Training camp is here, the hockey world is back full time and the Rangers have what appears to be a significant amount of questions as they enter first camp under Alain Vigneault. Let’s hit the musings to open the season.
Derek Stepan: Over his first three years in the league he outscored highly rated youngsters such as Jeff Skinner and Evander Kane. He deserves a significant pay rise; it’s a lot harder to produce in a market such as New York than outposts such as Carolina or Winnipeg. That said, I’m in Sather’s corner; you do not give up your strong negotiating position. However, there has to be a comprise. Stepan is a smart kid; he should not risk his immediate future by missing camp.
Johan Hedberg – he should be cheap, knows the division but indirectly he is a huge acknowledgement by the organisation that – as is the case with Biron’s current situation – if the organisation loses Lundqvist or Biron then there is a huge vacuum of talent at the goaltending position. No one internally is anywhere near the NHL level.
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A goaltender actually worth his salary: The King
Corey Crawford got $6m per year long term? I think it’s clear at this stage that Henrik Lundqvist is going to get a serious pay rise. Some goaltenders are products of great teams (Crawford, a good but not great goalie may be exhibit A here) and some are great goaltenders who make teams better – a la Lundqvist. Unless he signs a team friendly deal Lundqvist will easily walk away as an 8m player.
Traverse City I: My intrigue is squarely focussed on Danny Kristo and Oscar Lindberg. Really need to see these guys dominate at this level. They’ll need to if they think they stand a chance at getting immediate shots at the NHL level.
Traverse City II: It will also be very important to see guys such as Conor Allen and Tommy Hughes and how these guys cope with the step up in competition. The Rangers need to start bringing through the next wave of defensive prospects when you consider the potentially uncertain futures of Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman. Without being able to get their hands on college guys such as Brady Skjei it’s important that the Rangers can develop players themselves.
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Can Staal get back to his dominant old self?
It’s hard to count on a player that hasn’t played a full season since 2010. It’s hard to rely on a player that has been told he’ll never truly be 100% again. It’s also hard to know where to begin with a player who has seen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi (by necessity) pass him on the depth chart. Marc Staal is a luxury. It’s this fact that should make Rangers fans giddy with excitement.
In the 2012/13 regular season the Rangers were 11th overall in goals against despite just half a season from Staal, an underwhelming season from Girardi, a yo-yo like year from Del Zotto, all the while incorporating John Moore into the line-up and enduring re-treads such as Roman Hamrlik. In short, the Rangers defense was in a giant state of flux last season and they still were around the top third in the league.
The season before, Staal again only played approximately half the year and the Rangers were second in the league defensively. A lot has to do with John Tortorella’s system but also the players at his disposal. If the Rangers can count on Marc Staal playing twenty minutes plus per game the Rangers will possess a dominant defense this year, especially if Alain Vigneault’s approach generates more puck possession. If Staal is back close to full strength the Rangers may have the best top four defense in the league.
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Marc has never said a word about joining his brothers in Carolina
Ever since Jordan Staal turned down a 10-year, $60 million contract extension from Pittsburgh last June, leading to a blockbuster draft day trade to the Hurricanes, Rangers fans have been panicked about Marc Staal’s desire to join his three brothers in Carolina.
Marc himself has never given us any reason to believe he’s anything but thrilled to be playing in New York, but it’s of course not a giant leap to think the four Staal brothers have discussed playing together.
With Marc set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2015, many nervous Rangers fans have suggested that GM Glen Sather phone Carolina GM Jim Rutherford and see what he can get for Marc now, well in advance of the end of Marc’s contract, before his trade value depreciates.
There are a couple of problems with this:
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Rick Nash and Marc Staal were 2 of 47 invited to Canadian Olympic camp, as Canada looks to form their team from this group. Nash was on the 2006 and 2010 rosters, but Staal was left off the 2010 roster after receiving an invite. Dan Girardi was notably absent from the list, but there are a lot of big names there.
Is Ballard worth the risk?
With the NHL draft behind us, the attention turns to the free agency period beginning on July 5th. In the mean time, teams begin to offload salary and make roster changes in anticipation of auction season. One of the moves that has already been made has seen Vancouver place Keith Ballard on waivers (regular waives, not buyout waivers). While the Rangers have already attempted to add blueline depth by adding Justin Falk, the Rangers could consider taking a risk on Keith Ballard.
Ballard has been a marginal player for the Canucks despite having a cap numbing $4.2m cap hit. His contract doesn’t come off the books until after the 2014/15 season. That said, Ballard is only 30, can skate well and is a solid player at both ends of the rink when he’s on his game. Much of the decision here depends on the organization’s intentions with Michael Del Zotto (once again thrown into the rumour mill by Brooks) and the health of Marc Staal. With Mike Sauer no longer in contention, the Rangers would really solidify their blueline if Ballard would pan out.
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Defense was a hallmark of the 2011-2012 New York Rangers. It was arguably the key ingredient in their run to the Eastern Conference Finals. They had an unwavering commitment to shot-blocking and solid play in their own end. Even without a ton of roster turnover, the unit was not as proficient as they were last season, but still had a solid campaign overall. Let’s look at the individual contributions of each blue liner…
McDonagh experienced a slight drop off from his 2011-2012 form, but overall showed off a much more well-rounded game. Although his point totals remained very similar to last season, he showed an increased willingness to jump up into the play and be more involved in the offense. He still plays a top-notch, shutdown defensive game and can eat workhorse minutes. As his offensive game improves, he could develop into a Norris level defenseman. Let’s not forget, he’s only 24. A-
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The Rangers were able to keep their season going/salvage some dignity last night with a dramatic OT win over the Bruins at MSG. My sister-in-law, who is an ER nurse, was working last night and catching bits and pieces of the game on a hospital TV. Between the third period and OT, she posted on Facebook, “Ok Rangers, I kept my patient alive, you can keep this game alive!”. It was a nice microcosm of the attitude of Ranger fandom, and her defiant faith was rewarded. The Blueshirts still have quite the task ahead, but as they say, “one game at a time”. Since we are heading back to Boston tomorrow, I thought I’d share some thoughts about the game and series in general…
- Henrik Lundqvist was stellar again last night. The funny thing about The King in this series is that he gets blasted for Game 2 (simply due to the number of goals allowed), but I thought he was hung out to dry big time in that game. For me, if the Rangers fall say, one game short, the missed opportunity will have been Game 1. Both of the regulation goals in that game were stoppable, and the complexion of this series could have been very different going to New York.
- As Ranger fans, we tend to focus on our team’s shortcomings in the event of failure. Let’s not forget in this instance, the Boston Bruins are a very good team. They can roll four lines for 60 minutes and have plenty of system depth. We didn’t have a Torey Krug or Matt Bartkowski to slot into the lineup when Marc Staal got hurt. Many fans are going to lament the teams goal scoring woes, and seek to bolster the offense in the offseason, but I think quality depth is the number one priority at this stage. Read more »
Something that was very obvious during yesterday’s loss was that the Rangers defense had a lot of trouble matching up and shutting down the Bruins forwards. Prior to the series, coach John Tortorella swapped his defense pairings to prepare for a much deeper Bruins club. In doing so, he split up Dan Girardi/Ryan McDonagh, and put Girardi with Michael Del Zotto.
Let’s be clear about one thing, Del Zotto is a top-four defenseman in this league. He’s a top-50 guy, which puts him in the upper echelon of second pairing defensemen. He’s not perfect, he’s not going to do well against the top scorers in the league, but he will be able to hold his own. That said, the pairing of Del Zotto/Girardi has never worked. It didn’t work two years ago, it didn’t work last year, it won’t work this year.
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Per Pat Leonard, Marc Staal, Ryane Clowe, and Darroll Powe are all out for tonight’s Game Seven in Washington. Powe and Clowe didn’t even travel with the team for the game tonight. With these three out, expect the same lineup as Game Six. It’s worth noting that the Rangers have not dressed their top lineup at all during the postseason.