Posts tagged: Mats Zuccarello

Rangers midseason grades: The top-six forwards

Derek Stepan is one of several players that need to be better

Derek Stepan is one of several players that need to be better

The Rangers have struggled to score consistently all season. Successful teams get the bulk of their scoring from their top six forwards, but no Ranger forward has covered himself in glory this season. Before going on to look at the individual grades at the halfway mark consider this: Mats Zuccarello is leading this team in scoring – a team designed to win the Cup – and is 71st in scoring in the league at time of writing.

Rick Nash

Offensively this team will live or die on Rick Nash’s production. As of Wednesday night, 156(!) players had scored more goals than Rick Nash (7 goals, 16 points in 24 games). While his injuries are unfortunate, the peripheral play, extended droughts, and lack of dominance from a player with Nash’s skill and size are a concern. Nash is making $7.8 million and is the team’s most gifted forward, but rarely has he come close to earning his salary or leading the Rangers offense. A team with limited skill need more from their sole elite forward, Nash needs a strong second half if the Rangers are going to have success.

Grade: D

Brad Richards

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Injuries, a lack of form, bright lights and confusing trade scenarios: The Musings

Franson could be NY bound (Photo: Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

Franson could be NY bound (Photo: Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

Welcome to Thursday. It’s finally time for another Musings (not that fake musings Dave did yesterday. What a bum). The Rangers have been better the past couple games without being very good. With plenty to muse over, let’s do it for the final time before the festive season kicks in.

As you’ll have seen; rumours are abound that the Leafs are considering Michael Del Zotto and Cody Franson may come the other way. From the Leafs perspective it doesn’t make sense. You’re essentially swapping one expiring contract for the other but giving up a bigger more productive player who’s better on his feet without being a great defenseman. Seems like a lot of trust in Del Zotto’s ability to turn the corner in his career.

Rick Nash. Oh, Rick Nash where art thou? He was invisible in the Penguins game – a game where I had previously said he needed to make a statement. It’s as simple as this: the Rangers cannot be successful long term unless Nash and Henrik Lundqvist are on or near the top of their games. Right now neither is close, hence the current position in the standings.

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Free agency is still months away, but the Rangers will have some tough decisions to make

Ryan Callahan’s injury woes are concerning, but New York will still likely do everything it can to keep its captain

Quick note: Dave was at the game last night, so the goal breakdown will be done for the afternoon post.

The Rangers’ season is quickly spiraling out of control and it’s probably a matter of time before GM Glen Sather steps in and makes a major shakeup.  But with so many pending free agents and so many players underperforming, it’s a certainty that the 2014-2015 version of the Blueshirts will look drastically different than the edition that stunk up the joint last night against Nashville.  So let’s take a look at New York’s upcoming free agents and see who might still be around next year, and who could be gone.

Ryan Callahan - Yet another injury has clouded this situation.  A few months ago it would have been unthinkable to imagine life without Callahan, but his health is becoming increasingly concerning.  New York’s doctors will have to evaluate Callahan’s physical condition, but assuming he’s in one piece, I still expect the Rangers to do everything they can to lock up their captain long-term.  Some of the beat writers think Callahan would be very tempted to join the Sabres next summer to move closer to home, but though I’m sure Callahan loves Rochester, New York City isn’t all that far away and I can’t imagine Callahan joining a rebuilding team.  If things really fall apart for the Blueshirts and there’s not much progress in negotiations, I could see Callahan being tempted by a contender.  But it’s still most likely the Rangers will retain their captain, albeit at a very steep price.  Remember, the Rangers paid RFAs Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle and Michael Sauer over Callahan in 2011 and gave him a lesser deal due to the resulting cap crunch.  No. 24 swallowed that bitter pill then, but it’s unlikely New York will be getting a hometown discount this time around.

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Will improved consistency pay off for Mats Zuccarello?

Zuccarello: one of the more consistent Rangers this season

Zuccarello: one of the more consistent Rangers this season

Amid the very up and down season the Rangers are currently ‘enjoying’, one player who has finally started to show some legitimate consistency is Mats Zuccarello, and it could cost the Rangers. The Rangers did the right thing last summer when they did not over commit to Zuccarello when they brought him back on a short term deal. The player hadn’t shown enough consistency or finishing ability to be considered a viable top six NHL forward and given his size and skill set, any other role wasn’t a realistic option.

Since his early season benching for the Flyers game, Zuccarello has arguably been the Rangers most creative player and is producing at a solid level. For a player that until recently has struggled to exert himself on a game by game basis, Zuccarello has been a creative force.

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Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Brassard needs to show more, if he's to remain a Ranger

Brassard needs to show more, if he’s to remain a Ranger

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope you all have a great day and weekend. In the mean time, a couple thoughts on the Rangers as they head in to the weekend and toward a big double header.

Offensive Alternative?

If Taylor Pyatt continues to struggle once he’s back up to speed and Benoit Pouliot continues to be consistently inconsistent when does Alain Vigneault look for alternatives to help his frustrating offense? Wednesday night saw Danny Kristo add another goal to his tally in the AHL.

With 10 goals in 19 games for the WolfPack Kristo is on pace to flirt with 40 goals in his rookie year as a pro. While showing patience with Kristo is possibly the right course of action, if the Rangers continue to underwhelm offensively he’s surely worth taking a look at sooner rather than later.

Crossroads

Alain Vigneault has said that Pouliot is at a career crossroads. Well, could Derick Brassard also be at a crossroad? While Pouliot may have his entire NHL career under scrutiny, Brassard has been far too inconsistent thus far to warrant being retained at his current salary beyond this year (and certainly isn’t in line for a raise).

Brassard’s status as a promising talent is under threat. While Brassard would definitely find a home somewhere should the Rangers cut the cord, Brassard needs to find some consistency to justify the Rangers retaining him beyond this season. Very talented, very frustrating.

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Is Mats Zuccarello’s ‘lack of finish’ an issue?

Photo: Lou Capozzola/Getty Images North America

Photo: Lou Capozzola/Getty Images North America

Mats Zuccarello’s response to his healthy scratch against Philadelphia has been nothing short of immense.  At the time, Zuccarello was stumbling through the season doing nothing to warrant an extended future with the Rangers. Alain Vigneault was fully justified in removing the little Norwegian from the line-up when he did.

Since the 2-1 loss to the Flyers on the 24th October, Zuccarello has routinely flashed his high-end skill, perhaps encapsulated best by his perfect pass for Derek Stepan’s goal against the Penguins. Not many players would have tried that pass, let alone execute it so perfectly (the weighting of the pass was literally perfect for Stepan to skate to and roof past Fleury.)

With eight points in his last eight games Zuccarello has shown previously unseen consistency as –even accounting for the three assist splurge against the Hurricanes– he has only been held off the score sheet twice over that time frame. Not all is perfect though.

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Is Zuccarello worthy of a roster spot?

Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

For a team that is looking to contend and for a team with a boatload of injuries and players struggling to find form, waiting for a player to find his groove isn’t a particularly appealing option. As such, Mats Zuccarello has found himself on the slippery slope to the fourth line. Somewhere where small, skilled, defensively challenged players go to die.

So far, Zuccarello has been terrible for a team that has been terrible. For a team absent of arguably their best three wingers, the fact Zuccarello has fallen so far so quickly and contributed nothing in the interim is troublesome. He has received the ice time (over 16 minutes per game), he has had opportunities – if you can call one shot per game sufficient opportunity – but has failed to produce whichever way you look at it.

He’s not the only one struggling, but he’s one that was expected to build upon his successes last year.

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Best case/worst case scenarios for Ranger forwards in 2013

A bounce-back season from Brad Richards would be a huge boost for the Rangers

Arron Asham

Best case: Asham continues to provide comedic relief on Twitter and plays in a handful of games with the Blueshirts.

Worst case: New York is unable to find a taker for Asham on waivers and he spends the final year of his contract in Hartford.

Benoit Pouliot

Best case: The former fourth-overall pick puts it all together as a Blueshirt and records a 20-goal season.

Worst case: The Rangers learn why Pouliot has already played for four teams in his young career and the big forward is invisible most nights. Read more »

The solution no one wants to think about (including me)

Things are a little slow here in Rangerland as we count down to the pre-season, so I thought I’d tackle a more global topic.

Not withstanding the (now completely predictable) labor squabbles of recent years, the NHL has consistently investigated and implemented ways to improve its overall on-ice product.  They aren’t plagued with the constant felony arrests of the NFL and NBA, nor the drunk driving and steroid issues of MLB.  Most of the athletes are humble professionals who respect the game and the fans.  Now, the NHL is not without its problems.  There have been several nagging issues that have persisted through rule changes, new committees, summer R&D camps and beta tests in lower leagues.  The most demonstrative examples include not enough goal scoring, concussions and obstruction-type penalties.

Now, all three of these major problems could be solved by one simple solution, and it’s not one anyone around the league wants to consider, myself included: moving the NHL to olympic sized rinks.  I know what you’re thinking, I don’t like it either.  It seems borderline sacrilegious.  The NHL has always played on North American sized rinks.  It’s what has differentiated the NHL from the Olympics and the inferior European leagues.  We like the physicality, the fighting, the hard-nosed style of play that comes along with the smaller rink, but consider each league problem…

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Rangers, Zuccarello avoid arbitration, agree to deal

Per Darren Dreger, he Rangers and Mats Zuccarello avoided their arbitration hearing, and have agreed on a one-year, $1.15 million contract. Zuccarello and the Rangers were set to go to arbitration tomorrow. The $1.15 million for Zuccarello represents a raise, but not as large of a raise as expected. Many, myself included, assumed he would get in the $1.5 million range. The extra money saved goes a long way to getting Derek Stepan under contract.