Today, we’re going to take a break from CBA talk and look down the road to training camp and beyond. Call me hopeful, but this suit thinks the NHL will play a partial season. With this in mind, perhaps no other aspect of a training camp, preseason, or regular season roster is more critiqued & analyzed by fans than line combinations, especially how Torts generates line combos.
Creating line combos is everyone’s chance to play armchair coach. It doesn’t matter what team you follow or which coach stands behind your bench. Every fan wants to dream up lines and see them produce. For the Rangers, this will be the first time John Tortorella will have a top 6 that won’t be a revolving door.
In his first few seasons as coach, Torts lacked a top flight center. As a result, Torts was left to choose from average Joes for the first line such as Erik Christensen, Ollie Jokinen and Brandon Dubinsky, to name a few. Once Brad Richards came aboard and Derek Stepan emerged, the Rangers center position stabilized. Of course, then they lacked a premiere scorer on the left side of the ice. From 2009-2011, guys best suited for bottom 6 minutes like Avery, Fedotenko, Chris Higgins and Wojtek Wolski all had stints in a top 6 role.
With a 2013 season hopefully around the corner, Torts could finally have balanced scoring throughout the lineup. Here’s an early look at what opening night line combinations could look like…
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In part 1 of this series, Dave reviewed some of his predictions for the 2011-12 season. Today it is my turn to call myself out on what I got wrong and what predictions actually panned out. While I won’t grade every single forecast I’ve made over the past year or so, there are a few points worth analyzing in retrospect.
First, I’ll start with a few that blew up in my face.
Um wrong, wrong and wrong again.
With Staal out for most of last season – and not playing at 100% thereafter – Dan Girardi stepped up in a major way. He was one of the best defensive defensemen in the league and even chipped in almost 30 points on offense. It is not easy to get up ice and make plays after throwing hits and blocking shots the way he does. This is just one of those predictions that I am happy I got wrong.
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Assuming an NHL season begins at some stage this year the Rangers and the entire league will need to get back to work and get ready in double quick time. Camps will be abbreviated, preseason games likely minimal. Players might not be at 100% to begin the shortened season and depth could severely be tested.
It’s the combination of these troubling reasons why many clubs may look for external, short term help in positions of need and in the Rangers case they made need to add a defenseman with legitimate NHL ability. Enter a guy like Paul Ranger.
Once a promising (albeit flawed) defenseman with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ranger has begun a comeback with the Toronto Marlies after an extended break from hockey. And to begin with he’s doing very well. Of course, the Rangers may well turn to Matt Gilroy whose own comeback – of a different kind – isn’t going badly either. However, much has been made of Rangers impressive fitness upon his return and a +7 rating, 6 points in 12 games and impressive size (6’3, 200+ lbs) make him an intriguing option. Oh, and he’s on an AHL only deal with the Marlies so could be tempted with an NHL contract too.
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It truly is the low point of the off season. The Rangers are quiet, at least publicly, and attention around the league is primarily focussed on the CBA talks. There are still a few things we can talk about though so welcome to another musings. Jump on in.
The Hockey News wrote an article recently on why the North West division is the league’s worst. It got me thinking again about the Atlantic. It is comfortably the best in the league in my humble opinion. It’s full of depth, big market teams and is stacked with superstar, marquee names including the division worst Islanders if you respect John Tavares’ ability like I do. Given how tough the Atlantic is it really puts the Rangers’ last season performance in greater context.
Just to recap on the Anton Stralman contract; he recently signed a 2 year $3.4m contract. While I think he has a fair bit of room for improvement when you look at what other defensemen signed for this summer, its good value for a player that got better as the year progressed and who is still very young. Stralman could realistically be a 30 point player for the Rangers and if he hits that number then $1.7m/year is a bargain.
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Oh where to start with this one…. Alexander Semin is known to be soft, he has an awful reputation for disappearing when a season matters most and he’s outstayed his welcome in Washington on a team that collectively has (massively) underachieved. Despite all this, there is a lot to like about Semin as a potential free agent target.
Barring a generous contract offer from the KHL, or an offer from one of the NHL’s lottery teams desperate for a quick fix, Semin is highly unlikely to get the same kind of money he earned this season ($6m) this summer. If Semin wants to play for a team with playoff/Cup aspirations, he will certainly need to keep his demands relatively modest.
Semin has a wicked shot and is a pure goal scorer who has proven he can be a point/game player in the NHL. There are not many of those to be had on the cheap. He can produce offensive on his own, something that he had to do a lot of in Washington because for most of his tenure the Caps lacked a skilled second line center to take advantage of Semin’s ability. Alex Ovechkin (rightly so) was the main beneficiary of Nicklas Backstrom’s playmaking abilities leaving Semin to play with the likes of Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson, and aging veterans such as Jason Arnott and Brendan Morrison.
There are several legitimate reasons to consider Semin as an option for the Rangers.
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Goaltending this season was a huge factor in both the Rangers regular season and postseason success. The tandem of Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron finished third in the league in goals against during the regular season, behind only the notoriously stingy St. Louis Blues and LA Kings.
In addition to the goalie report cards, I’m also going to break down management. John Tortorella, Mike Sullivan and Glen Sather have their fingerprints all over this team, so we’ll also take a look at how they performed this season. Let’s get to it…
- Honestly, at this point, what is there to say about The King that hasn’t already been said? The presumptive Vezina winner and Hart nominee had an absolutely dominant regular season and a Stanley Cup worthy post-season. His biggest problem was that the Rangers couldn’t score.
- Although Hank has always been in the conversation of the league’s elite netminders, this season he cemented himself firmly at the top, along with Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne. I’ll entertain arguments for any of those guys as the top tender, but for my money, no one can dethrone The King right now.
- With a final line of: 39 wins, 1.97 GAA and .930 SV (top 3 in the NHL in each), Lundqvist was the backbone of the Blueshirts yet again.
- Mid-season grade: A+/Full season grade: A/Playoffs: A
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Brendan Shanahan may have done the Rangers a huge favour by suspending Brandon Prust for game four. In the past few years no team has better utilized an ‘us against the world’ mentality better than the NFL’s New York Giants. Consistently written off by the media, the Giants used that apparent lack of respect and turned it into a huge motivating factor that helped win two Superbowls. They played with a chip on their shoulders.
In many ways the blatant inconsistencies so evident in the NHL’s disciplinary this post season and grievances the Rangers have had throughout the playoffs can be used the same way the Giants used the lack of respect to strive for success. The Rangers; such a close knit, team-first-individual-second kind of team will use the absence of Prust the right way. They won’t be crying over the suspension.
Coach Tortorella has been more than vocal in his disdain for the way Brendan ‘losing league-wide respect by the second’ Shanahan has ruled over his players and the way the NHL’s VP of player safety so often hasn’t ruled against others.
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John Tortorella wanted him, Glen Sather wanted him and the vast majority of the Rangers universe (media and fans) acknowledged he was exactly what this team needed last summer. Now, Brad Richards is proving the supporters right and the few (misinformed) doubters very much wrong.
Richards has been far from perfect in his first year on Broadway. Scott Gomez even outscored him when comparing debut regular seasons; but there is no doubting Richards’ impact on a young Rangers team in his first year. He’s every bit the leader that was hoped for.
Clutch: Richards has come up big all year long as his nine regular season game winners show. He’s leading the team in scoring in the post season and is making crucial plays all over the ice. In the triple overtime win it was his feed that set up the Gaborik winner. It was Richards who came up big in game five with the goal and in the same game check the video for number 19 back checking and breaking up plays in his own zone. Richards, in short, is a leader for the Rangers and right now he’s absolutely earning his large and long contract.
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We here at BSB are big fans of John Tortorella. Sure, he’s curt with the media, but we aren’t media, so we really don’t care what he says in interviews. We are more concerned with his on ice decisions, his roster decisions, and how he handles the locker room. This brilliant move covers the third aspect, and it is directly related to Chris Kreider.
Elliotte Friedman of CBC pointed out –during his weekly 30 Thoughts column– that Torts approached the team about the Kreider signing:
Tortorella asked the team to trust the organization’s decision to bring in Chris Kreider so late in the season, knowing it could upset chemistry.
It was likely a short discussion, but it was one of those necessary discussions. The Rangers won 50 games without Kreider, so why would they risk bringing him in for the playoffs? The Rangers were the top seed, and did it all through hard work and playing for each other. What if Kreider didn’t fit in with that mentality? It was a big risk.
Tortorella asked for trust. They gave it to him. Kreider rewarded him.
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Looks like someone other than Henrik Lundqvist is a finalist for one of the year end NHL awards. Coach John Tortorella was named a Jack Adams finalist for best coach. The other finalists are Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues and Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators.
Hitchcock took over an under .500 St. Louis squad 13 games into the season and turned them into the second seed in the West and a team that contended for the President’s Trophy. The Blues were 42-15-11 under Hitchcock, and 6-7-0 prior to his arrival.
MacLean took an Ottawa Senators team that was supposed to be a lottery pick team to the playoffs. Their finish was 18 points better than the previous year, and MacLean is of the Tortorella mold, in that he gets everything out of his players.
As for Tortorella, he had to deal with significant injuries to two of his top four defensemen, a four country road trip through Europe, and a west coast swing to start the season. The Rangers couldn’t play at home until the end of October. Anyone that watched 24/7 knows that the Rangers will go through a wall for Tortorella.
If I had to make a prediction, Hitchcock wins the award, followed by Torts, and MacLean finishing third. Hitchcock did wonders with St. Louis, and it’s a testament to his coaching style that turned the Blues season around.