With optional skates beginning to start and the Traverse City Tournament and NHL Pre-season just around the corner, we are almost ready to get excited about hockey again. One of the most interesting story lines of the pre-season will be opportunities for prospects and depth veterans to step up and seize important minutes. A game of musical chairs, indeed.
Most of us were fairly underwhelmed by the clubs work in free agency. Solid contributors to last year’s finalists Anton Stralman and Beniot Pouliot bolted for greener (read: money) pastures, defensive stalwarts Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett are now employed elsewhere and Brad Richards’ buy-out saw him take a smaller money deal in the Windy City.
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Nash is integral to the Rangers hopes for 2015
Last season, it can be reasonably argued that no other ‘contending’ team had to put up with as much inconsistency from their top line than the New York Rangers. In fact, the Rangers were surely the only team to go deep in the playoffs who couldn’t even identify a clear top forward line. Injuries, a lack of cohesion, a new system and a poor start to the year were all factors in the Rangers not having a legitimate top line almost all year.
If the Rangers are going to repeat or better their Stanley Cup final appearance in June they will need a clear, dominant top line to emerge. They can’t rely on their bottom six to out work other teams any longer. It all begins and ends with Rick Nash. Nash is the second most important Ranger, behind Henrik Lundqvist, and in front of Ryan McDonagh. After all, if McDonagh falters the Rangers still have two quality top line defensemen in Staal and Girardi to rely on, without considering the merits of Dan Boyle and Kevin Klein.
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Well, here we are. The Top 10. I hope you enjoyed the ride, I know I sure did. In case you missed it, here are the previous two entries in this years list (30-21) and (20-11). Without further adieu, your 2014-2015 Top 10…
10. Mike Smith- Arizona Coyotes. Last year’s ranking: 10
- Smith has become more famous for his goal at this point than his puck stopping abilities, but those should absolutely not be overlooked. For a big guy, he moves exceedingly well and has cemented his status as a top-notch positional goaltender over the past few seasons. I mentioned in my first Top 30, that I expected perennial Vezina-caliber campaigns out of Smith, and while he has been slightly off that lofty standard, he has been a rock in the Arizona (Phoenix?) net. His large frame and third defenseman puck-handling skills make him an integral part of the ‘Yotes franchise and remains one of the league’s top tenders.
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Loads of armchair GM’s have had one thought on the backburner of their mind since Ryan Callahan was traded last March: who will be the next captain? Instead of instantly naming a new captain, a move which the Lightning made immediately upon the captain-for-captain swap of Callahan for Martin St. Louis, the Rangers simply promoted Dan Girardi to full time alternate. Joining Marc Staal and Brad Richards proudly wearing the ‘A’ on their sweaters was a promotion of sorts for Girardi, who signed an extension during the regular season.
Around now is when I would cite some reliable sources about the most recent news as to who will be leading our beloved Blueshirts through seasons to come, but quite frankly I would rather irresponsibly yap about my opinion and play a few rounds of Devil’s Advocate. We know that Richards can’t be the captain, leaving us with two logical guesses in Staal and Girardi. Many are convinced that Ryan McDonagh is a lock for the role. How about veteran and former captain St. Louis? Or another former captain in Rick Nash? The possibilities are endless.
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Welcome to Part II of the Top 30. In case you missed our first installment, you can find that right here. Bizarrely enough, there are no housekeeping matters to attend to with this portion of the article (you can find all relevant rules, methodologies, etc. in the first post), so let’s dive right in with rankings 20-11…
20. Steve Mason- Philadelphia Flyers. Last year’s ranking: 27
- Mason has been kicking around the list for the past two seasons right on the cusp of the #30 spot. He was always just that one shaky year from fading into oblivion after a remarkable start to his career. Last season, Mason finally started to round back into form, in Philadelphia, of all places. He was rewarded with the starting job (courtesy of Ray Emery) and a, we’ll call it “generous”, three-year contract. All eyes on Mason in the City of Brotherly Love this season to confirm last year wasn’t a fluke.
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It’s that time of year again; welcome to the 3rd Annual Top 30 Goaltender’s List! Before we get started, just a couple housekeeping matters to attend to. There are no major changes to the methodology this year. I am still advising a hypothetical “team” on how to prioritize seeking a goaltending solution, irrespective of standings, roster composition, contention window or organizational view of its current options. The rankings are obviously subjective, so feel free (and encouraged!) to disagree with me.
Last year, I introduced a “dropped” section to give a little context as to why goalies who appeared on the first year’s installment didn’t make the cut the following season. Unfortunately, this year saw a huge drop off in the 30-21 range (8 goalies), so I don’t have room for that section this year. With all that out of the way, let’s start with the honorable mentions:
James Reimer- Toronto Maple Leafs: I’ve never been a Reimer fan, and after losing his job to Jonathan Bernier, failing to perform in big games and being involved in perpetual trade rumors, I felt justified in leaving him off the list. Whenever the inevitable trade to Winnipeg comes, he can continue to be a key contributor to mediocrity.
Ondrej Pavelec- Winnipeg Jets: Speaking of Winnipeg, I’m done waiting for Pavelec’s A-list talent and D-List work ethic to develop. He has squandered a golden opportunity to be a fantastic NHL tender, but now the KHL seems more likely than ever once his ridiculous five-year contract expires.
Cam Talbot- New York Rangers: After a fantastic rookie Cam-paign (see what I did there?), Talbot looks to show that last season was no fluke before hitting the open market in July in search of a starting job. I thought it was a little premature to include him, but he is well on his way.
Onto the Top 30 Proper…
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In a bit of old news (sorry for being late on this one), the Rangers have hired ex-Vancouver Assistant Coach Daryl Williams to join Alain Vigenault’s coaching staff. Williams will replace the now departed Dan Lacroix, and will likely be AV’s “eye in the sky.”
The Montreal Canadiens have hired Rangers Assistant Coach Dan Lacroix to their coaching staff. Lacroix joined the Rangers last summer, watching games from the press box to give coach Alain Vigneault the “eye in the sky” view.
Lacroix’s depature leaves Scott Arniel, Ulf Samuelsson, and Benoit Allaire as the coaching staff under AV.
Last night, the Rangers re-signed their final arbitration eligible RFA, locking up Derick Brassard to a five-year deal at $5 million per season. This came a few days after locking up another key RFA, Mats Zuccarello to a one-year deal at $3.5 million. The reactions to the Brassard and Zuccarello contracts seem to be a bit mixed. Fans are clearly happy the players are back, but the contracts seem to be “backwards” as most have communicated.
It’s true, the Rangers took a calculated risk with Zuccarello, and a little less of a risk with Brassard. But let’s tackle the first question: Why did the Rangers give Brassard more than he was asking for in arbitration?
The answer here is simple: Arbitration for Brassard was a one-year request, and it would make him a UFA at the age of 27, where he could cash in big time from a team in need of a 2C/3C. The Rangers bought four of those UFA years, through the age of 31 (remember, Brass will be playing out his twenties in New York, not his thirties). That costs money. In fact, it only cost them $50,000 more per year for those seasons.
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Kreider could be a league wide bargain next year – if he reaches his potential.
Everyone will be breathing a little easier now Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello are under contract for next season but the potential fallout of the two deals really is a mixed bag for the Rangers.
Assuming Alain Vigneault can continue to improve Kreider’s defense, Kreider’s contract should immediately become a bargain. The big, skilled forward has the potential to explode this coming season. He is now firmly established in the NHL, will have another camp under his belt, will be coming off a solid playoff season and will also want to prove that he was worth that $2.9 million he was demanding prior to agreeing with Glen Sather earlier this week.
Kreider is still all about potential and –while still slightly raw– he has 30-40 goal potential. Given his likely line mates (Stepan and Nash) and his talent, there’s no reason why he can’t hit 30 goals this coming season. In fact 30 is a number many fans will expect (albeit unfairly expect) from Kreider given his development over the past year. Twenty-One players scored 30 or more goals during the last regular season, and only Ryan Johansen of the Blue Jackets (33 goals, on his entry level contract) earned less than $3 million.
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