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Posts tagged: Michael Sauer

What It Should Cost To Lock Up Sauer

Continuing with the trend of discussing pending free agents, Mike Sauer’s one-year, $500,000 contract has expired, his second with the Rangers, and is headed towards restricted free agency this summer.  Sauer played on a one-year, two-way contract last season, spending the entire year in the NHL after three years in the AHL on his entry-level deal.  Despite having just one season under his belt, Sauer quickly climbed his way up the Rangers depth chart, moving from training camp question mark to integral member of the blue line in just 82 games.  While his play this season earned him a great deal more money, his lack of experience is going to prevent him from getting a true payday.

What is certain is that the Rangers will give Sauer a qualifying offer.  As Sauer made less than $660,000 last season, a qualifying offer means he is due a 10% raise to be qualified.  This means that Sauer’s qualifying offer will be for $550,000, a no-brainer for the Rangers.  Determining what he will get in terms of realistic offers –$550k is too low– is a bit tougher to judge.

Defensive defensemen like Sauer are very difficult to judge, as their worth is not met in points, but in the ability to shut down the opposition.  Thus, we have to revert to GVT and DGVT to really gain a measure on what Sauer’s comparable contracts are.  Sauer’s GVT for this season was 3.7, relatively modest, but solid for a rookie.  His DGVT was slightly better at 3.9, which makes him an effective defensive defenseman, as we’ve seen.  He almost directly compares to Mike Weber of Buffalo, who is also entering restricted free agency after his second contract.  Weber made $550,000 last season.

With overall GVT a tough barometer to measure, I switched to DGVT, which is a more accurate way to really assess Sauer’s worth.  An interesting player came to my attention, and that was Kevin Klein of Nashville.  He ahs a 3.5 GVT, and a 3.7 DGVT, so his GVT numbers are right there with Sauer.  Then, looking at his raw stats, I saw that Sauer’s are again slightly better, as Sauer produced more offense in his rookie year than Klein did in his first two seasons.  Sauer’s +/- (+20) was also way higher than Klein’s (-2) in their rookie years.

Taking the comparison further, you look at Klein’s second year, his contract year, which he finished with a line of 1-10-11, a -13 rating, 27 PIMs, 101 hits and 147 blocked shots.  Sauer finished this season, the same contract year, with a line of 2-13-15, a +20 rating, 75 PIMs, 78 hits, and 96 blocked shots.  Klein also averages 17 minutes per game, less than Sauer’s 20 minutes per game.  After that contract year, Klein worked that into a three-year deal worth $1.35 million per year.  The timing and statistical comparisons are almost identical, with Sauer’s overall numbers beating out Klein’s by a slight margin.

Noting Klein’s contract, it’s tough to really say that Sauer will be getting anything less than $1 million, and will likely be in the $1.25 million.  It’s almost assured that Sauer’s agent knows about Klein’s contract, and is using that as a starting point in the negotiations.  Considering how much Sauer plays, getting him for $1.25 million is a bargain, and Sauer will take his 150% increase in salary all the way to the bank.  If I had to guess, I would guess that Sauer gets a two or three year deal, worth anywhere between $1.1 million and $1.4 million.  The number varies, as Sauer is 26 and unrestricted free agency awaits for him next season as the more arbitration-eligible years the Rangers buy out, the more the average annual salary will be.  The more UFA years the Rangers buy out, the more the average annual salary will be.  Sauer won’t be expensive, and his contract is going to be a huge bargain for the Rangers, but it will be a little bit more than most initially planned.

Stay Or Go: Mike Sauer

Mike Sauer is the perfect example of when dedication and unwavering self belief go rewarded. Sauer, the last remnants of the Brian Leetch trade, had been with the organisation for a long time before sticking with the big club this year. Oft injured in previous years and even heading into this year a legitimate doubt to make the roster, Sauer has become a rock for the Rangers. Prior to this season, Sauer had only 3 NHL appearances to his name despite being drafted way back in 2005.

This season Sauer has impressed in many ways. Whether it has been his solid defensive play, his willingness to stick up for his teammates or Sauer dropping the gloves when called upon but especially his physical play, Sauer has been a great surprise in New York this year. So much so, that this summer Sauer can expect rather than hope for a new deal from the Rangers.

Sauer has even thrown in some unexpected offense this season. Always considered a defensive defenseman, Sauer grabbed 3 goals and 15 points to go with his exceptional +20 rating which led the team. Given the fact Sauer was a big league rookie; the way he has played – along with his rookie partner Ryan McDonagh – has been sensational. A candidate for the 6/7th defense spots in pre season; Sauer (and McDonagh) locked up the second pairing this season. While Mike Sauer is not necessarily a borderline roster player for next season, what kind of contract he receives this summer is worth debate. The Rangers have a host of young defensemen in the system. How much do they value Sauer now, and going forward?

The Rangers should be looking to get Sauer under contract for at least 2 years. A sensible cap figure and length of deal will allow the club to evaluate the defense while Dylan Mcilrath and Whale players such as Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek mature and develop. Ideally for the Rangers, when Mcilrath is ready for the big club they will have an envious problem of too much defensive depth and thus some trade assets to play with. After all, there are only so many defensive spots up for grabs.

This season something else aided Sauer’s cause to stick with the Rangers; health. That hasn’t been the case much for Sauer and could be a source of debate come contract negotiation time. Prior to this year only once had Sauer completed more than 65 games in a season since 2006. Thankfully for the Minnesota native health was something he could rely on this season. Sauer was also not considered ideal for the way Coach Tortorella wanted to play but perhaps has benefited most from the change of approach in New York. If the Rangers can come to rely on 15-20 points a season to go along with a defensive shutdown, physical approach Sauer becomes an ideal depth defenseman.

Sauer should be receiving between $1 and $1.5m dollars this summer depending on the length of the deal. Anything around 2 years and $1.1m seems fair. The length of the deal Sauer receives will be a sure fire indicator of the level of confidence the team has in him.

Changing Of The Guard: Sauer/McDonagh Taking Bigger Role

Even two days later, the loss on Wednesday night still stings.  Among the positives, that Chris pointed out yesterday, there was one thing that goes widely overlooked by the fans.  If I asked you to guess, without looking, which defensive pair started each overtime period, you would likely guess Marc Staal and Dan Girardi.  if that is your guess, then you are wrong.

Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh are the pair that started each overtime period, and each played about 32 minutes in the double overtime game.  Of course, Staal and Girardi had more ice time at 37 and 40 minutes respectively, and that is to be expected.  But the second item that goes widely unnoticed is that Sauer and McDonagh actually had more shifts than Staal and Girardi.  Yes folks, Staal (42) and Girardi (44) both came in under the 47 shifts for Sauer and McDonagh.  Didn’t expect to hear that, did you?

I’m over the loss, not because I have accepted that it was a loss, but because we saw two kids –two rookies– grow up before our eyes this postseason.  Prior to February, the Rangers defense behind Staal and Girardi was shaky at best, and was evey shakier after shipping out Michal Rozsival for Wojtek Wolski.  Now, the Rangers have possibly the best shutdown pair in the game in Staal and Girardi, and then possibly another top-ten shutdown pair in McDonagh and Sauer.  Combine that with all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and the Rangers are a defensive force to be reckoned with.

They are still kids, and mistakes will be made (I’m almost positive McDonagh won’t make that pass again for the rest of his career).  Mistakes are a part of the game, but the Rangers have two separate defensive pairs that appear to be capable of shutting down any top offensive line.  Many teams would do anything just to have one pair like this, and the Rangers have two.  Factor in that Girardi is the oldest at just 26 years old, and the Rangers appear to be set for a very, very long time.  Perhaps the best thing about the emergence of Sauer and McDonagh is that Staal and Girardi can take a few more shifts off, which they so desperately need.

Michael “The Rock” Sauer

IF YA SMELLLLLLLLLLL…..

In a year where Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Artem Anisimov are dominating games, where Derek Stepan is the rookie making all the noise, and where highly touted Ryan McDonagh is playing solidly after his mid-season call up, Michael Sauer is often overlooked as one of the key cogs that makes this Rangers team go. I must admit I was wrong when I said (in the beginning of the year) that Sauer would likely just rotate with Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy as the sixth/seventh defenseman. Sauer’s strong play throughout the season has not only moved the rookie up from rotating spare part, but it has made him one of the Rangers top-four defensemen, and a main reason why the Rangers aren’t missing Marc Staal that much.

Sauer’s road to the Rangers was a rocky one. The young Minnesotan was drafted by the Rangers in 2005 (2nd round – 40th overall), and joined the Rangers organization for the 2007-2008 season. Injuries plagued him throughout his AHL career, and although many deemed him to be NHL ready, his injuries and the Rangers overpriced free agents crowded the blue line. Following the expulsion of Wade Redden to the AHL this past summer, a roster spot was ripe for the taking. Sauer beat out McDonagh for that final spot, and he has earned every minute of ice time following.

Sauer will never be an offensive force, but his 11 points this season is far more than anyone really expected of him. Also unexpected is his +18 rating, which is tops on the team, and a result of his tremendous defensive play that has catapulted him up the depth chart to top-four defenseman. In fact, his play has been so solid that it made Michal Rozsival expendable, and led to his trade to Phoenix. His 3.7 GVT slots him as third on the Rangers, behind Staal and Dan Girardi, consistent with his place on the depth chart. He does this all while being one of the intimidating forces on the Rangers, with six fighting majors while sticking up for his teammates.

Derek Stepan will steal the spotlight for Rangers rookie of the year because of his offensive numbers and the way he exploded on to the scene. However, Sauer’s game isn’t designed to be flashy. The best thing you can say about a stay-at-home defenseman like Sauer is that you didn’t even notice him. Defensive defensemen aren’t supposed to be noticed. They do their job, they kill penalties, they shut down the opposition, and they do it game-in and game-out. The Rangers, simply put, would not be where they are right now without the emergence of Michael Sauer.

Keeping Sauer

Sauer made a huge gaffe last night that cost the Rangers a goal but the young defensive defenceman improved throughout the game which culminated with his first NHL goal, a game winner. Sauer has established himself this year as a player that consistently plays, in part through his solid, low key style which rarely leads to mistakes. He is a calm, rarely flustered type that is an ideal complement to the top four. The Rangers should be wise enough to look to lock up Sauer for another year or two.

Sauer, primarily due to injury, has taken a long time to get to NY on a full time basis but now he is there he is proving to be a nice addition, a cheap one and a low maintenance one. If Sauer can add some level of consistent offense to his game then he will be a very nice core piece going forward. Sauer leads the Rangers in +/- with a very nice +8 rating. He has played physical and has good size. With Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko both progressing slowly but solidly (emphasis on the slowly) in the AHL the point here is that they shouldn’t be rushed. Would it be a disaster if they played another year in the AHL while Sauer kept his spot in NY? Absolutely not.

Sauer does have some offensive ability. In 08/09 he had 23 points in 67 games for Hartford and this season in NY he’s on course for 15 points as a rookie which is more than Marc Staal had in year one. Keeping Sauer makes sense. Last night he showed his ability to bounce back from mistakes. Keeping Sauer shouldn’t cost the Rangers much at the end of the season and that financial aspect could be crucial when it comes to pursuing your Brad Richards types. Sauer on the Rangers makes sense right now and moving forward. No need to rush the kids when one of them is already doing the business.

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.

The Rangers Can Play Physical

This Rangers club is different from other Rangers clubs of the past. Sure, the Rangers have generally been in the top-five in hits, especially in the Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky years, but there has always been something missing. There was always a level of ferocity that the Rangers simply would not go to previously. This year is different. The feel of the team is different, and it’s because of three players that were mostly afterthoughts over the summer: Michael Sauer, Steve Eminger, and Derek Boogaard.

Starting with Boogaard, the Rangers have themselves an enforcer, and a great locker room guy. Although he will always get attention for that contract, what the Boogyman lacks in ability, he more than makes up for in size and strength. When he is on the ice, no one messes with any of the Rangers. He does more with his five minutes of playing time than Donald Brashear did with his seven minutes of playing time. Boogaard came into came in shape, having lost 25 pounds prior, and it has shown on the ice. He’s not the swiftest of skaters, he doesn’t have the softest hands, but he does protect his teammates. Oh, and he apparently has a wicked slap shot.

Steve Eminger, who was acquired from Anaheim for Aaron Voros and Ryan Hillier, has probably been the biggest surprise of the season. Written off by many, including myself, after his preseason performance, Eminger spent the first ten games alternating as a healthy scratch with Michael Sauer and Matt Gilroy. In those games, Eminger was very inconsistent, and sometimes a liability on the blue line. However, he slowly earned more playing time with increased physical play, and generally good defensive play. He has proved many naysayers wrong, and his physical presence is something that is very understated for this Rangers team.

Rookie Michael Sauer came into training camp as a question mark, but played his way on to the team. He’s tough, he’s physical, and as we learned yesterday, will drop the gloves when challenged. Yesterday’s game against the Flames was the most physical game the Rangers have played all year, and Sauer answered the call. Although that boarding call was well deserved, he managed to draw a roughing penalty to negate the powerplay, and later dropped the gloves twice. He makes opponents think twice before planting themselves in front of the net. He and Eminger together have been great surprises on the Rangers defense, which again has been very good in the absence of Michal Roszival.

Last night’s game against Calgary is going to be the typical game the Rangers will play against most Western Conference teams, very physical with a lot of anger boiling over. These three low key additions have been instrumental in making the Rangers a physical force, and a team that will make you pay for hitting their star, or running their goaltender. This is something we haven’t been able to say about the Rangers in a long time.

And just for fun, here is that Marc Staal hit on Matt Stajan. This hit was clean, as Staal came from in front of Stajan, and hit his left shoulder.

Sauer Likely Sitting Tomorrow

As per Jesse Spector, the defense pairs during today’s practice were as follows:

Todd White is skating in a pair with Mike Sauer. Other pairs: Staal-Rozsival, Girardi-Del Zotto, Gilroy-Eminger.

That does not bode well for Sauer, who appears to be the defensive healthy scratch for tomorrow’s home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sauer has been playing well during his first two games, but it looks like the coaching staff wants to go with a more experienced presence in Steve Eminger alongside Matt Gilroy, who will take Sauer’s spot in the lineup tomorrow.

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.