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Posts tagged: Michael Sauer

Halfway There Report Card: The Defense

With the halfway point of the season upon us (for the most part), and the Rangers in first place, it’s as good of a time as any to begin with the mid-point report cards. We are going to do these in a series of posts, with Chris covering the top six forwards, Suit covering the bottom six forwards, Justin covering the goalies, and myself covering the defense.

The Rangers have used a whopping 11 defensemen since the season started. This is mostly due to the Marc Staal injury, but other injuries along the way have forced the Rangers’ hand. Despite the obvious disadvantage, the Rangers have allowed just 82 goals against, good for second in the league. The Bruins top this, but let’s be honest: The Bruins are in a class above everyone else right now.  Let’s get to those grades:

Marc Staal: He’s played just a handful of games. Everyone knows he’s the rock on defense, and the Rangers just upgraded tremendously with him coming back. Grade: INC.

Dan Girardi: With Staal out indefinitely, the blue line was put in Girardi’s hands…and boy did he deliver. Girardi has been flawless in his own end. He plays the most minutes in the entire league, he plays against top competition, he consistently shuts down that top opposition, he has been contributing offensively, and he has been a leader for this young Rangers team. Grade: A+.

Ryan McDonagh: Staal’s injury opened up a spot for McDonagh on the top pairing, and he has been sensational in that role. He and Girardi have clicked, and aside from a few poor games, McDonagh has been a monster. Rick Carpiniello of LoHud calls him McMonster, and that’s exactly what he is. Throw in his growing offensive skills, and this sophomore defenseman has been a tremendous pickup. Thank you Mr. Gomez. Grade: A.

Michael Del Zotto: Another player that was forced to play up a pairing due to injury, Del Zotto has also been phenomenal. He leads the defensemen in scoring, and is fifth on the team in that same category with 23 points (5-18-23). He leads the team in assists, plus/minus, fan girls, and haters. Seriously, what else does this kid need to do? Sure, he makes a bad pass every now and then, but he’s 22 years old. I’ll take this from a 22 year old any day. Grade: A.

Mike Sauer: Currently out with a concussion, Sauer was the rock on the blue line that most thought was the reason for Del Zotto’s re-emergence.  Although Del Zotto has succeeded without Sauer in the lineup, Sauer is still an integral part of the Rangers blue line. He doesn’t put up the fancy numbers that Del Zotto does, he doesn’t garner the All Star consideration that Girardi does, but he just does his job. The best thing you can say about a defensive defenseman is that you don’t notice him, and rarely does Sauer go noticed. Grade: A.

Steve Eminger: Eminger had an atrocious start to the year. He just couldn’t do anything right, and was a bit of a whipping boy ’round these parts. However, when Sauer went down with his concussion, Emmy stepped up. Much like last year with the Michal Rozsival injury, Eminger assumed top four minutes and played like a champ. His start hurts his grade, but he gets significant bonus points for his ability to play up to his role, no matter what. His injury was supposed to be the one that crippled the Rangers, who were already without Staal and Sauer, but it didn’t. Grade: B.

Jeff Woywitka:Serviceable, reliable, tough, and surprisingly reliable. Much like Eminger, Woywitka was a whipping boy here after his poor start to the season. However, unlike Eminger, he played better as he got used to the John Tortorella way of life, and has been a great bottom pairing guy since. Maybe he has received too much ice time because of injuries, but the Rangers sure haven’t noticed. Kudos to Woywitka for persevering, and earning his continued stay with the Blueshirts. Grade: B.

Anton Stralman: Signed as a free agent a few weeks into the season, no one knew what to expect from Stalman. After a few weeks with the team, it was clear that Tortorella wasn’t a big fan, a point confirmed on HBO’s 24/7 last week. However as he has played, he has grown into a player that is not only reliable, but someone that Tortorella can play top-four minutes without hesitation. Stralman has been paired with Del Zotto, and both have flourished. Martin Biron might be the best offseason acquisition in a while, but the signing of Stralman might be the most underappreciated. Grade: A-.

Stu Bickel: The last man cut from the blue line in the preseason, Bickel earned a call up following Eminger’s separated shoulder and Woywitka’s bruised foot forced the Rangers’ hand. Bickel has been a physical presence on the blue line that has rarely made a mistake. He’s still a rookie, and yes his mistakes have and will come, but the Rangers couldn’t have asked for more from him. With Sauer out, Bickel has replaced that physicality that was sorely missing. Grade: B+.

Tim Erixon: He played in the beginning of the year when Sauer was out, and most recently while Woywitka was out. It’s clear he’s still not ready for the big show, but he’s a promising young defenseman that has done many things right. He’s only played 13 games, but it’s apparent the Rangers have a serious NHL player on their hands. Grade: INC.

Brendan Bell: Played one game. Grade: INC.

*Here is Justin’s mid-season report for the goalies & Suit’s report for our bottom six forwards. Stay tuned for reports on our top 6 forwards and our coaches.

Changes Are Coming On The Blue Line

Not sure if you guys caught this, but Marc Staal returned to the lineup in dramatic fashion, just in time for the Winter Classic. Again, if you missed this, I don’t blame you, the news was sort of buried amidst the other Winter Classic hooplah.

All kidding aside, Staal’s return marked the 11th defenseman the Rangers have used this season. Stepping back, it really is remarkable how they are this good despite playing everyone except my mother on defense this season.

With Staal back in the lineup, the obvious scratch choice was Jeff Woywitka, and as expected, he was scratched for the Winter Classic. Woywitka, claimed off waivers, was essentially an insurance policy and a body to dress for games. In all fairness, he exceeded expectations and was extremely serviceable. He came in, adjusted to the new system, and played some steady third line minutes…with some hiccups of course.

Now with Mike Sauer looking like he is on the path to return –he skated with the team– the Rangers are going to need to find a place to insert him when he returns. The only realistic options for replacement are Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel, as none of Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, or Michael Del Zotto will be sitting any time soon.

Considering the current pairings, it is my guess that Bickel will be the one who sits for Sauer, when he returns. It’s nothing against the kid, who has played very well (again with some hiccups) in his call up, it’s just a numbers game. It makes more sense for Bickel to be returned to the AHL and get significant ice time than for him to sit around as the healthy scratch for weeks at a time. It is for that same reason that I expect Woywitka to stick around for a long time, at least until Steve Eminger heals.

The decisions about scratches and replacements are easy decisions. The decisions for defensive pairings however is a very tough choice. Does John Tortorella go back to his bread-and-butter pairing of Staal-Girardi? Does he leave Girardi with McDonagh and put Staal with Sauer? Does Del Zotto get matched back up with Sauer, leaving Staal to play with Stralman? These are questions that can only be answered by the coaching staff and by the players’ performance on the ice.

Personally, I would go back to ole reliable: Staal/Girardi, McDonagh/Sauer, MDZ/Stralman. That gives the Rangers two legitimate shut down pairings that also have some offensive upside, plus the surprisingly strong pairing of MDZ/Stralman to give the top four much needed rest. That leaves Eminger as the odd man out, but you would have to assume Stralman and Eminger would be rotating. Assuming those three pairings play the way that is expected and the way that they have all year, the Rangers have one of the deepest blue lines in the league.

The Rangers haven’t played a single game this season with a full strength blue line, yet they remain in first place in the conference. The Times They Are a-Changin’.

A Look At The NYR GVT/PVT Leaders

With the Rangers seemingly in cruise control heading as the season flipped to January, we have been taking the time to look at advanced metrics to determine who exactly is contributing and in what fashion. One of the overall metrics we use here, Points Versus Threshold (or PVT), has been unavailable because it is derived from Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), of which the numbers were not available until recently. Now that Hockey Prospectus has made the GVT numbers available, PVT is now available*. Just a note about the numbers: these do not include the Winter Classic or any January games.

*-Note to the HP and BTN guys: I can help you with getting these out regularly if you want. </shameless plug>

Looking at the defensive unit, which has been marred by injuries, there might be a bit of a surprise at who leads the way:

Key for the tables: GP=Games Played; OGVT=Offensive GVT; DGVT=Defensive GVT; SGVT=Shootout GVT; GVT=Overall GVT; PVT=Overall PVT

Rk Player GP OGVT DGVT SGVT GVT PVT
1 Michael Del Zotto 36 3.6 4 0 7.6 2.5
2 Ryan McDonagh 36 2.7 2 0 4.7 1.6
3 Dan Girardi 36 0.6 2.1 0 2.7 0.9
4 Anton Stralman 13 0.7 1.6 0 2.4 0.8
5 Jeff Woywitka 26 1.3 0.5 0 1.8 0.6
6 Stu Bickel 6 1 0.6 0 1.7 0.6
7 Michael Sauer 19 0 1.7 0 1.7 0.6
8 Steve Eminger 30 -0.1 0.9 0 0.8 0.3
9 Brendan Bell 1 -0.1 -0.1 0 -0.2 -0.1
10 Tim Erixon 13 -0.6 0.1 0 -0.5 -0.2

Yes folks, that is Michael Del Zotto ahead of both Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi for tops among the defensemen in PVT. Del Zotto has earned the Rangers 2.5 extra points in the standings. That is as much as both McDoangh and Girardi combined. That’s not to discount the top pairing, as they are critical to the success of the team by shutting down the opposition. It is more to play up how Del Zotto has done a complete 180 from last season.

Looking more into these numbers, don’t look too deep into Mike Sauer’s numbers. GVT and PVT are counting metrics, and since Sauer has only played 19 games, his number appears lower. When you average it out to the 36 games played, he has about a 1.1 PVT (3.3 GVT) and sits in the top three or four.

As for Steve Eminger, who sits in the bottom three with a 0.3 PVT, it shows how much he struggled early in the season. He played better as he received more minutes, but his PVT numbers suffer because of his horrendous start.

Looking at the PVT numbers, it’s easy to see why Jeff Woywitka was scratched for Marc Staal’s return, and not Stu Bickel. Bickel has the same PVT as Woywitka, but in almost 1/4 the games. That number says it all. Plus the youth and “jam” factor of course.

Analysis of the forwards after the jump

Del Zotto Developing

Michael Del Zotto is ninth in the entire NHL in plus/minus. While many people don’t place much stock in the statistic (after all Marek Malik did lead the league in plus/minus one season) it does provide some indication how the young blue liner has begun to turn his game back around this season.

Del Zotto could have been forgiven for stalling in recent times when Mike Sauer was lost to injury and even before, as the Rangers blue line has had to accommodate journeymen pros such as Woywitka, Eminger and now Anton Stralman. However Del Zotto has continued to grow in confidence, more often than not make the smart play and above all begin to show some defensive consistency.

The dominant 6-1 victory over the Panthers on Sunday included a +4 evening from Del Zotto. Del Zotto impressed in the victory showing poise as he made smart plays in his own zone while he displayed a level of patience on the puck that wasn’t there even when he burst in to the league as a rookie. In short, Del Zotto is growing up.

What’s worth noting is that the extra emphasis and effort Del Zotto is putting in to his defensive game isn’t sacrificing his offensive instincts. Yes, the spectacular passes and rushes are less frequent but with solid play in his own zone and better decision making, the foundations are being set for the offense to be more impactful and less ad hoc. Simply put, Del Zotto is creating offense and being part of the offense in different ways than he was before.

The young blueliner is on course for 42 points which would eclipse his rookie efforts. The difference is that the rookie was a liability, this version is not. Del Zotto is playing the game more physically as evidenced by the 185 hits he is on course for this season. There’s not much the defenseman isn’t doing better this time around. With Sauer and Staal to return Del Zotto would likely slide down to the third pair in the short term but all that does is make the Rangers more dangerous.

If the Rangers can continue to nurture Del Zotto they could have the makings of an excellent offensive defenseman but one that may have an unexpected defensive ability. For sure, he’s far from a finished article and a quarter of a season’s solid play is not enough to declare Del Zotto a sure fire success but credit also has to be given with regard to how he has bounced back from a truly dreadful second year. All the failure, injuries, media criticism and demotion could have ruined him mentally but Del Zotto has shown a resolve to get back to the Rangers and make a positive impact.

What next? Del Zotto needs to work on his shot, and shot selection. It may be his ability to be a scoring threat himself that takes him to the next level. If penalty kills and opposing goaltenders don’t respect his shot and his ability to score then he may find his ceiling capped. If Del Zotto can become more accurate with his shot the Rangers could have a lethal power play; it’s not only Del Zotto personally that stands to benefit from his development.

Options In Case of Sauer

Mike Sauer remains day to day but with a concussion the Rangers are likely to be very careful with the ever improving defenseman. That brings in to focus the current defensive corps and the (lack of) depth the Rangers currently have on the big club. Your bottom three defenseman should not be named Steve Eminger, Jeff Woywitka and Anton Stralman. Especially when you have Mike Del Zotto in the top six improving but still developing. The Rangers need to look at other options in case Sauer misses extended time.

Sauer out brings us to the Rangers options on the farm. It’s highly unlikely (barring an extended losing streak) that the Rangers will go outside of the organisation. If that was an option at this stage, they may already have added another player. However, depending on the style the Rangers want to play there are two options in Connecticut; Pavel Valentenko and Tim Erixon.

While Erixon has already accumulated some NHL time with the Rangers (and certainly didn’t embarrass himself), this may be the perfect opportunity to see whether Valentenko really has what it takes to make the Rangers in the near future. Questionable skating ability seems to have held back Valentenko so far but with the greatest respect to Jeff Woywitka – and especially Steve Eminger – at least short term, trying out Valentenko can’t be any worse than the aforementioned two options.

If the Russian fails you can plan without him beyond the season. If he adds stability or physicality and holds his own in the line-up you know you have another asset to work with even if/when he would be demoted upon Sauer and (or) Staal’s returns.

Tim Erixon will be a future staple on the blue line in the future and his play (particularly offensively) appears to be improving with the Whale as we speak – much like McDonagh’s game got better throughout last year in the AHL. However, the Rangers should think carefully about taking a look at their rugged Russian blue liner while they still have a chance to do so. With the Rangers defense getting it done by committee this season it can’t do too much harm to throw another name in to the mix.

Sauer Has A Concussion

This news should not come as a shock, but Andrew Gross is reporting that Mike Sauer indeed has a concussion following the massive hit by Dion Phaneuf in the Rangers 4-2 loss on Monday night (video below). The hit was clean, but Sauer’s helmet came off and he hit his head on the boards, which is the likely cause of the concussion. John Tortorella has said that Sauer is day-to-day, but concussions are a tricky beast. Just ask Marc Staal.

Paging Anton Stralman

How Much Would You Pay Ryan McDonagh?

Usually anything written about Ryan McDonagh should begin with a big, passionate thank you to Bob Gainey but not this time as we’re past that (thanks Bob). We’re at the point now where McDonagh is becoming an integral part of the Rangers line-up, so much so that well ahead of schedule it’s a legitimate point in time to begin to discuss what McDonagh will be worth to the Rangers.

McDonagh is making a paltry (in comparison to his development) $875k this year and the same amount next season; he’s only eligible to become a restricted free agent prior to the 2013/14 season. McDonagh is also picking up a $425k bonus this season – well deserved thus far you’ll no doubt agree.

When it comes to the point where the Rangers begin to discuss terms with the talented blueliner, assuming the former Wisconsin badger continues his development, it’s going to cost the Rangers a fair bit of dollar. Do the Rangers overpay to get his name on a long term contract or do they use the restricted status to their cap advantage? It may be in their interests to get his name on a longer deal as soon as they can.

The next couple of years could be an expensive time on the blueline for the Rangers so it’s a good thing they have depth on the blue line in the organisation (allowing someone to be traded to make space for new deals). If Del Zotto completes his turn around this year and becomes an integral part of the top 6 his new deal won’t be cheap (after the 2012 season) while Mike Sauer’s latest deal expires at the same time as McDonagh. Meanwhile, Marc Staal and Girardi combine for over 7m in cap commitments. Girardi seems the prime candidate to be the victim of any cap management despite becoming a crucial part of the Rangers.

All Ryan McDonagh has done this year is become a force. He’s still learning and still makes some mistakes but he’s providing offense, doing his thing on the back end in an accomplished manner while doing it all with the composure and demeanour of a veteran way beyond his experience level. With 3 goals, 5 points and a huge amount of ice time this season, McDonagh has made the bitter pill of losing Marc Staal easier to swallow. So how much would you pay him? Would you get him under contract sooner rather than later?

Sauer In, Woywitka Out; Zuccarello Injured?

The big news from this morning is that defenseman Mike Sauer will in fact be in the lineup tonight for the New York Rangers after missing the the majority of the first seven games with a sprained shoulder. That means tha Jeff Woywitka will be the healthy scratch. In other injury news, it looks like Mike Rupp might miss tonight’s home opener with a nagging knee injury. That won’t effect the lineup too much though, if the lines below (per Katie Strang of ESPN NY) are what coach John Tortorella sticks with:

Ruslan Fedotenko-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan
Wojtek Wolski-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust
Erik Christensen-Artem Anisimov-Mike Rupp/Kris Newbury

It looks like one of Rupp or Newbury will be the healthy scratch against the Leafs tonight, depending on Rupp’s status. The Leafs are a tough team off to a hot start, and they are always very physical against the Rangers. The assumption with leaving Christensen in the lineup in lieu of some added toughness is to provide Anisimov with some semblance of skill on his line. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Fedotenko plays with the Richards/Gaborik connection, and how long he lasts on that top line. Expect some line juggling tonight if these don’t mesh.

In some AHL news, The New York Rangers Blog has picked up on a Norwegian website claiming that Mats Zuccarello has suffered a concussion as a result of the cheap Adam Mair hit. It is unknown how long he will be out, or the validity of the article itself. So, take it for what it’s worth.

Sauer Out Against Islanders, Woywitka In

The injury bug continues its spread across the Rangers blue line, as Mike Sauer will not dress for the Rangers game tomorrow night against the Islanders. Sauer suffered a strained shoulder in the preseason, and was severely limited for the remainder of the preseason and parts of the two regular season games in Sweden. After sitting out of practice most of this week, coach John Tortorella announced that Sauer will not dress, leaving another hole on the blue line.

With Marc Staal already out, the Sauer injury is another big blow to the Rangers. In Staal and Sauer, the Rangers have lost their two most physical defensemen. Opponents already know they can crash the net without recourse, but now, if the Rangers opponents are smart, they will do so more frequently. It is up to Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and Steve Eminger to provide the physicality on the blue line until Staal and Sauer are healthy enough to return.

The Many Effects of Mike Sauer

With the multiple injuries occurring on defense recently it goes without saying the Rangers will have been relieved that Mike Sauer didn’t sustain a serious knock in the Flyers game. It also points out the meteoric rise that Sauer has undergone in less than twelve months. It’s not a surprise – he always had impressive talent – but it is meteoric when you consider Sauer’s career looked to have stalled until last season given all the injuries that stopped him from rising through the organisation quicker.

Mike Sauer is giving the Rangers a healthy problem while at the same time allowing the Rangers to develop other prospects more patiently. Sauer basically has become a win-win scenario for the Rangers. Sauer will never wow you with offensive skill or blistering mobility. He doesn’t need to. He makes solid decisions, is physically impressive and is as good a teammate as you’ll ever need. In short, Sauer is a model pro.

Marc Staal’s lingering physical issues may allow Sauer to take another step in his burgeoning career. Sauer became a good NHL, top four defenseman last season. Should Staal miss any kind of stretch of regular season games, Sauer could have the chance to show he can be a top pair defenseman. This is worth noting because it affects so many players in different ways. Sauer stepping up potentially affects Dan Girardi’s long term position with the organisation. A reliable two way guy, Girardi may find himself moved out for business/financial reasons down the line if prospects become NHL ready and Sauer (or another) can replace him on the top pair.

Sauer playing bigger minutes long-term allows the likes of Tim Erixon, Mike Del Zotto, Pavel Valentenko and Dylan McIlrath all to be brought along on more appropriate time-frames – once the rash of injuries begin to calm down. However, then there is the other side to all of this. If players like Sauer make themselves irreplaceable then guys such as Tomas Kundratek and Pavel ‘I have waiver issues’ Valentenko find themselves in murky water as far as their own futures go. Does one player’s progress also diminish any trade value they may have as well? This is a problem Sauer’s progression can pose.

There are so many ripple effects to consider because of a player’s development and Mike Sauer’s past year and his immediate future highlight it so well. The player is affected, the organisation’s depth is affected, the cap is a concern and business decisions may outrank sporting ones because of things such as contractual issues (i.e. ‘do we trade Girardi to free up cap to pay X, Y or Z?’). It isn’t just about a player simply moving up through an organisation any more. It’s so much more.