To win in the playoffs you need your stars to play to their capabilities, but you also need a few unsuspecting players to step their game up and bring more than might be expected of them. For the Rangers heading into their series against the Washington Capitals Wojtek Wolski and Chris Drury are two wild cards that would greatly improve the chances of victory with strong play. From game to game you might know which version will show up, but at their best each can help in their own ways.
Wolski started strong for the Rangers and then tailed off to point of being a healthy scratch, but he played a critical role in each of the team’s final two victories during the regular season. The skill has never been the question for Wolski, rather the effort and impact he has on the ice. Wolski can be a top line talent and since being put with Derek Stepan and Vinny Prospal he has shown more of that talent. Against the Bruins he played excellent hockey and was instrumental in both Vinny Prospal goals that gave the Rangers life to make the comeback possible. Against the Devils he scored early in the second period to tie the game after the Devils had taken the lead late in period one. If that goal does not happen when it did there is no telling how the rest of the game plays out because of the tension both in the crowd and the team the longer it took for them to get back to even. These two games are the kinds of efforts that could make Wolski a key piece that isn’t necessarily accounted for when first analyzing the Rangers in a series.
Chris Drury has had a horrendous season. Between battling injuries and a lack of production when he has been on the ice the Rangers captain has been written off by many. What Drury can bring to the team is playoff experience, penalty killing, faceoffs and leadership. Do not expect him to go out and produce a lot of points, but the intangibles he can bring are important to a team as young as the Rangers are. In the right role, Drury can still be a valuable asset to this club in the playoffs.
Neither of these two players will win or lose the series by themselves, but in each series role players can find big moments to have an impact and both of these players, whether it be the skill of Wolski or the experience of Drury have the ability to change a game in one of those crucial moments.
As per Andrew Gross, Rangers captain Chris Drury will return to the lineup for the first time since having knee surgery on February 4th, a surgery that was expected to keep him out for the remainder of the season. Drury will take Sean Avery’s spot, who probably lost his spot when he failed to clear the zone in the second period Thursday night, resulting in the first Atlanta goal.
Also in today are Mats Zuccarello, who was recalled yesterday, and Matt Gilroy. Per Gross, Gilroy is in today because he presents more of an offensive threat than Eminger, and can move the puck out of the zone quicker.
It is impossible to replace Ryan Callahan in the lineup. He brings more to the table than his stat line, which says a lot considering his stat line makes him a top-two scorer on the team in goals and points. The hits, blocked shots, power play points, and short handed minutes are what makes Callahan one of, if not the most important Ranger skaters. His loss is going to hurt this team in the playoffs, but it also provides an opportunity for two veterans to step up and lead this team during it’s potential run.
The first player that needs to step up is Marian Gaborik. The Rangers most skilled player, Gaborik has underwhelmed this season, with a line of 22-25-47 in 60 games this year. He was almost a ghost in the beginning of the year, but has really turned up his game lately. He has started to take control of the play, and create opportunities for his teammates. Unfortunately, this isn’t leading to goals for the sniper, as his last goal was on March 20th, seven games ago. Gaborik needs to start putting pucks in the net, especially on the power play. Callahan had ten power play goals this season, Gaborik has seven. It’s not that big of a difference, but one extra goal with the man advantage in the final two games can be the difference between the playoffs and playing eighteen.
As for Chris Drury, he will need to show that he is not washed up when he returns. According to reports, he looks good, and should be back relatively soon following knee surgery. Drury is going to be needed to fill in the defensive void left by Callahan. Blocked shots, short handed minutes, and hits are going to have to be Drury’s calling card for the rest of the year if the Rangers plan on making a run. We all know Drury can win face offs, but with Cally out, it’s time the captain started earning more ice time.
The Callahan injury is nothing short of devastating. The Rangers lost one of their top scorers and top penalty killers with one Zdeno Chara slap shot. Callahan really stepped up this season in the absence of veteran production from Gaborik and Drury, who were expected to produce more offensively and defensively, respectively. Now with Cally out, it’s time for these two veterans to assume the role of veteran leaders, and take over the production that Cally was producing all year. The good thing for them, is that they don’t need to do it all, they just need to compensate for one aspect of Cally’s game.
With the news Ryan Callahan is out long term a unique opportunity at redemption(?) may have come about for the current captain Chris Drury. Veteran center, Drury is not held in high regard by the vast majority of Rangers fans because he doesn’t come close to earning his big contract and the fact that progressively throughout his Rangers tenure, his offensive game has disintegrated. However, it seems hard to imagine all wouldn’t be forgiven should Drury come back in Callahan’s absence and re-discover his game to the point he becomes an impact forward once again. The timing wouldn’t be better.
Drury was known for his clutch play throughout his career and has playoff pedigree. Should the Rangers get in, they’ll need it more than ever with Callahan not likely to be back for a long time. Should the Rangers go deep, it’s hard to think Drury wouldn’t have had an impact. Drury back covers the absence of Callahan on the penalty kill; he makes the team better defensively and would take a lot of key draws. The pressure/hole comes on the offensive side of the puck. This year, Callahan has stepped up a level to the point where he is a legitimate, consistent threat to score, something Drury no longer is. If Drury can even get back to his Rangers self of years 1 and 2 (and not this year) he’d be adding offense to the team – much needed now a man down.
If Drury could get back to his Sabres days or his Avalanche ways then the impact the Rangers would feel by Callahan’s loss would be minimised. Granted, it’s hard, unlikely, to expect Drury to find any kind of impact game given the time he has missed and the rust he’ll likely have but if he can, the Rangers would be so much better off. Should Drury do the unthinkable and find some offense, a lot of the boos he has faced as a Ranger would turn to cheers, especially with a deep playoff run. A chance awaits Drury, a chance for redemption (of sorts)
In case you missed it, the Rangers have been without Captain Chris Drury for quite some time this year. He missed a good portion of the early season with a broken finger, and has missed the past several weeks with a knee injury. Without him, the Rangers have developed four solid and well balanced lines with a useful 13th forward, and do not seem to be missing their captain on the ice. However, knee injuries don’t last forever (generally speaking), and at some point, Drury will be back on the ice. If that is this year, then it becomes a question of who, if anyone, sits.
There’s no doubt that Drury’s game has slipped this season, but if it’s because of the knee, we won’t know until he returns. He has clearly lost a step, and was getting beat on a regular basis. But, Drury has been a consummate professional on and off the ice, and has been a great role model for the kids who have taken over the team in his absence. His presence is not missed on the ice, but is missed in the locker room, which may be enough to force coach John Tortorella’s hand in playing the aging center upon his return.
Should Tortorella succumb to the pressure to play Drury, who will sit? Right now, the Rangers seem to have a rotation for the 13th forward with Sean Avery, Wojtek Wolski, and Erik Christensen. Whoever plays the worst sits for a game or two. It’s fairly simple, and the Rangers have been on a five game winning streak since that was employed. Throw Drury into the mix, and then the Rangers have a $7 million Captain who should be in that rotation. Ice time will be reduced significantly for one or even two of those three already in the healthy scratch mix. The question remains though, does Drury deserve to be inserted back in the lineup on a regular basis?
Out since February 4 following knee surgery, the initial timetable for Drury’s return was six weeks. Six weeks has become almost eight weeks, and there is still no indication of when he will return. When he does return, the biggest question won’t be about his ability to play, it will be about where he fits into the lineup. The Rangers clearly don’t miss him on the ice, and while his leadership is important, is his $7 million price tag worth the leadership and declining skills?
This morning’s guest post is courtesy of Brian:
First off, I’d like to start by saying this. I NEVER ONCE questioned the decision to give Chris Drury the “C”. In fact, I thought it made perfect sense. Here is a guy that despite size (or lack thereof) has been one of the most integral factors to any team he’s been a part of. He’s an Olympian and Stanley Cup winner. We’ve all heard the stories of a little league world champ who has won at everything that they’ve worked at in life. He has always been a top notch competitor on the ice, and a gentleman off of the ice (two things which any and every NHL captain should be able to claim true).
Here’s the thing. At some point one has to realize that past successes don’t equal future success. Jordan didn’t win as a Wizard. Gretzky never won again after leaving Edmonton. Messier eventually returned to a Ranger uniform and would guarantee a playoff berth but fail to deliver. None of the above mentioned names are anything short of incredible athletes that anyone would be lucky to be compared to. While we hoped Drury’s presence on the team would play out as it has in many a Cinderella stories throughout his life and career. It has not, plain and simple. Sometimes the name on the back of a jersey and the memories attached to that name can build a certain expectation. As we have learned in the past this is not a reliable method of predicting a team’s future (google a Rangers’ team that boasted the name Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros at the same time for reference).
I digress. The way to fix a problem isn’t to keep re-establishing the problem. It is to look at solutions. The name ringing in my ears while writing this post is not Drury. It is Callahan. After years of waiting, we are lucky enough to bode a strong homegrown team. I look back at some of those names from before and see a young Michael Jordan toting his first of many trophy for the Chicago bulls. I picture Sid “The Kid” Crosby lifting his first Stanley cup. I picture Jonathan Toews hoisting the cup over his head. I see a young pair of players named Gretzky and Messier hugging after their fourth consecutive championship victory. In more cases than not it came down to homegrown, youthful talent. Respectfully speaking, and with this seasons fragility in mind, I would be afraid Drury trying to lift Lord Stanley’s silver would put him out for the next season with a back issue. When Vinny Prospal returned, after 53 games missed, it was immediately announced that he would not be seeking the “A” for Alternate (or assistant) captain, back. He would forfeit this privilege and honor to a young, core teammate by the name of Marc Staal. Such an honorable move, from a true gentleman of sport is commendable. A true leader can spot that same quality in others and stand aside when needed. They also understand the importance of a true leader going into battle with you, not watching from the sideline. Imagine the revolutionary war had George Washington been calling shots from a press box.
I wish Chris Drury would prove me wrong. Fact is, it is time to pass the torch. Even Wayne Gretzky finished his career only lighting the lamp 9 times and missing the playoffs. Mind you, the “great one” did not wear a “C” as a Ranger except when Brian Leetch was injured. If someone like Wayne Gretzky who arguably saved the entire league single handedly did not command a “C” as a Ranger. Why does Drury? At over 7 million dollars a year and zero productivity, he is too expensive of a piece that we can’t put to use. Especially, when there is a player as dedicated and productive as Ryan Callahan on your team, a player that bleeds blue. He fights, scores, defends, and represents everything you are trying to instill in your youth. He is your captain. The letter on a jersey doesn’t matter. Accountability does. Oh Captain, Where art thou?
The Rangers just can’t seem to get a break with the injuries. As per Andrew Gross, captain Chris Drury will have surgery on his injured left knee, and will be out for at least six weeks. Drury has struggled all year, and has been playing with this nagging injury for a while. He had fluid drained last week, and will have this surgery to see if there is any more damage to his knee.
Also, because of the news, I posted over Chris’ post on supporting Marian Gaborik. Don’t forget to read it below.
The New York Rangers, per their official twitter account, announced today that Chris Drury won’t be making the road trip with the team, and that Erik Christensen will be returning to the lineup tomorrow. The reason for Drury’s absence is an apparent sore knee issue that has been going on for the past few weeks and got worse last night.
Also per the teams official twitter account there are a few quotes from coach John Tortorella about the Drury situation…
Torts on Drury: “He has had cranky knee and has progressively gotten worse…gone a few weeks & flared up last night”
Torts: “He’s played this game hard for a long time and I think it’s a little bit of wear and tear…and it’s just acting up on him now”
The level of skepticism surrounding the timing of the Drury news is high. I do not buy the injury as the real cause, but I look at it as an attempt to save face for the captain instead of making him a healthy scratch. I have no doubt that Drury has creaky knees at this point in his career, but the timing is too suspect for that to be the legitimate cause of the move.
Christensen’s return will mark his first game since he suffered a second degree MCL sprain December 29th in a contest against the Devils. The main issue with Christensen over the past few days, as Dave pointed out recently, was his conditioning, not the knee.
As a result of the changes in personnel and the ineffectiveness of certain combinations last night, the Rangers once again have new lines.
These lines do not strike me as the right combination either, but they probably will not last more than a period unless they work anyway, so does not matter all that much.
In other practice news Lundqvist stayed after practice to work on some things with MZA and Boyle.
Rangers captain Chris Drury has not produced enough to be deemed worthy of his $7.05 million cap hit the past two seasons. Signed by the Rangers in 2007, Drury put up numbers consistent with his career average in his first two years with the Rangers, with 58 points and 56 points. He played significant minutes at all points during the game, and couldn’t really be called a “bust” those two seasons*. It wasn’t until last season when the Rangers high priced center started to see his game disappear. His production was nearly cut in half, and his role diminished to that of a fourth line player. That same trend has continued this year, as Drury has no goals and just four points in 16 games this season.
*-Note that his numbers were consistent with what he had produced in his previous eight seasons. He’s not a “bust” if he produces at that clip.
Despite his lack of production, Drury still serves a purpose. He is a great captain, he kills penalties, he wins face-offs, and he blocks a ton of shots. That said, $7.05 million is a lot to pay for a player who plays ten minutes per game. Drury can’t be demoted due to his no-movement clause, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue. It would be a public relations nightmare to demote the captain of an NHL club. Trade is also impossible with that cap hit, even if his actual salary does drop to $5 million next season.
The only way the Rangers would be able to rid themselves of Drury is by buying him out. Buying out Drury during the summer of 2011 would result in a $3.7 million cap hit for the 2011-2012 season (saving the Rangers $3.35 million in cap space), and a $1.67 million cap hit for the 2012-2013 season, a season where Drury’s initial contract would have expired. The $3.35 million in cap space saved goes a long way, especially considering Wade Redden and his $6.5 million cap hit will be on the summer cap. During a summer when the Rangers will look to sign Brad Richards, every dollar in cap space is important.
Numbers aside, buying out Drury will cost the Rangers their best face-off guy, one of their best penalty killers, and their captain. It’s tough to replace that kind of role on the ice and in the locker room, and there is no guarantee that the Rangers will be successful in luring a top center to MSG next season. In the end, it’s a question about whether having Drury for one year at $7 million is better than having him for two years at $3.7 million and $1.67 million. It’s a tough call, and it’s hard to say if there’s a right answer.
Despite it being one player with marginal impact going down, the injury to Erik Christensen will give significant chance for players in vastly different situations for the next 4-6 weeks. The first and most obvious beneficiary is Dale Weise. Weise has proven over the last season and a half in the AHL that he has NHL talent both physically and skill wise. Scorer of 28 goals last year – on a losing Hartford side – the big winger came back after injury to return to scoring form for Connecticut this year. Having made an impressive NHL debut this year Weise will get regular NHL time for the next month or so and he deserves it. Weise brings the aforementioned size and aggression and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves or crash the net, qualities that will help ease any transition phase he may face in NY. However it is a big stage in Weise’s career. Once considered a marginal prospect Weise may cement his place in the line up or prove that he is merely an NHL fill-in. Indeed, Weise may be at a cross road given the forward depth and talent that is on its way over the next 12 months. However should he take his opportunity, get involved offensively and demand he be given ice time Weise may become a cheap and permanent fixture in the bottom six. It’s up to him Weise to make himself irreplaceable.
The second player with the increased opportunity is Mats Zuccarello. The little Norwegian has had a relatively solid start to life in the NHL but his ice time was likely to be carefully managed while he acclimatised to the big league but with a skilled forward now out of the line up Zuccarello becomes even more critical. Likely the only forward that offers the same shootout skill that Christensen could and given his much publicised talent the Norwegian winger will likely get thrust into a prominent role immediately. It will be interesting to see how the winger responds and whether he can do so consistently at this stage of his career already. With Callahan and Christensen out and Prospal yet to return Zuccarello, like Weise, has an opportunity to cement a spot in the line up but in this case a more prominent one. Tortorella has recently admitted the need to infuse the roster with more natural talent and he noted the little winger as the source of the desired skill. With plenty of minutes on offer if the winger can be an offensive contributor then he likely has a spot to keep. Unlike Weise however Zuccarello can play with no risk on his part. He knows there’s significant investment on the Rangers part in him and he also knows the Rangers need his talent level. His worst case scenario is more time in Connecticut before a full time call up. Zuccarello doesn’t face any cross roads like Weise may be.
The last player with significant opportunity is Chris Drury. Unlike the two prospects the captain isn’t fighting for his job but is fighting for increased significance. Having looked good at both ends since his return from injury goals have still eluded the veteran center while with Christensen’s absence it’s means a top 6 center spot is vacant. With Drury’s (much needed) skill in the face off circle and a spot at center ice in the top six likely open it could be Drury’s to take. This may also be Drury’s last chance to claim a regular scoring role in the NHL. With his offensive skills in decline and already considered a special teams and defensive leader, Drury will try to use any additional ice time to show he can still be a scorer like his days in Buffalo/ While the Rangers captain faces a different challenge to the two prospects Drury also faces a huge 4-6 week period in his illustrious career.