Posts tagged: Michael Sauer

Where they could have failed: Staal and Sauer’s injuries

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A team that loses two of its top four defensemen for extended periods of time falters, and drops to mediocrity while dealing with the injuries. Oh wait, you didn’t hear that? That’s likely because the Rangers lost two of their top four defensemen, guys that were playing 20+ minutes a night last season, but they kept on trucking along, and now sit just five points away from clinching the home ice in the Eastern Conference.

The Rangers didn’t know what to expect with Marc Staal. Concussions are a tricky beast afterall. Staal missed the first 36 games of the season, an injury that forced several players in the lineup to step up. Ryan McDonagh was moved from his comfortable pairing with Mike Sauer up to the top pair with Dan Girardi, and was one-half of the best shutdown pair in the league while playing 30 minutes a night. Michael Del Zotto was thrust into a top four spot after spending parts of last season in the AHL. The combination of he and Sauer thrived as well. For some reason that bottom pairing rotation between Anton Stralman, Steve Eminger, and Jeff Woywitka wasn’t talked about much.

Then the unthinkable happened: Mike Sauer fell awkwardly after a hit by Dion Phaneuf, and hit his head on the boards. Another top four defenseman out with a concussion. Another gaping hole in the lineup to fill. After a short stint with Eminger (before he went down with an injury), Del Zotto’s new partner wound up being Stralman. The wildcard signing was now forced into playing 20 minutes a night. He thrived, and the Rangers still wouldn’t quit.

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Musings: Is there a captain that means more to his team than Ryan Callahan?

It’s been a while since I’ve written the musings here. This is generally Chris’ post, but he’s currently “indisposed.” So I’ve taken them over. Feel free to use your own interpretation of “indisposed” and make fun of Chris in the comments.

The Captain

How about that Ryan Callahan eh? He does everything for the Rangers. It is clear why he is the heart and soul of the team, and why he was named captain at the beginning of this season. There are very few captains in the NHL that mean as much to their team than Cally does to the Rangers. In fact, I can only think of a few: Jonathan Toews, Jarome Iginla, Dustin Brown, and Shane Doan.

Hot Richards

Brad Richards sure has been something of late. With last night’s goal, the alternate captain has 15 points in the month of March (6-9-15), a span of 12 games. He has the most points in the month of March than any other player, and is getting back on track to clear 60 points. When the Rangers signed Richards, expectations were that he would clear 60 points most seasons, and have a few seasons clearing 70 points. Considering the effect he’s had on Michael Del Zotto’s turn around, I’ll take 60 points and leadership/bettering others over 70 points any day.

Rough stretch for Del Zotto

Speaking of Del Zotto, he hasn’t looked the same since that hip injury. Maybe he’s just favoring it a bit, or maybe he’s just hitting a slump. But that lateral pass on the powerplay last night was last year’s version of Del Zotto, not this year’s version. The kid still has a lot of learning and growing to do, but mark my words, every mistake he makes he will learn from. Patience.

Sauer

The Rangers definitely miss Mike Sauer, but not as much as you might think. Tim Erixon and Stu Bickel have filled in very well for the injured defenseman, and while both have a lot to learn still, they are making the loss of Sauer easier to manage. Bickel and Sauer play extremely similar games, so it’s like he was never injured in the first place…except for that stint where Steve Eminger and Anton Stralman comprised the bottom pairing.

Stralman gets a bad rap

One quick note about Stralman: Boy he gets a bad rap here. The guy came in as an UFA signed in the beginning of the season, and had to work his tail off to even get into the lineup. When injuries started to mount, he played top four minutes and helped Del Zotto along in his development. Once players like Bickel started to emerge, and Stralman started to slump, he started getting blame for a lot of things. He filled in well, and was a great signing to help deal with injuries.

So long Fedotenko

Ruslan Fedotenko may be one of the more under appreciated signings Glen Sather has made in the past few years. Last year Feds was magnificent while playing on a line with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust, forming one of the most formidable shut down checking lines in hockey. This year, the magic just wasn’t there. It wasn’t so much that he appeared to lose a step, it was that others played better, thus passed him on the depth chart. The emergence of Mats Zuccarello was the final nail in the coffin for Feds.

Quick questions:

  • Has Bickel’s emergence made Sauer expendable in the right deal?
  • Would you trade Sauer and Brandon Dubinsky for Bobby Ryan at the draft?
  • Which team scares you more in the playoffs: the Penguins, Flyers, Bruins, or Caps?
  • Over/under 60 points for Cally this year?
  • Over/under 30 goals for Richards?
  • Over/under 40 points for Del Zotto?

The Stu Bickel scenario

I was one of the ones who praised Stu Bickel when he came in to the side and looked pretty comfortable from the outset despite being an undrafted, unheralded kid out of nowhere. I was however, also the one who criticised him a few weeks ago when his positional play was interesting (at best) for a stretch, and I still believe half the fights he gets into are unnecessary and don’t serve any purpose than to keep the box scorers busy.

That said he’s improved a lot recently and at times, has covered for some of Marc Staal’s mistakes who is very much up and down form-wise at the moment. Bickel’s inconsistent positional play seems to have settled down and his decision making on the puck is improving (although very much a work in progress).

Bickel has continued to be a physical presence without being a liability; it all adds up to making the Rangers defense reliable from top to bottom – despite the recent wave of unfortunate goals the Rangers have endured.

Bickel however may be playing for an NHL future elsewhere. So much of Bickel’s future depends on factors he cannot control. If Mike Sauer comes back this (or certainly next) season he’s immediately bumped down the depth chart. If Anton Stralman – for the most part – plays like he has done recently and is sensible with his contract demands it would be surprising if the Rangers didn’t have some interest in bringing him back next year.

Then there’s always the looming presence of Dylan McIlrath and to a lesser extent Pavel Valentenko. Note: are you ruling out Valentenko? You should only do so if you were a fortune teller and saw Bickel making the club the way he has this year.

Bickel has improved and clearly is gaining trust with the coaching staff – as evidenced by the additional third period ice time he’s getting. There’s no denying the value of earning Tortorella’s trust for a player, especially one looking to stick with the club. Bickel getting better is a win-win scenario for all concerned.

If he plays well he has a chance to stick. He plays well he’ll certainly stick in the NHL. If he keeps doing what he’s doing, even if he doesn’t make it with the Rangers, he’s made himself an asset for the franchise over the summer; so everyone wins from an improving Bickel.

It will be interesting to see how the cards that is the Rangers defense fall over the summer. There are a lot of factors in play for the Rangers blue line; none more so than Bickel’s continued development.

Why the Sauer silence?

Throughout the beginning of the year we had Marc Staal watch. Now, it wasn’t as obsessive (or annoying) as the ‘Sid watch’ that engulfed Pennsylvania, the NHL and the entire nation of Canada but we had Staal watch nonetheless.

So why are the Rangers being so quiet regarding Mike Sauer’s concussion absence? I may have missed something along the way – so please correct me if I have – but there are never injury updates on Sauer and the natural assumption is that he’s not close to being ready. In that case, have they shut him down for the season and if so, why not publicly state that they have?

The quiet around Sauer is concerning. Several Ranger fans have asked the beat writers via twitter whether they have any updates and the reply is usually the same: nadda, nichts, nothing.

The timing of his injury must be enormously frustrating for Sauer. An injury prone player all career and once doubted as a legitimate prospect because of his ‘fondness’ for the treatment table, Sauer became an integral part of the Rangers blue line last year and had begun to fill a huge hole in the Rangers top six: the presence of a rugged defenseman.

Rangers in unique spot with five top-four defensemen

Defensive depth in the NHL is tough to come by. In the offseason, the best defensemen get the mega millions. At the trade deadline, defensemen always cost the most. In the new skilled NHL, getting just two defensemen who are capable of playing top-four minutes regularly is tough. The Rangers have five such players. Of those five, three are already capable of playing top-two minutes. This folks, is depth at its finest.

Perhaps the Marc Staal concussion was a blessing in disguise. With the injury, Ryan McDonagh was forced into top-two duties, and Michael Del Zotto was forced into top-four duties. Not only have both excelled in the short term, they have proven themselves worthy of staying in those roles. The evidence is in the defense pairings, with Staal playing on the third pairing since his return.

Such depth allows the coaching staff to be creative in how to deploy the pairings, and how to fill out that last defensive spot. The top-five in Staal, McDonagh, Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, and Mike Sauer (although injured) are capable of playing in all three zones. Should the Rangers look to add a powerplay specialist like Marc-Andre Bergeron (just spit-balling here, not advocating for his acquisition), then the burden would fall on the other five to compensate for Bergeron’s lack of actual defense.

The Bergeron case is just a hypothetical, but it does illustrate a point that the Rangers have tremendous flexibility when it comes to filling the hole of sixth defenseman. Right now the Rangers have survived with a rotating door of Steve Eminger, Stu Bickel, and Jeff Woywitka, not exactly much to look at, but at least they have been serviceable.

Traditionally, teams are built from the net out. This means that proper teams are built starting with a goaltender, then the defense, and finally with depth down the middle at center. The Rangers have built themselves a solid club with their defensive depth, and may just be a perennial Cup contender for years to come.

The Brian Leetch trade: Eight years later

On March 2, 2004, Ranger fans had their hearts ripped out. In the midst of another losing season, General Manager Glen Sather decided it was time to start over, and began with a fire sale that eventually led to the Rangers we see before us today. The prized piece of the fire sale was Brian Leetch, and Slats shipped him, along with the hearts of millions of Ranger fans, to Toronto for Jarkko Immonen, Maxim Kondratiev, a first round pick in 2004, and a second round pick in 2005.

The trade felt like a punch to the stomach for every single fan. For management, they got what they wanted: two legitimate prospects, and two top-60 draft picks. At the time of the trade, the Rangers got fair value for Leetch. It’s been eight years since that trade, so let’s look at what they got.

Maxim Kondratiev: The Russian defenseman’s time with the Rangers was very brief. After just 46 games with the organization, 29 with the Rangers, the Rangers shipped Kondratiev to the Anaheim Ducks in 2006 for Petr Sykora and a 2007 4th round pick. Sykora helped the Rangers reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years (seven seasons). Kondratiev now plays in the KHL.

The 4th round pick was used on Brett Bruneteau, who is no longer in hockey. Interesting note about this pick: the Rangers had acquired this pick (#108) as a conditional pick in 2005 in the Steve Rucchin trade. Essentially, the Rangers traded for this pick twice.

Jarkko Immonen: The Finnish center draws most of the attention from this deal. Not as a positive, but from a “what could have been.” Immonen dominated his first full season in the AHL (2005-2006), finishing with 70 points in 74 games. His play earned him a six game stint with the Rangers, where he scored two goals in his first two games.

Immonen’s second AHL season was again stellar, finishing with 46 points in 54 games. He played well in the NHL, finishing with six points in 14 games, bringing his totals to 3-5-8 in 22 games. However, it didn’t appear that he was a fit for the Rangers, or maybe he just didn’t want to play in the US anymore. After the 2006-2007 season, Immonen returned to Finland. Immonen is now in the KHL.

2004 1st Round Pick (Lauri Korpikoski): The Rangers wound up with the #24 pick in the draft as a result of the trade. They used this pick and a second round pick (#46 – Adam Pineault) to move up to #19, where they drafted Lauri Korpikoski. The Rangers also acquired an eighth round pick in the transaction (#247), which they used on Jonathan Paiement.

Korpikoski played fairly poor for the Rangers, and it was safe to say he did not meet expectations. He did not provide the offensive flair that made him a first round pick, and he struggled defensively as well. The Rangers gave up on him, and dealt him to Phoenix for Enver Lisin in the 2009 offseason. In Phoenix, Korpikoski has found himself a nice role as a third line player, and has started to finally chip in offensively.

Lisin played one year for the Rangers, and then left for the KHL.

2005 2nd Round Pick (Mike Sauer): The Rangers appeared to have hit the jackpot with Sauer. Sauer battled many shoulder injuries early in his career, but finally broke through and made the Rangers roster out of camp in 2010. Initially used as a rotating defenseman on the bottom pairing, injuries forced him into a full time role, where he exceeded all expectations.

Sauer now plays top-four minutes for the club –when he’s healthy– and is the real gem of this trade.

Trades for prospects and picks are generally gambles. Neither picks nor prospects are guarantees, and the general rule of thumb is to be happy if one pans out to be a solid player. The Rangers got just that in Sauer. It’s tough to call this trade a success, especially when it came from dealing Brian Leetch, but the deal was just that: A success.

Musings day – Rangers trophy talk

It’s a musings day and what a week this has been (already) for the Rangers. Boston who? Yeah I said it. It’s a week of upheaval here at Blue Seat Blogs. Dave has had the audacity to go on holiday leaving yours truly, the Suit and the rookie (aka Justin) to do the heavy lifting; which would be easier if my laptop hadn’t died on me, but I digress. To the musings…

Callahan Can Do More – Seriously

It’s all been said about Cally before but there is one thing; his offensive upside. Barring a dramatic dip in form or injury, Callahan will likely get his first 30 goal season this year. He’s a great captain and a physical player, but previously he seemed limited in regards to his finishing ability. No longer. As this team gets better, older and deeper I see the potential for a 40 goal season for Callahan. I never thought I’d say that. He is a critical element on this team in every scenario and he could legitimately knock in 40 if he avoids injury. What a player he has become.

And the Hart Trophy Goes to…

At this stage, given the ridiculous pace he has been setting, the only person that should be a threat to Lundqvist for the Hart should be Evgeni Malkin. Both players are critical to their teams, but for me – personal adoration aside -Lundqvist deserves it because his regular season is potentially a historical one statistically. He could break the all-time GAA record for starters. The Swede is borderline unbeatable right now and care not about Mr Lin of the Knickerbockers, Henrik is the King of New York right now.

And the Vezina Trophy Goes to…

Barring major loss of form or serious injury in the next week or two, Lundqvist should have this trophy in his cabinet already. He’s been that good.

More than ‘Just’ a Scorer

Some players are one dimensional. Some players are accused of being one dimensional. Marian Gaborik isn’t one dimensional. Yes, he’s a goal scorer (and an elite one) first and foremost, but he’s displayed an exceptional level of passing ability recently and if you’ve followed him closely this year, you should be beginning to appreciate his defensive ability too. Not many so called elite, finesse players try as hard as Gaborik does defensively, nor do they buy into the team concept as Gaborik does. He’s having a great season.

Mike Who?

I guarantee some fans have forgotten about Mike Sauer. That is not a slight on Sauer or his place on this roster, but is testament to the way the club is playing without their physical blueliner. This club doesn’t need to add a defenseman at the deadline if Sauer returns soon. What depth the Rangers boast if (when) he does in fact return.

Powerplay dilemma

I mentioned this on twitter this week. Look at the new found confidence (and success) on the power play. The crisp passing, the movement off the puck, the guys (Callahan) parked in front waiting to convert. Right now, the power play looks rejuvenated which poses a dilemma; should the Rangers even bother looking to make a change right now? Do you believe the unit can carry this form on (based on skill level it should be able to be a quality unit) or do you risk moving assets/roster parts/picks to pick up some help just in case? The improved power play has thrown up as many new questions as it has answered old ones.

Question Time:

• Does Gaborik break 50 goals?

• Does Lundqvist get 40 wins?

• If you could make one addition come deadline day, would it be an offensive or defensive addition?

• Does Wolski score a goal this season or have we seen the last of the skilled Pole?

• Who’s Sean Avery?

Three “trades” the Rangers will make by the playoffs

As the trade deadline grows nearer, there is discussion amongst fans about whether now is the time to buy for a Cup run. The Rangers are the best team in the Eastern Conference, and are just points behind the Detroit Red Wings for best in the NHL, with games in hand. That said, many feel the Rangers are overachieving, and might be best served letting things go as they are, and not mess with chemistry. Others feel that now is the time to make a deal. Well, luckily for the Rangers, there are two “trades” the Rangers will hopefully make between now and the playoffs to make their team stronger.

  1. The Rangers will trade Steve Eminger or Anton Stralman for a top-four defenseman: If and when Michael Sauer is healthy, he will return to the lineup and make that strong blue line even stronger. Right now, the Rangers are getting by with Anton Stralman playing top four minutes. If Sauer can return healthy, then he adds an extra element to the Rangers that they haven’t had since December, and it costs them Stralman’s or Steve Eminger’s presence in the lineup. That’s a solid trade there.
  2. The Rangers will trade absolutely nothing for a streaky 20-goal scorer: Brandon Dubinsky won’t stay in single digit goals for long. He is one of the streakiest players on the Rangers, and they have been winning despite his lack of offense. The defense and goaltending have really saved Dubinsky, who has seen a lot of time on the bottom six. Dubi is still a key cog for the Rangers with his defensive and physical play, but they are paying him to score 20+ goals. He won’t get there this year, but he could be a wild card if he gets going.
  3. The Rangers will trade nothing for one of the best centers and powerplay point men in the game: Brad Richards is starting to come alive. He struggled mightily, ironically around the time that Olivia Munn broke up with him. But now, his game is getting back on track, and the powerplay is starting to look better and better. They are doing the right things, and they are finally starting to see results. A hot Brad Richards is a dangerous Brad Richards. Imagine where this team can go if their powerplay starts clicking at a 20% clip.

As you can see, the word “trade” is used rather liberally here. These aren’t really trades, but they are players that the Rangers hope to get back from injury or purgatory. Nevertheless, these are significant improvements that the Rangers can see from their players without even giving up a draft pick.

Dilemma Facing the Rangers?

With injuries still lingering on the Rangers blue line (including Sauer’s recent setback on his road to recovery), the Rangers have an interesting choice to make. Larry Brooks recently discussed the notion of the Rangers acquiring a defenseman in the coming weeks. It makes sense that they would consider it, but exactly what type of defenseman they go after is another issue altogether – and here is where the dilemma lies.

According to Brooks, the Rangers have supposedly long held Tim Gleason in high regard, but he should only be an option if Sauer is out for the season. The Rangers need to decide sooner rather than later, whether they want help for the powerplay or depth (and size?) on the blue line.

The Rangers have had a great season so far and the way the defense has collectively played over their talent level because of the injuries on the back end suggest they can do so for a while longer. However, this team cannot go deep in the playoffs with the way the powerplay is performing this season. So often in the post season it’s a good, tight defense and great special teams that win you games and playoff series.

The Rangers have the stingy defense, they have an excellent penalty kill, but they have failed to win a few games this season because of their inadequate power play; which brings us back to the dilemma facing the Rangers. Brooks is absolutely right that the team should acquire a blueliner. However, what kind of blueliner they go and acquire could be critical. It could have a massive impact on just how successful this season could be.

If the decision goes in favour of an offensive defenseman then there are a few options available, however, all come with an element of risk. The likely available players include Marek Zidlicky (former Ranger draft pick) who has been a consistent 40 point defenseman in his career but has been in the Minnesota Wild doghouse this year. So far he has failed to repeat his usual power play production and carries a $4m contract for next year.

The Avalanche, who have been very inconsistent this season, could make Kyle Quincey available.  He is another player capable of putting up points and the Av’s already have Erik Johnson. Quincey likely holds more appeal than Zidlicky, as he is a restricted free agent after this season.

Then there are the kind of players the Rangers are routinely linked to such as Sheldon Souray. Big shot, short term contract, but he didn’t impress the Rangers enough to pick him up on waivers during his time with Edmonton, so has half a season in Dallas changed their opinion? Unlikely.

The Rangers decision on the type of defenseman they (may) go after would likely be influenced by the quality available. This is where the problem lies as most players available come with significant question marks. So while the Rangers may indeed go after a blueliner the choice is far from an obvious one at this stage of the season.

Sauer/Eminger Still Weeks Away

In the past few weeks, we have heard good news out of practice that both Michael Sauer and Steve Eminger were on the ice and skating with the team. Both were wearing non-contact jerseys, but the news was still good that they were skating. The Rangers could use one or both of them back, as it will only make their already strong blue line stronger.

With Eminger, there is an actual timeline for his return, as his injury is less complicated than Sauer’s. Surgery for Eminger’s separated shoulder occurred on December 19, and the timetable for a return was 8-10 weeks. Right now we are at the beginning of week five, so there is a minimum of three weeks until we can expect to see Eminger back in the lineup.

As for Sauer, the news of him skating was seen as great news, but then yesterday it was reported by Andrew Gross that he suffered a setback. Concussions are a tricky thing, so Sauer’s setback is disappointing, but not surprising. With the news that he had suffered a setback and was shut down for the week, it’s expected that he is at least three weeks away, but likely to be more.

Both will be back this season, but it looks like Eminger might be the first one to return, as his timeline for return is more definitive. Then again, it did take Marc Staal 40 games to come back from his concussion symptoms. There’s nothing wrong with cautious optimism, but the safe money would have Eminger back before the trading deadline, and Sauer back for the playoffs.