unnoticed. The third line (so Hagelin – Hayes – Miller) has been one of the Rangers more reliable units in recent weeks but it’s expected the unit will be broken up with St Louis unavailable.
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.