Posts tagged: Matt Gilroy

Finding a Role for Gilroy and End of Season Roster Choices

Gilroy Up Front?

The Rangers, with Roszival back and Gaborik out just short term, will shortly have to make a tough decision on which player to sit but there is nothing that says the player that has to sit must be a defenceman just because Roszival has returned. The truth is, for the large part, Gilroy, Eminger and Mike Sauer all deserve to stay in the line up as all three have raised their games after indifferent starts and all three bring useful elements to a club that needs to squeeze every single bit of efficiency out of the line up when they can. So what not try Matt Gilroy at forward?

With Boogaard unable to stay healthy on a consistent basis and with the fourth line changing at regular intervals it would be prudent to try Matt Gilroy as a checking forward and try and utilise one of his great tools; his speed. The Rangers lower forward lines need to play physical get the puck in deep and play strong along the boards to be effective. Chipping the puck in and having a speedster like Gilroy go after it could be an effective plan. What it also does is allow Gilroy to develop another important aspect that his games needs and that is physical play. While it has improved since playing regularly it goes without saying that Gilroy’s game is not based on physicality. Getting him in the corners, getting him going in hard and fast will allow him to be better equipped to take hits and play along the boards should he ever find himself back on the blue line later in the season. Keeping Gilroy in the line up is also important for continuity. Since being re-inserted he has grown in confidence and his game can only realistically develop if he is playing. What he has done recently is re-establish some trade value (that had diminished greatly) and has given the Rangers genuine options, all good things. Now he can be effective and give the Blueshirts more options in another area, at forward.

One or None?

It’s a topic for discussion that will be expanded on as the season continues but the recent play of Mike Sauer and Steve Eminger leads us to an interesting debate; who to keep come season’s end; both, one or perhaps even none?

Mike Sauer has provided physicality, a defensive conscience and stability while Eminger has provided some strong physical play and has improved as the season has worn on, already providing excellent return for Aaron Voros. The problem is this; with Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek all flashing signs of promise at times in the AHL and with most of the NHL jobs already locked up next season (Staal, Girardi, Del Zotto are locks, Roszival is a likely returner) there could be another raft of difficult decisions ahead for management. At this stage both Sauer and Eminger look deserving of at least another year while Sauer has the advantage that he is a Rangers investment (a draft pick) while anything Eminger gave this year was always going to be a bonus but both players have certainly delivered beyond the relatively low expectancy levels. There is a genuine chance neither come back ,should a couple of the prospects really step up their development. Perhaps it’s the fact that Sauer and Eminger are basically auditioning for a job next year (anywhere) that has lead to their impressive play? If that is the case the Rangers are benefiting from the healthy competition but looking ahead, don’t get too attached to the defensive pair because it’s unclear where their future likes for now.

Key Decisions To Be Made When Rozsival Returns

Michal Rozsival has been a relatively under appreciated player by the fans. Rozsival plays 20 minutes per game, and while he does not excel in any particular facet of the game, he is a good overall defender that has become an essential piece on the Rangers blue line. Rozsival went down with a sprained shoulder two weeks ago, and the Rangers did not call up any replacements from Hartford. Instead, the Rangers went from platooning Michael Sauer and Matt Gilroy to pairing them as the bottom defensive pairing, while Steve Eminger, who has been excellent, was bumped to the second pairing.

In Rozsival’s absence, both Sauer and Gilroy have stepped up to fill the void left. The Rangers have played seven games since the Rozsival injury, and in those games, Sauer has put up a line of 0-2-2 and a +5 while averaging 15 minutes of ice time per game. Meanwhile, Gilroy has put up a line of 0-3-3 and a +6 while averaging the same 15 minutes of ice time per game. Both players have grown comfortable with their role on the team, and they are both gaining tons of confidence with the increased playing time. But with Rozsival on the road back, and probably playing by this weekend, the Rangers coaching staff has a very difficult question: Who sits when Rozsival comes back to the lineup?

The increased confidence is very evident in Matt Gilroy, who struggled early in the season. Confident defensemen are comfortable with the puck, see the ice, and make smart decisions because the game slows down for them. Prior to the Rozsival injury, Gilroy did not have that comfort level. He gave the puck away, was caught out of position, and was generally just bad on defense. The Rozsival injury sparked no life into Gilroy, who finally looks like the player the Rangers thought they were getting when they signed him out of Boston University. Gilroy may a big physical presence, but he has been much better defensively and positionally.

Meanwhile, Michael Sauer has been a brand new player. Sauer, like Gilroy, was out of position a lot, was not comfortable in his skates, seemed to be pressing too much, and took some bad penalties. After Rozsival was injured, he has only taken two minor penalties, and one was negated after he drew a roughing call on Calgary last night. Sauer’s physical presence is being felt by Rangers opponents, as Sauer has been a crease clearing presence that the Rangers so desperately need.

Both players have the positives and negatives. Sauer is the physical presence, but Gilroy can provide more of an offensive spark. The Rangers will most likely stick with seven defenseman to provide roster flexibility and competition, so one will become a healthy scratch soon. Steve Eminger has played his way into the fifth defenseman spot, and likely won’t be a scratch anytime soon. With two games left before a healthy scratch decision must be made, both players are auditioning for a spot as that sixth and final defenseman; at least until there is another injury or someone’s game disappears.

White/Gilroy Healthy Scratches

As per Andrew Gross, Evgeny Grachev and Derek Boogaard will skate tonight, with Todd White being the healthy scratch among the forwards. Boogaard is inserted into the lineup to add some much needed toughness to the Flyers, who have a plethora of tough guys. Grachev will continue to get playing time, hopefully more than six minutes a game, until some of the Rangers injury problems heal.

On defense, Matt Gilroy will be the healthy scratch tonight. Michael Sauer and Steve Eminger are the more physical of the three defensemen, so it isn’t a surprise to see Gilroy as the scratch. The Rangers are matching up tonight to the Flyers toughness, something they haven’t been able to do in a few seasons. It’s nice to have roster flexibility.

Trade Matt Gilroy

Hockey, like most sports these days, is a business and at times, then a sport. The Rangers have a player in Matt Gilroy that needs to become a victim of asset management. What the Rangers have on their hands is a talented player (asset) who has value but whose value is fast fading. What makes trading Gilroy the sensible thing to do is that he is not a need in the organisation but is something (asset – there’s that word again) that can bring something of value back to the organisation. He cost nothing but cablevision dollars btu could bring back a valuable draft pick.

The former college standout is being wasted in New York. With Mike Del Zotto and to a lesser extent Marc Staal and Michal Roszival on the roster the need for offensive blue liners is not as great as it once was and while his defense has improved it will never be Gilroy’s calling card. As it is, the Rangers have a trio of solid defenseman in the minors learning their trade (Valentenko, Kundratek, McDonagh) and another in Mcilrath eventually on his way from junior. The Rangers should get something back for Gilroy while his exploits at the NCAA level are still fresh in other GM’s mind. They also need to be aware that should he continue to be scratched or receive little ice time he won’t be looking to re-sign in NY come the end of the season either.

The Rangers have done a good job of drafting in recent years and a talented kid with an expiring contract should be able to fetch a 2nd round pick (many teams need an offensive blue liner). At this stage it’s worth noting if Dominic Moore can get a 2nd pick in return so can Gilroy. Let’s not forget how well the Rangers have done with 2nd round picks either. Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov are tearing it up on the Rangers and Ethan Werek looks a keeper in junior, just to name a few. It’s in a situation like Gilroy’s  where asset management should come into play. It makes sense to trade Gilroy for the organisation’s long term benefit. He isn’t being deployed properly, is wasting cap space that could be crucial later in the year and if he continues to play (or not as the case may be) then his trade value will become weaker than the Greek economy. It hurts to lose, even give up on a talented prospect but in this case it’s worth the hurt. The Rangers need to do what’s best with a talent that isn’t being used efficiently.

Gilroy Scratched Again

As per Jesse Spector, the Rangers lineup looks like it will remain the same for tomorrow’s game against the Islanders. The forwards remaining the same were a given, but it is surprising to see Matt Gilroy scratched for a second game in a row. Both Michael Sauer and Steve Eminger finished the game against Buffalo with no points and a +1 rating. Eminger did take two bad penalties though. Gilroy had a strong preseason, so it’s surprising to see him scratched again. It could simply be that the coaching staff wants to give both Eminger and Sauer some longer looks to see who they want to play as the sixth defenseman on a regular basis. Of course, it could be that the coaching staff doesn’t think that Gilroy had a strong enough preseason to warrant dressing for every game. Sitting in the pressbox as scratches with Gilroy will be Todd White and Tim Kennedy, also scratched for a second game in a row.

In other news, Chris Drury will not play tomorrow, but is eying a return on Friday at the home opener against Toronto. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Rangers integrate him into the lineup once he returns, considering how well the four forward lines have been clicking of late.

Defense Pairs Take Shape

Andrew Gross is tweeting that the Rangers defensive pairs are beginning to take shape, with the always reliable combination of Marc Staal-Dan Girardi being one of the pairs. Michael Del Zotto and Michal Rozsival are going to be paired as the second unit. This leaves Matt Gilroy and Michael Sauer as the third pairing, assuming Steve Eminger is the odd man out.

The Staal/Girardi pairing is going to be ole reliable, but with a twist. Both defensemen have gained more experience from the last time they were paired together. Both defensemen are positionally sound, and will always play defense before offense. However, Staal is beginning to show signs of life in the offensive zone, showcasing an ability to go end-to-end with the puck on multiple occasions. If Staal is able to add the offense without it being a detriment to his defensive game, then this can be a legitimate top pairing that can shut down most teams top lines. Staal generally does a good job at clearing the crease as well. No wonder why everyone wants him in a trade.

The MDZ/Rozsival pairing is an interesting pairing that could pay dividends for the Rangers. MDZ is hopefully going to be an offensive force this season, while growing into the defensive responsibilities that come with being an NHL defenseman. With MDZ taking care of the offensive responsibilities of the pairing, Rozsival can concentrate on defense, where he is undervalued and under appreciated. With this defensive role comes a need for Rozsival to clear the crease and protect Henrik Lundqvist, something we haven’t really seen him do much during his tenure in New York. With clear cut roles for each player, this pairing will either flourish or flounder, I don’t think there’s a middle ground here.

The final pairing of Gilroy/Sauer is the pairing that will garner the most questions, as it pairs two kids who have a combined one year of NHL experience. Both had a stellar preseason, with Gilroy showcasing some ability to quarterback the powerplay. Sauer is going to have to be the rock defensively on this pairing, and also a physical body that will clear the crease. Gilroy appeared to be a victim of the proverbial NCAA 40 game wall last season, but was one of the best skaters this preseason, coming to camp in excellent shape. Although this pairing will have the most questions, they also have the most to prove, which is a good motivational tool.

Steve Eminger will probably be the seventh defenseman, and will replace anyone injured or who just lost their game. That was pretty much expected to be Eminger’s role since his acquisition from Anaheim in July. Not much is expected of a seventh defenseman except to play bottom pairing minutes once a week.

The Rangers defense pairings may have a lot of questions after Staal/Girardi, but could also be one of the better defensive core in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers defense scored 15 points in the preseason (5-10-15), which was more than two points per game. However, they faltered on defense in all but one game. With more clear cut roles defined, and the NHL caliber players now in the lineup regularly, those defensive lapses should be at a minimum. It’s going to be an interesting season for the Rangers blue liners, which has an average age of 25. Many have a lot to prove, and with a seventh defenseman finally in the mix, they will have to show they can remain in an NHL lineup.

What We’ve Learnt So Far?

11 days of camp and 3 games into the pre-season and the Rangers have made two series of roster cuts and have 27 players remaining. So what have we learnt about the state of the Rangers?

Let’s start with the negatives.

Looking at camp it was disappointing to see core players such as Artem Anisimov struggle with the conditioning skates. It was perplexing because it’s been reported that the Russian was training throughout the summer – what gives? Other players who didn’t distinguish themselves during the conditioning included Michael Del Zotto who, like some others, was struggling with cramps and leg pain.

Goaltending beyond that at the NHL level continues to be somewhat of concern. Chad Johnson, who has NHL potential has struggled, letting in soft goals during the exhibition season while Scott Stajcer has let his nerves get to him. Stajcer had a poor first scrimmage including conceding goals on his first three shots faced. Jordan Parise and Cam Talbot didn’t turn heads with their play either. Neither seemed legitimate threats to Johnson for starting/playing time in the AHL.

A sign of a successful NHL team is how a team deals with the opposition’s top lines. The Rangers thus far have struggled to contain the key players during each pre-season contest. The Devils top trio of Parise-Kovalchuk-Zajac scored with ease in both games while the Rangers struggled to keep Zetterberg’s line off the board on Sunday (against Detroit), while Brian Rafalski also did what he wanted offensively in Sunday’s tilt. The Rangers struggled to deal with the puck possession and skill level of the Red Wings.  Although the Rangers haven’t iced a full NHL side yet (it is pre-season after all) they will have to deal with opponents top lines much more effectively when the regular season kicks off.

Drury’s injury is a negative. Drury is on this team regardless and additional offense (compared to last year) from the captain would go a long way in helping the Rangers return to the post season. While conditioning shouldn’t be an issue (he can still bike and do cardio) Drury has missed an opportunity to get in on the scrimmages and pre-season games and re-discover his offensive game. A nice run of pre-season success may have helped Drury’s confidence, however thanks to injury he’s already behind the eight-ball.

So what has gone well?

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Training Camp Preview: Defense

Training camp is right around the corner, and in our next training camp preview series –goalies were done last week– we are going to look at the defensemen vying to make the roster for the 2010-2011 season. Defense isn’t as cluttered as the forward position, but there are going to be some interesting battles in camp for those final two spots in the top six. The battle for that seventh defenseman spot, should there be a seventh defenseman, is also going to be interesting. The Rangers have four players battling for those three spots, and there are some other rookies that may be off most people’s radar, but could be dark horses to make the team.

Marc Staal: The unsigned defender is the Rangers best defenseman. Seeking a big raise from his $800,000 salary last year, the Rangers are going to need Staal signed and playing in order to compete this year. Staal logs all his minutes against opponents top lines, and does a great job at shutting them down. At the end of last season, he showed some offensive prowess, scoring in three straight games as the Rangers made a desperate push for the playoffs. Staal’s 10.4 GVT was third on the team last year, and second among skaters (Marian Gaborik was tops). His 6.4 DGVT was tops on the team by a full goal. Staal’s value to the team is almost immeasurable, and many fans are starting to get worried about when he will sign.

Dan Girardi: Girardi is an interesting conundrum. On one hand, all fans see is that he didn’t stand up for Gaborik as he got pummeled by Dan Carcillo. On the other hand, Girardi’s 5.0 DGVT (second on the team) and 6.8 GVT (fifth among skaters) shows just how valuable he really is. To put those numbers in perspective, Girardi had a better GVT than Fedor Tyutin (who some fans want back), Jay Bouwmeester, Dennis Wideman, Dion Phaneuf, Anton Volchenkov, and Zbynek Michalek. His 5.0 GVT is good for 32nd in the league, better than all those guys just mentioned, and other guys like Dan Hamhuis. Sure, Girardi may be a little overpaid at $3.325 million per season, but he’s a top four defender on almost every team in the league.

Read more after the jump

Training Camp Hot Seats

Less than a month to go before Camp. Who is in danger of missing out? Which players need a strong camp to make the club and fight their way up the depth charts? For the first time in several seasons the Rangers go into training camp with a lot of competition for places. How many places are really up for grabs remains to be seen but there are a few spots seemingly up for grabs.  On Tuesday we considered the Sean Avery scenario however Avery is not alone in needing a good camp. For varying reasons, here are a few more guys under pressure.

Brian Boyle; Boyle may be one of the more frustrating Rangers of recent times. A massive body that was very good at the AHL level for Manchester and who had a good college career, Boyle simply hasn’t done it at the NHL level. Doesn’t play physical given his size and hasn’t finished well when the opportunities have been there. He’ll start the camp without a spot and needing to win one back. It’s hard to see how he fits into the equation at present. His NHL career is in jeopardy so it’d be nice to see some desire and passion in camp.  

Dane Byers; The talented Byers could be a useful player for the Rangers if only he could stick and stay healthy. Having been repeatedly overlooked it’s hard to imagine he’ll get another chance if he doesn’t make the team this time around. Good size, aggression and decent scoring ability are all facets of Byers’ game and in theory he’d make an ideal bottom six player. With the signings of Prust and Boogaard, the presence of Boyle and the threat of Weise it’s looking cluttered in the bottom 6. If another year in the AHL beckons, surely it’s either a trade or a change of scenery after his current 1 year deal expires.

Erik Christensen; Yes, EC has a new 2 year deal in his pocket. However, a deal that pays less than 1m annually is easy to move (or rid) and Christensen has by no means secured anything at this stage. Flashed his tantalizing skill set enough last year to equally impress and frustrate the coaching staff (‘why couldn’t he do it more’…) but his spot will be under threat if Anisimov wins a top 6 spot and Prospal, Dubinsky and Todd White battle for the other centre spot. That’s without mentioning X factors such as Ethan Werek and Derek Stepan who come to camp with little pressure. It’s hard to imagine Christensen thriving enough lower down the order, to stick. Top 6 or bust?

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Matt Gilroy

I wanted to weigh in with my opinion on a great piece Nick wrote at the Rangers Tribune. Nick at the RT wrote about Matt Gilroy getting another shot on the Rangers D this coming season.

I absolutely endorse this ‘2nd shot’ and agree with Nick’s opinion. Do we all have long enough memories to remember half the league (if not more) clamouring for Gilroy’s signature before he caused celebration amongst Rangers fans by signing in NYC? I remember. I also remember the great start in both the preseason and the regular season that Gilroy made. I remember him scoring his first pro goal against a certain Martin Brodeur. I remember the media hype he prematurely received. I also remember the way his season spiralled into mediocrity.  

John Tortorella likes to come across as a coach that demands a lot from his charges, he likes to hold them accountable – so he tells us. But I wonder if Torts is willing to admit mistakes? In my opinion, he handled the Gilroy situation terribly. He gave up on him too quickly and personally I don’t think he factored in the ‘NCAA Wall’ that Gilroy was obviously going to encounter. Torts has spoken this off season – and during the exit interviews – about going with youth, riding out any mistakes for a better future. Well this wasn’t evident with Gilroy last year. I don’t think Torts appreciated enough how Gilroy is still very much learning the position and I think Gilroy’s age played against the defenceman. Despite his age, he was still very raw and inexperienced, especially at the NHL level.

All this doesn’t however detract from the fact Gilroy has some serious skill. He’s a wonderful skater, stick handler and can pass well. All these attributes are critical components in the ‘new NHL’.  Gilroy deserves a chance for a few reasons. Simply, the Rangers committed to him financially. Also, Gilroy has flashed his talent enough to warrant another chance and I think he’ll get it. Even the Rangers brass now know Redden = epic fail so spots are there for the taking. Gilroy shouldn’t encounter any NCAA wall this coming season and I think the time he served at the World Championships (thus extending his season and adding experience) will stand him in good stead. His year and solid WC should have been good enough to earn him a chance, initially at least, ahead of McDonagh and Eminger. It’s up to him to take it.

I am confident Gilroy will be a better player than he was last season and for a team still looking for any extra offense a more experienced, slick skating player like Gilroy can really add an extra dynamic to this team. Besides, giving the former Hobey Baker winner another chance costs the club nothing but time.