Is Sather learning?
Can old dogs learn new tricks? Everyone will agree that Glen Sather’s approach to the Lundqvist, Girardi and especially Callahan contract situations over the last year adversely impacted the Rangers this season. It almost certainly cost the Rangers their captain (even if Callahan’s demands were excessive).
News of Pouliot and the Rangers having a ‘mutual interest’ in extending the talented winger’s stay in New York may be premature to draw any conclusions from, but alternatively it may be a sign that the Rangers – Sather in particular – may be learning from the trials and tribulations of the past twelve months.
The Rangers have a few major contract situations creeping up on them that could really impact the competitiveness of their roster, long term. The major contract situation is of course Marc Staal’s, who is close to being back to his best and who gives the Rangers an elite defenseman on their second pair – a rare luxury in a cap driven league. With Staal’s situation likely to be a complicated one, getting the contract situations of the likes of Pouliot, Mats Zuccarello and other core roster players resolved early will allow the Rangers to know exactly what they can or can’t afford with regard to Staal.
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Per Pat Leonard, the Rangers and forward Benoit Pouliot have mutual interest in a contract extension that would keep the forward in New York. Signed as a UFA to a one-year, $1.3 million deal, Pouliot has been a pleasant surprise for the Rangers. Clicking on the “third” line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, Pouliot has a line of 15-21-36 in 79 games. That line becomes more impressive when you remember that in the first 27 games (through the end of November) Pouliot was pretty bad, putting up just two goals and two assists while fans tried to figure out what was wrong with him.
Since then, Pouliot has put up a line of 13-19-32 in 52 games, far more impressive. His point total (36) and assist total (21) are both career highs. His 15 goals is 1 shy of his career high. Suffice it to say, Pouliot was worth his weight in gold this season, and was one of the better UFA signings the Rangers have had recently.
With the newly implemented playoff system, this year’s playoff matchups came into focus a bit quicker than they have in recent seasons. I remember the past few years writing multiple scouting posts depending on how the Rangers ultimately finished in the standings. This year, however, it’s only down to Philly and Columbus as potential opponents. I’m going to lead off with Steve Mason, and if Columbus jumps the Flyers in the standings, I’ll just hijack one of my colleague’s slots next week to scout Bobrovsky. Coin flip at this point.
The format remains the same, Stance, Crease Movement/Depth, Equipment, Puck-handling ability and Exploitable Weaknesses. Let’s get after it…
At this point, most of us know the book on Mason: Rookie of the Year winner, future superstar turned reclamation project for the Flyers. No one really knows that happened to him after that first season in Columbus that wrecked his confidence, but he has rebounded significantly in his first season in Orange and Black, and was rewarded with a slightly pre-mature, slightly ridiculous 3-year/$12.3 million contract.
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Sorry about missing last week, but I’ll make it up to you today in a pre-playoff chat. Make sure to stop by at 11:45 to fill the queue, and we’ll get going at noon sharp. See everyone this afternoon!
Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
The Rangers will have home-ice in the first round of the playoffs, as the combination of their 2-1 win over Buffalo and Philly’s 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay sealed the deal for the #2 seed in the Metropolitan Division. It took a while to solve fourth string goalie Matt Hackett, who played a great game, but the Rangers were able to crack him twice. Hackett finished the game with 28 saves. Across the ice, Henrik Lundqvist was the main reason why the Rangers won the game, making 23 pretty difficult saves for his 33rd win of the season.
The Rangers came out slow –again– in the first period, allowing a bad Buffalo team to walk all over them. But the Rangers absolutely dominated the second period, to the tune of an 18-2 Fenwick advantage at even strength. They got the tying goal with seconds left in the period, and got the winner with under two minutes to go in the game. It wasn’t pretty, but they got the big two points and the home-ice.
On to the goals:
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Frank Franklin II/AP
The Rangers play their final home game tonight, as the lowly Buffalo Sabres come to town. A win tonight can clinch at least a #3 seed in the Metropolitan Division, ensuring the Rangers avoid the Penguins until the second round, and the Bruins until the Conference Finals. The Rangers can clinch the #2 seed and home ice against the Flyers in the first round with a win and a loss by the Flyers in regulation in Tampa Bay.
Ted Nolan has the Sabres running a 1-2-2 forechecking system and try to shut down the middle of the ice. For the defensive zone system, he has them playing the low-zone collapse pretty much exclusively. On special teams, the Sabres run an umbrella power play and a wedge+1 penalty kill.
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Long term contention? Photo: Brad Penner, USA Today
The Rangers entertain the hapless Sabres tonight. A team with hopes of a deep playoff run should be winning tonight with ease so with that jinx behind us, let’s throw up a few Ranger based thoughts.
Let’s briefly address the ‘win now’ theory. Henrik Lundqvist is 32 and has a shiny new seven year deal. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and with several examples of goalies playing to an elite level deep into their 30’s, there’s no reason to think Lundqvist can’t do the same.
The defense has a strong under-contract core (Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Klein) of which none are the wrong side of thirty. The forward corps (Nash and St Louis not considered) could feature six players in the top nine who have contributed to the Rangers this year (as presently constructed) that are all 26 or under and of which none have maxed out their potential – think Kreider, Hagelin, Stepan, Zuccarello, Brassard and JT Miller.
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Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)
When the Rangers acquired Raphael Diaz for a 5th round pick, it was pegged as a depth move made by a team that needed a #7 defenseman pretty badly. We made the same assessment, but said not to sleep on that deal. Diaz was a solid contributor for Montreal and Vancouver, perhaps more-so than his numbers would indicate. The Rangers sorely needed an injury replacement, and the acquisition couldn’t have come at a better time.
It was three weeks following his acquisition that John Moore went down with an apparent concussion. When he was ready to return, Ryan McDonagh went down with a shoulder injury. Diaz has been in the lineup for nine straight games, notching a goal and an assist in the process. But it’s what he’s done away from the puck that has kept the blue line steady while their best defensemen has been sidelined.
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Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images
While everyone who watches the Rangers with any regularity would agree that the Rangers need to address the center position in the near future, the Rangers have got a lot more talent on the wing than many will lead you to believe. It starts but certainly doesn’t end with the current roster.
With Rick Nash and Martin St Louis leading the club from the wing, there is plenty of veteran elite ability for next year. Greater contributions (and consistency) will be expected from Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider. Both young wingers offer physical tools (speed and/or size) and the ability to score in bunches but Kreider at least, will be expected to take the next step after his promising rookie campaign this year. Hagelin is almost the perfect depth winger given his reliability in his own zone, ability to play on any line and an ability score close to 20 goals at the NHL level.
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