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Posts tagged: Erik Christensen

The Inevitable Question: What Happens To The Fourth Line If Wolski Returns?

When news broke of the new lines, specifically with Wojtek Wolski out with an injury, and Erik Christensen centering Mike Rupp and Mats Zuccarello, the outside question was about what would happen should Wolski return. Wolski won’t be out forever, and he is certainly an upgrade over Christensen, but they do not play the same position. In fact, none on that fourth line are true centers, only Rupp has played the position to any success.

For the sake of this post, let’s hope that the top three lines click and don’t need any tinkering. Now that that’s out of the way, we can look at the four players who would compete for the three spots in the lineup, of which three are considered to be wingers. The one center –Christensen– is likely to be the one scratched should Wolski return to the lineup. This is what we would call an interesting situation.

Last season, Christensen won 49.4% of his face offs (over 600 taken). That’s not all that great, and certainly not a reason to keep him in the lineup. As for Rupp, he won 50.6% of his face offs, but only took 162 (82 won) last year. His past years with the Penguins and Devils don’t help much either, as his numbers fluctuated from poor (44%) to decent (51%), but he never took more than 160 in a season. It’s tough to say how well he would do with full time center duties, but he’s an under 50% career in the circle.

In a pinch, Rupp could fake it as a center, but Christensen is really the only true center among those four. It’s interesting to note that Kris Newbury is pretty good with face offs (60% last year, small sample size), and he would likely be the first call up for injury.

There is always going to be the talk of trades, but it’s too early in the season for that. Plus, you never know what happens with injuries. Ryan Callahan is good for an injury a season with the way he plays, so having bodies around isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Generally, someone plays their way out of the lineup, so this “problem” may solve itself in time.

Keeping Erik Christensen Was The Right Move

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past year, then you know that I am not a fan of Erik Christensen. I think he has tremendous skill, but is maddeningly inconsistent to the point where his value diminishes. His play frustrates me so much because he just seems so lackadaisical when he doesn’t have the puck, especially in his own end. That said, in the battle between him and Sean Avery, while my gut said Avery, my brain says that keeping Christensen was the right move.

The first reason here is the salary: Christensen simply makes less money, and the $1 million difference will go a long way to patching some holes in this lineup to make a playoff run. For a player who is likely going to be a healthy scratch for 40 games, there was no point in keeping Avery and his $1.9 million salary. Christensen’s $925k salary is an easier pill to swallow from the press box.

Avery, while popular with the fans, lost his touch. He is no longer the 15 goal guy, and he no longer agitates opponents regularly. There is no one to blame here but Avery himself, and any finger pointing to John Tortorella is unjust, because Avery has been given his fair share of opportunities. Yes, he is a blue collar guy, but he just can’t do what he used to do. He scored three goals last year. Three.

The general argument for keeping Avery is that he draws penalties. Looking deeper into this stat, it was true at one point, but simply is not true anymore. Luckily, the guys at Behind The Net keep track of such statistics, so there’s the ability to use numbers to defend this argument. In the table below, we see Avery’s penalties taken per 60 minutes (PTake/60) and his penalties drawn per 60 minutes (PDrawn/60). The numbers don’t lie.

Season PTake/60 PDrawn/60
2010-2011

1.3

1.4

2009-2010

1.8

1.9

2008-2009

1.7

2.7

2007-2008

1.3

2.5

As the table shows, Avery has been drawing just .1 more penalties for each one taken in the past two years. Simply put, Avery draws 11 penalties for every 10 he takes. That is not a good enough reason to keep him around. When Avery was the most effective, he was drawing one extra penalty for each one he took (2007-2008, 2008-2009). Regardless of what you want to say about phantom calls and swallowing the whistle when it comes to Avery, the fact is that he is not as effective as he used to be, whether by his fault or by others.

Even GVT and PVT work against Avery here. Christensen had a 5.4 GVT (1.8 PVT) last season, while Avery had a 2.5 GVT (.833 PVT). By those numbers, having Christensen with the team will give the Rangers an extra point in the standings at the end of the season. The numbers tell the story: Christensen was the right person to keep.

Ryan Bourque: A Ranger in 2011?

Amid all the players battling for a roster spot this September one player that could surprise Rangers fans might be Ryan Bourque but what do the Rangers have at their disposal in the Hall of Famer’s son? Bourque could be a great option for the bottom six given his brand of hockey and could be one to look out for.

Bourque’s style fits well with the way the Rangers played last season but he needs to stay healthy. When Bourque did play he contributed offensively grabbing 59 points in 49 games for the Remparts in the QMJHL last season.  However it’s the way he plays the game that could give Ray Bourque’s son a chance to break the roster straight away.

While guys like Christian Thomas are being (rightfully) touted as dark horses to crack the line up there doesn’t seem an ideal fit given the competition and an offensive player like Thomas needs top 6 minutes which doesn’t seem likely. Bourque however, can play a bottom six role, help establish a forecheck and provide a bit of offensive on occasion too.

Bourque may be a good option on Brian Boyle’s line if Tortorella decides to break up the Fedotenko –Boyle – Prust trio. Replacing Fedotenko with Bourque gives the line more speed, more offensive upside and in turn Boyle and Prust can help protect the smallish rookie winger. It seems a win-win scenario.  However, is Bourque ready for prime time hockey in his first season as a pro?

Every time Bourque has stepped up a level he has seemingly succeeded. Having played effectively for US U-18 squads, Bourque played two solid years as a Quebec Rempart. During that time Bourque played for the US WJC team twice where his role was more of a defensive one. He played effectively in a checking role playing a key role in helping the US team earn gold in 2010 proving he can adapt to a different role as well as handle elite competition.

Are there roster spots up for grabs? There may not be a spot to have, depending on how secure you think Sean Avery, Wojtek Wolski and Erik Christensen are on the current roster. If one or two of them can be outplayed then a rookie like Bourque can make it with a strong camp. Indeed, if Wolski and Christensen aren’t deemed worthy of top 6 spots then Bourque is a better fit on the lower lines anyway.

In recent times the Rangers have given chances to players if they have earned them. Mike Sauer forced the Rangers to keep him on the roster last season and Derek Stepan bypassed the minors thanks to an impressive display of skill and maturity. Starting in Traverse City where he’ll need to have a strong showing Bourque isn’t without hope to crack the Rangers line up and he’d be a good story to follow if he makes it.

Christensen, Zuccarello Or Wolski?

Early yesterday, the guys at CapGeek tweeted that the Rangers have $527,000 in bonuses on this year’s cap, which is essentially an extra player at the league minimum.  With that, the Rangers have roughly $10.6 million in salary cap space to work with before they hit the $64.3 million salary cap ceiling.  There are a few kinks to work out, but the Rangers clearly have a logjam at forward.  When looking at the 14 forwards listed on CapGeek, there are three names that jump out at me as “a spare forward” for this season: Erik Christensen, Wojtek Wolski, and Mats Zuccarello.

Before you get all up in arms about listing Zuccarello there, read on, it will make sense.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Rangers need to dump a forward by either trade, buyout, or demotion.  Competition is good, especially for bottom six guys, but 14 forwards (including Dubinsky and Callahan) is just too many.  Sean Avery and his $1.9 million cap hit is untradeable, so that really eliminates the idea of moving him.  That really just leaves the trio mentioned above, and one of them is going to have to go.

Starting with Zuccarello, the simplest solution is to send him to the minors, where his $1.75 million cap hit is off the books.  That becomes a wash with the Erixon or Del Zotto contract, plus gives the Rangers extra room to add that seventh defenseman at around $1 million.  When all  is said and done in this scenario, the Rangers have 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and a little more than $1 million in cap space.

Moving on to Wolski and his $3.8 million salary ($466,667 and $667, 667  buyout price), he is the biggest enigma on this current Rangers team.  Wolski clearly has skill, but it’s just unfortunate that he picks and chooses when he wants to show it.  I truly believe he can shine on a line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.  However, that is a lot of maybes to stick with someone making $3.8 million.  Especially when his buyout comes at 1/3 the price, not 2/3 the price.

Finally there’s Christensen, it’s easier to see why he would stick around, as his salary is 1/3 of Wolski’s and a little more than half of Zuccarello’s at $925,000.  My feelings on Christensen aside, I think that at his skill set and his price are a good fit for the fourth line on this club.  He is also extremely maddening to watch, but he wouldn’t be given a top line role with Richards in the fold.  I think he stays at this point.

So the Rangers have a choice to make between now and October 1, and it’s not an easy choice.  Much of this will depend on the final cap numbers for Dubinsky and Callahan, so don’t expect any decision on this front soon.  The only thing we can infer is that the Rangers will be sending one of Zuccarello, Wolski, or Christensen away.  I’d have to assume that Zuccarello starts the year in the AHL, and is the first call up for injury replacement.

Stay Or Go: Erik Christensen

To say Erik Christensen is inconsistent would be the understatement of the year.  Christensen has a lot of skill, but he only showcases it about half the time.  It is incredibly aggravating to see someone with that much skill just coast through some games.  Acquired last season via the waiver wire, Christensen has dazzled at times, and disappointed at times.  When he dazzles, he does more than just wow you.  The kid has some serious skill, and if he could ever put it all together, he would be a great player.  This led to the belief by many that he should be centering the first line.  I have always believed that a team relying on Erik Christensen to be their top center is a team destined to disappoint.  I am not that far off.

In 112 games since he joined the Rangers, Christensen has 19 goals and 34 assists, for a total of 53 points.  To put it in perspective, that is roughly a 40 point per season average for Christensen.  Not too shabby, especially for a guy with a $925,000 cap hit through next season.  For that level of production, especially if it comes from the fourth line, it is a great deal.  Don’t get me wrong, although I do not like Christensen’s game, I do think he serves a purpose as a bottom-six player and a shootout threat.

The problem with Christensen, as mentioned above, is his inconsistency.  Out of his 27 points this season, 10 of them came in five games (2/25 @ WAS, four games from 3/12-3/20).  That’s almost a third of his points in five games.  That is not good enough for a first line player*.  Considering his defense doesn’t compensate for his inconsistencies (just a 1.4 DGVT last season), he doesn’t offer much while on the ice.  Simply put, if you aren’t producing, you can’t play defense, and you don’t win faceoffs (49.4%), then you don’t deserve a lot of ice time. 

*-I know the Marian Gaborik argument is going to get brought up, so let me just say that Gaborik is 100x the player that Christensen is.  The 2010-2011 year was an off-year for Gaborik.  The 2010-2011 year for Christensen was the norm.  There is a big difference there.

In the end, Christensen’s contract likely saves his future with the Rangers.  He is signed for another year at under $1 million, which makes him affordable as a bottom-six guy.  He brings an added element to the shootout, as he is almost automatic in the skills competition.  Arguments can be made to keep him, arguments can be made to dump him for a draft pick.  Personally, I think Christensen stays for the rest of his deal, unless he is included in a trade package –he has no trade value on his own– for a roster upgrade.  I highly doubt the Rangers keep him after next season though.

Christensen, Anisimov Switch Spots

As per Andrew Gross, John Tortorella switched up his first and fourth lines, swapping Artem Anisimov and Erik Christensen. Anisimov is now centering the fourth line between Chris Drury and Sean Avery/Mats Zuccarello, and Christensen is centering the first line with Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik. When asked about the switch, Torts was very candid, saying that he is not putting Christensen on the first line for his defensive prowess, and that they a unit that will need to generate offense.

The move isn’t unexpected –my feelings about Christensen as a first liner aside– and this line has shown that they can generate offense. The Rangers were simply shut down on Wednesday, and they need to find a way to both break through the Caps defense, and match their physicality. Hopefully this new lineup will generate more offense from the primary scorers.

The other two lines remained intact. The lines we are looking at for tonight’s game:

Vinny Prospal-Erik Christensen-Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky-Derek Stepan-Ruslan Fedotenko
Wojtek Wolski-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust
Chris Drury-Artem Anisimov-Sean Avery/Mats Zuccarello

Christensen and Wolski Playing for their Careers?

Wojtek Wolski and Erik Christensen are playing for their Rangers careers in the upcoming playoff series against Washington; that is without doubt. What is in doubt is how that pressure will manifest itself throughout the series. Both players have an abundance of talent, something the Rangers as a team haven’t enough of.  However both players have been underwhelming as Rangers and regular visitors to the press box because of their play. The Rangers’ season can be categorised as a success whether they get past the Caps or not, but for some players their futures may rest on whether they produce against the Caps.

Barring an outstanding trade offer, players such as Gaborik will be around next year even if they fail to perform, the contract and skill dictates that. However Wolski and Christensen are far from certain of roster spots next year. With prospects such as Carl Hagelin signed and coming to camp, Evgeny Grachev and Dale Weise expected to challenge for roster spots and the likely presence of successful juniors such as Christian Thomas in training camp Christensen and Wolski are anything but assured a Rangers jersey next season. Competition will likely be fierce in camp once again. This is also not accounting for a full time return of Chris Drury (let’s face it; more likely to return than not) and the elephant in the room, free agents such as Brad Richards. The point is this; Wolski and Christensen are under pressure. They face being casualties of the next stage of the roster make-over after this season if they do not make themselves irreplaceable in the playoffs. This is their audition.

It will be interesting to see how the pressure on these ‘fringe’ players plays out. It could go either way. It could force them to up their games (we’ve seen how Christensen CAN play after scratches) or it could make them play timid, cautious and error prone hockey. If they play like the latter it’s very possible one or even both of them are not Rangers next season. Wolski’s cap hit in particular could be spent elsewhere. So while the Rangers look to build on their good year and look to get in to round 2, some players are just playing for their careers – an interesting sub plot to watch.

 

Rangers Top Line Hot At Right Time

With yesterday’s win over the Penguins, the Rangers made it four wins in a row, and wins in six of their last seven games. While the entire Rangers team has been producing during this run, the top line of Vinny Prospal-Erik Christensen-Marian Gaborik has been one of the teams top scoring lines. Gaborik has five goals and an assist in this time frame, Prospal has two goals and seven assists, and Christensen has two goals and four assists. That’s a total of nine goals and 12 assists for the top line during this run. The fact that this coincides with the Rangers winning streak is no coincidence.

The Rangers have had secondary scoring from their bottom three lines all season, with Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Brian Boyle all over 20 goals; and Derek Stepan (19) and Artem Anisimov (18) both within striking distance. What had been missing from the Rangers is the primary scoring, which is what they are getting in abundance right now. With the top line producing in ways we haven’t seen all season, the rest of the team benefits.

Marian Gaborik will always command top defensive pairings against, but his off-year has led to coaches shifting those top pairings to the Dubinsky-Ansimov-Callahan line. That shift led to a drop-off in production for that line. Now with Gaborik and Prospal producing top line numbers again, coaches once again have to shift their top defenders to face Gaborik. This means lesser quality defensemen for the Pack line. This means more opportunities from the Pack line, and more goals.

What also may be lost in the streak here is that the Rangers are finally starting to convert powerplay opportunities. Of the 21 points for the top line, ten of them have been on the powerplay, including four of the nine goals. Powerplay production sets apart the good from the great, especially in the playoffs. The addition of Bryan McCabe may not have a direct impact on the score sheet, but it is definitely spreading out the opposition’s penalty kill, and leading to more opportunities down low for the forwards, which they are converting.

Assuming the Rangers top line can continue scoring at least a goal per game, and continue with at least a 20% efficiency (8 for their last 23), then the Rangers are going to be a force to be reckoned with come April and May. They may not have enough to make a deep run, but they can definitely play spoiler in the first round, whoever they face.

Chemistry Is a Fickle Beast

My criticisms of Erik Christensen are well documented. I stand by my statements, that if he is the Rangers top line center, then this team will not be successful. Skilled as he is, he simply has not been consistent enough to warrant a top line spot on this roster. However, for whatever reason it is, he is the glue on the Marian Gaborik-Vinny Prospal line that makes the two leading scorers from last year stick.

It’s a good thing that Christensen seems to get both Prospal and Gaborik going, because the other three lines on the Rangers are not only good, but they have great chemistry. As important as Gaborik’s success is to the success of the Rangers, it was not worth the sacrifice of breaking up the other lines to try and jump start the Slovakian star. It’s something that can’t be explained, but Christensen seems to work with Prospal and Gaborik, which makes the Rangers a dangerous team if the make the playoffs.

A Prospal-Christensen-Gaborik line that generates a goal a game will draw top defenders to it. That leaves second tier defenseman for the Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Callahan line, and third tier defensemen for the Wojtek Wolski-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello line. As those lines face lesser quality defensemen, they will start generating their own scoring chances. The Rangers depth is incredible, and for the first time this season, seem to be getting primary scoring from the Gaborik line in addition to their secondary and tertiary scoring.

The primary scoring, when combined with depth, great defense, and Henrik Lundqvist, makes the Rangers a force to be reckoned with come playoff time. Sure, the Rangers might not be able to match up with the Flyers just yet, but any team with The King in net makes them a dangerous squad. Washington learned that a few years ago. If the Rangers get clicking on all cylinders, they can make a deep run. However, that depends on the chemistry between Christensen, Prospal, and Gaborik, and if it lasts through April/May.

Is Christensen’s time as a Ranger over?

His skill set is as sublime as Tortorella’s patience with his play infuriating. However, as the Rangers faced off with the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon Erik Christensen found himself as a healthy scratch. Finally, some (many?) Rangers’ fans would say. The talented, headshot pivot has 9 goals and 20 points in 50 games this season which for a player of his talent level is far, far too little. When you consider the fact the centerman has often played top line minutes as well as plenty of powerplay time it’s even less bang for your buck. Christensen doesn’t cost much and his skill makes him a great weapon for the shootout and it’s those reasons why the Rangers should actively shop him after the season. He still does enough to make you expect more – and make him tempting.

The Rangers have plenty of forward talent that should be entering the pro ranks sooner rather than later. Then there’s the summer of Brad (which cannot be discounted) so the Rangers should be wise enough to get a draft pick back and move his million(ish) salary off the books. Even if he gets back in to the line up and makes an impact during the remainder of the year (we’ve been waiting for that ‘impact’ since he arrived) the Rangers shouldn’t be seduced any longer. Sunday’s healthy scratch may be the first sign that the love affair with EC is coming to an end. Here’s hoping he can help the Rangers one final (or is that first?) time – fetch a decent return in the summer. See ya’ Erik.