Are we really still in August? Hands up who thinks the season starts on time. Anyone? No one? Ok, let’s just muse a little.
I read this about the CBA discussions on Wednesday: “The league’s Tuesday proposal didn’t address team revenue sharing”. I can’t imagine which owners must be the drivers behind this area; *cough* Ed Snider *cough*…
A reason for optimism regarding the Rangers future is the recent, sustained ability to find unwanted players around the league and make them useful roster parts. No one will miss John Mitchell or Steve Eminger and certainly no one will miss Erik Christensen going forward. Perhaps no one will notice next season when Stu Bickel mows through the press box buffet offerings but the Rangers continue to find players for almost little cost that contribute to the team. It’s not always about high draft picks or spectacular trades it’s about the hidden gems and unheralded players a team uncovers. Ask Dan Girardi.
Paging Michael Del Zotto…..
Just a thought: Is there a direct highway/passage/tunnel from Wisconsin University to Madison Square Garden?
If Carl Hagelin manages to work his way on to the top six next season is it because he’s stepped up in the face of the competition or because someone has underperformed? There appears to be brutal competition for elusive top six ice time, but I’m an optimist – if he gets legitimate ice time with the big boys it’s because he’s earned it.
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Although the Rangers are likely to benefit from a lockout –due to the injury to Marian Gaborik– there is still a solid chance that when the season starts, the club will still be without their top scorer from last season. Gaborik, who had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in June, is said to be out five or six months recovering from the surgery.
The acquisition of Rick Nash actually gives the Rangers tremendous flexibility when dealing with this injury. Nash is a rare forward that can play both wings, and play them at a high level. This gives the Rangers the ability to fill the spot opened up by Gaborik’s injury on either the left side or the right side.
The players that are likely to play on the top six –alongside Nash, Brad Richards, and Derek Stepan– are the ones you would expect: Carl Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, and Chris Kreider. All three played on the top two lines in the playoffs, and are either decent offensive threats (Cally), or players with some great offensive potential (Kreider, Hagelin).
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No doubt about it, the Rangers have had some serious roster turnover this season, especially among the bottom six forwards. Gone are Brandon Prust, John Mitchell, Ruslan Fedotenko, Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky. In are Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, and possibly Michael Haley (at least to start the season while Marian Gaborik is out). While the Rangers will surely miss most of the departed, where they will miss them the most is on the penalty kill.
Fedotenko, Prust, and Dubinsky were all top penalty killers for this club last season, with Anisimov and Mitchell seeing some time there as well. Of those coming in, only Halpern has experience as a top penalty killer. Asham and Pyatt have played there in the past, but not much (if at all) last season. This leaves a hole that needs to be filled, and needs to be filled from those already on the roster.
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When the Rangers acquired Rick Nash, they did so by dealing two roster players that played key roles on the bottom six forwards. Losing Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov may not look like much, especially when they are dealt for someone like Rick Nash. However, it does lead to the discussion of how to replace these players, especially Dubinsky, who was one of the Rangers top defensive and puck possession forwards.
It seems logical to begin with Anisimov, who I believe to be the easier of the two to replace. Anisimov bounced around on the Rangers lineup from top line to fourth line so often, I’m surprised he wasn’t dizzy from all the pinballing around the lineup. Throughout his young career, he has shown flashes of offensive talent while putting up 30-40 points per season, almost entirely at even strength.
His defensive peripherals (.005 QoC, 2.9 RCorsi, 52.7 OZone%) aren’t spectacular, but they are still solid and show that Anisimov was still very reliable in his own end. He’s the type of two-way forward that could develop into a 50-60 point player if given the right opportunity and powerplay time. That said, he wasn’t going to get that opportunity with the Rangers. Jeff Halpern has comparable numbers (-.029 QoC, 2.9 RCorsi, 39.2 OZone%), but can add more in terms of veteran leadership and face off wins.
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When trade rumors begin to surface, many begin to panic. It’s not unexpected to see this panicking, as the Rangers were so close last season to playing for the Stanley Cup, it makes you wonder what management will do to make that next step. Per Larry Brooks, the organization has dubbed seven key players as “untouchable” in their search for scoring:
The Rangers, who are believed to have quarantined Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Derek Stepan (in addition to Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist)…
Mentioning Cally, Girardi, and Lundqvist is just a formality, as these are guys in or entering their prime who are core pieces for the Rangers. As for the first four mentioned by Brooks, those names are expected to be deemed as “untouchable.” If the Rangers were open to moving any of them, the return would have to be monstrous.
McDonagh was a given for the status of untouchable because of the impact he’s made on the roster. McDonagh emerged as a top pairing defender when Marc Staal went down with his concussion, and stayed there even when Staal returned. The pairing of McDonagh and Girardi is one of the best shutdown pairs in the game today. Throw in the fact that McDonagh has yet to tap into his offensive potential, and we could be looking at a Norris winner in the future.
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Fuss about Fogarty?
2011 third-round pick Steven Fogarty didn’t get a whole lot of attention this year because of the rise of Chris Kreider and stunning point total of Michael St. Croix, but the Penticton Vee had a monster season in his own right. Fogarty will attend the University of Notre Dame next year where he’ll be more in the spotlight. I’ll bet he’s the surprise prospect we’re all discussing this time next year and there will be brief discussion of his chances of making the team in 2013. He still needs a couple more seasons of development, but Fogarty may put himself on the fast track sooner than we were led to believe.
Lightning acquire Lindback
I don’t think Tampa Bay’s acquisition of goalie Anders Lindback got enough attention last week. Remember, the Lightning were one win away from the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals before falling apart this season, in large part due to lackluster goaltending. Lindback is relatively unproven, but in a small sample size he has shown the potential to be a solid starter. He could be the difference between a lottery pick and a playoff berth for Tampa.
Nashville will undoubtedly unearth a couple of All-Stars with the draft picks they received from Tampa, but the Lightning did well to hold on to their two first-rounders (#10 and #19 overall). I think the trade also marks the end of Dwayne Roloson’s NHL career and it opens the door for Toronto to get Roberto Luongo.
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Despite showing an unexpected offensive upside at the NHL level in his rookie year the Rangers will be better placed for a long term, successful era when Carl Hagelin is flying down the left wing on the third line. He won’t be a casualty of depth but could be the difference maker because of it.
Make no mistake Hagelin exceeded expectations this year (despite a generally subpar playoffs ), showed his flexibility in terms of ability to slide up and down the line-up, while also surprising many with his ability to play on the top line and not look out of depth alongside marquee NHL talent such as Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. However, there are a few reasons why Hagelin’s future may lie further down the line-up – something that is no insult by any stretch.
As discussed extensively, there is a good chance that the Rangers will pursue a high end, skilled forward this summer to help remedy the main causes of their playoff series loss to the Devils in particular. The main reasons the Rangers lost were inconsistent – to be polite – goal scoring and a (still) subpar powerplay. Bringing in someone like the oft mentioned Zach Parise should help remedy both areas of need. Needless to say, bringing in a big ticket like Parise means ice time and an integral role for the new recruit. It likely means top line duty and will bump other players further down the roster – including Hagelin.
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That the Rangers are two wins away from the Stanley Cup final is down to the impressive work rate, team ethic and application of the roster and the coaching staff. That the team is almost running on empty and may perhaps fall short of the Finals is because of the way the team plays, the style and energy required to play that way. That said, whatever happens the rest of the season it has been a hugely successful one. More importantly, the way the Rangers play promises so much for the future.
Teams can be blessed with skill and can fall short because of a lack of heart, character or work ethic. It’s hard to acquire those traits. It’s easier to acquire talent. The Rangers have gone about it the right way and that is why this team should be a contender for the foreseeable future.
That the team (currently) struggle to score goals consistently is down to the fact the club has a lack of in their prime skill players – Gaborik and Richards aside. Players like Stepan and Anisimov, Kreider and Hagelin are still developing. This is one of the youngest clubs in the entire league. Players such as Ryan Callahan need to be complemented with skill. It’s this combination of youth however that should develop in to quality scorers even if it’s not happening just yet.
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During the game on Monday, I got into a discussion with Kevin Baumer (formerly of Blueshirt Bulletin) about the play of Carl Hagelin. The question came up about possibly benching Carl Hagelin when Brandon Dubinsky is ready to return. Kevin was vehemently against it. I on the other hand, was not so against it.
Bear in mind, if this were the regular season, I would have called for a benching a while ago. But it’s not, so things are a bit different.
Hagelin is currently playing top line minutes with the Rangers two most skilled forwards, and ha exactly zero goals to show for it. That’s no goals and just three assists in 15 games so far this postseason. No matter which way you look at this, it’s unacceptable to have a top line player with zero goals in 15 games. At some point, changes need to be made.
What Hagelin does so well for the Rangers is that he forechecks relentlessly, and has done a great job of maintaining puck possession…at least during the regular season. That is not the case so far this postseason.
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When Chris Neil took out Brian Boyle with a questionable hit on Saturday night, he took out the Rangers most effective forward. He took out their leading scorer, top defensive forward, and top penalty killer in this series. He took out the only player that has managed to get under the skin of the Senators. It’s a big blow to the Rangers, and not a player easily replaced. The best the Rangers can do is find some sort of lineup option that maximizes the return of Carl Hagelin, and minimizes the departure of Boyle. This is no easy task.
Side note: Is it great for the depth of the team to say that Boyle has been the best forward, or is it a sign of weakness in the top six? Tough call there.
The good news, as mentioned above, is that Hagelin will be returning to the lineup tonight after serving his three game suspension for elbowing and concussing Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. The addition of Hagelin adds some much needed speed and puck possession to the lineup, which also helps minimize the negative effects of having their top defensive forward out of the lineup.
This leaves the Rangers with a few lineup options to consider for the game, and while none are perfect, they give the Rangers much needed flexibility.
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