The Atlantic division could have been about to change significantly for the Rangers and without them making a single move. The stark reality however is that the division’s order of power won’t change. The Philadelphia Flyers spectacularly went out and got All Star defenseman Shea Weber’s signature on a $110m, 14 year contract with a bold offer sheet. The Predators now has seven days to match the offer, something they are likely to do.
Nashville has what appears to be a straight forward decision to make. Weber is the face of their franchise (despite the presence of elite goaltender Pekka Rinne), an absolute game changing defenseman and a player who may not even have hit his absolute prime yet. Nashville has a large amount of cap space and still need to make the cap floor, something that matching the Flyers offer will help them hit.
In the end, Nashville will likely have to match. However, as Suit noted on Twitter, it’s not just the offer in totality that will be difficult for them to swallow. The front loading is the real issue. Despite their recent success, they are still a small market team and not yet producing the revenue it takes to hand out deals of this nature.
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When trade rumors begin to surface, many begin to panic. It’s not unexpected to see this panicking, as the Rangers were so close last season to playing for the Stanley Cup, it makes you wonder what management will do to make that next step. Per Larry Brooks, the organization has dubbed seven key players as “untouchable” in their search for scoring:
The Rangers, who are believed to have quarantined Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Derek Stepan (in addition to Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist)…
Mentioning Cally, Girardi, and Lundqvist is just a formality, as these are guys in or entering their prime who are core pieces for the Rangers. As for the first four mentioned by Brooks, those names are expected to be deemed as “untouchable.” If the Rangers were open to moving any of them, the return would have to be monstrous.
McDonagh was a given for the status of untouchable because of the impact he’s made on the roster. McDonagh emerged as a top pairing defender when Marc Staal went down with his concussion, and stayed there even when Staal returned. The pairing of McDonagh and Girardi is one of the best shutdown pairs in the game today. Throw in the fact that McDonagh has yet to tap into his offensive potential, and we could be looking at a Norris winner in the future.
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In a season full of surprises, none was bigger than 22-year-old defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
The former Wisconsin Badger was stolen from Montreal in the laughable Scott Gomez salary dump, arguably Glen Sather’s greatest transaction as general manager of the New York Rangers.
McDonagh spent the first half of the 2010-2011 season quietly honing his game in Connecticut before being called up on January 3, 2011.
He immediately clicked with Michael Sauer, bolstering New York’s second defensive pair just in time for the playoff push.
But even McDonagh’s stellar rookie season couldn’t prepare us for his monster 2011-2012 campaign.
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Justin Schultz is a very good prospect. There’s a distinct chance that should he indeed enter free agency, then the Anaheim Ducks will have lost a good player for the future. That said, it simply doesn’t make sense for the Rangers to be linked with him for various reasons. Yes, it’s rumoured and yes, plenty of Blueshirt fans would like him on the Rangers, but read on to find out why Schultz to the Rangers isn’t a realistic option for either party.
The Rangers are pretty damn stacked at the defense position. They are stacked at the NHL level and last time most people checked, they have some pretty high end prospects en route to the NHL level soon as well (hello Erixon, Tim and McIlrath, Dylan). Justin Schultz and his agent will know all this. The Rangers may not be the 1975 Canadiens with Lapointe, Savard and Robinson, but the Rangers blueline is young, talented and one of the main reasons this team went so far this year. Where does a talent (and he’s still just a talent folks) like Schultz project in the immediate future?
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Before we get to the report card for the Rangers blueline, let’s remember this: the Rangers enjoyed a spectacular season bested by only two teams in the entire league. A huge part of this success was because of the Rangers blueline. With that said, let’s look at the grades for the Rangers defensemen.
(p.s. if you missed it, here’s the Suit’s take on the top six scoring forwards this season – enjoy.)
For a significant part of the season Dan Girardi played like a Norris Trophy candidate. He was that good. Girardi enjoyed his finest season for the Rangers. With 29 points, a plus 13 rating, being an absolute work horse like few other in the entire league not to mention all the shot blocking, Dan Girardi literally does it all for the Rangers.
Aside from a very occasional stumble in the latter half of the season the only things that perhaps stop Girardi from being the perfect all round defenseman are his shooting percentage and lack of presence on the power play (1 goal). I really had to nitpick when trying to criticise Dan Girardi for this post. He is a richly deserved 2012 NHL All Star. Mid-season: A+/Full Season: A+/Playoffs: A+
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The Rangers were able to gut out a 3-0 win today against the New Jersey Devils to take a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final. The Blueshirts won despite 40 minutes of sub-par play, due to the absolute brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 36 saves. In a weird way, this game almost mirrored Game 1 in every way. A less than spectacular performance through two periods while keeping the game scoreless, followed by a Dan Girardi goal early in third, Chris Kreider giving the Rangers some breathing room and an empty netter. Let’s break this bad boy down…
- After Marian Gaborik drew a hooking penalty on Bryce Salvador early in the third, the power play went to work. There really isn’t much to break down on this one. Brad Richards won the draw in the offensive zone and Girardi slid into the slot to retrieve the puck and fired a laser past Marty Brodeur. There was very little traffic in front, Girardi just beat Marty clean for a much needed goal after the way the team played for the first two periods.
- John Mitchell started this play off with a fantastic, hard-working shift. He was able to get the puck deep into the offensive zone and try to kick-start the cycle. Cally got the puck around the boards up to McDonagh at the point, and McD fired on shot towards the net. Chris Kreider was in perfect position for a nice little deflection past Brodeur to widen the gap just a bit. With the way Lundqvist was playing, it seemed like the nail in the coffin for New Jersey. Read more »
You’d think a Rangers related blog would champion the last line of defense more than most. However the last line of defense – the goaltender – isn’t everything. Despite being a Hart and Vezina finalist, despite being the best goaltender on the planet this season, Henrik Lundqvist still needs a quality blueline in front of him to succeed, as does any successful goalie for that matter. It is this consideration however, why the Rangers should feel confident they can handle the surprisingly strong Devils in the conference finals.
Why you ask? Look at the Capitals. They had a former Norris candidate, blueline scoring machine in Mike Green start to rediscover his form in the Rangers series. They had two future studs in Karl Alzner and John Carlson and a quality top four defenseman in Dennis Wideman. They had a deep defense, one of the few that on paper can match the Rangers unit. Then, behind that defense they had a solid netminder. While the Rangers never tested Braden Holtby enough, part of the reason they got so little rubber on net was what was because of what was in front of him.
Of course Braden Holtby is not Marty Brodeur. The Devil is a legend at his position who is enjoying an Indian summer. That said Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene, Peter Harrold, Bryce Salvador and Mark Fayne hardly comprise an intimidating defense. Would Holtby have had the same level of success without the quality that was in front of him? With all due respect, probably not.
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Undoubtedly one of the unexpected surprises for the Rangers in this post season has been Anton Stralman. Stralman had a solid regular season for the Rangers, especially given that he arrived after the pre-season. That said no one could have foreseen Stralman playing as well as he has in the playoffs thus far. It has been a massive bonus for the Rangers.
While we have discussed the likelihood of Stralman’s next contract being elsewhere before (due to probable contract demands), perhaps a point we haven’t touched upon enough is whether the Rangers should seek to retain Stralman after this season.
Stralman has ensured the poor play of Stu Bickel hasn’t been too costly this off season. He has provided offense and has been solid in his own end. It goes without saying that Stralman is an NHL player next season. With Dylan McIlrath and Tim Erixon progressing to the point they may be viable candidates next year (Erixon especially so) there may not be a point in bringing back Stralman. However, the Rangers possess one of the best defence’s in the league and Stralman is part of that deep group.
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While this season the Rangers top defensemen have undoubtedly been the Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh tandem, perhaps one of the most key aspects of a successful first round series against the Ottawa Senators may be the play (and subsequent impact) of Marc Staal.
Without doubt Staal is and has been a number one defenseman but as everyone knows, injury has meant his play has taken a while to get close to his own high standards. Indeed, he’s still not the Marc Staal of old however his play has been steadily improving of late and how Staal handles the quick and tricky Senators offense could have a huge bearing on the series.
Every Ranger fan know of the team’s 1-2-1 record in the four games against the Sens this year and will be acutely aware of how the team has struggled to score against them. Amid the 14 goals credited to the Sens in the season series it perhaps went unnoticed that Girardi was a -3 in those four games while Ryan McDonagh was -1.
Both players were also held scoreless despite providing the Rangers with solid offensive seasons with 29 and 32 points respectively. Clearly neither player has produced their best performances against the Sens and therefore how guys like Mike Del Zotto, but especially Marc Staal, cope in the series will be essential. The Rangers don’t want the top pairing munching 30+ minutes a night if they have realistic designs of a deep run.
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With Dan Girardi tiring in the last few games (not a criticism) and Marc Staal clearly still struggling for consistency following his return, has Ryan McDonagh emerged as the Rangers best defenseman?
It’s a valid question and perhaps just another way of heaping praise on McDonagh for the way he has developed since his call up midway in to last year. A lot of people don’t pay much attention to the plus/minus statistic but even the biggest critic of that stat has to acknowledge McDonagh’s impressive +39 over his first 112 NHL games. That’s more than just being on the ice at the right time.
McDonagh is still learning and he’s still making mistakes; he’s not perfect. The way James Neal picked his pocket in the Pens game a few games ago shows that he’s certainly not perfect but he has progressed at an incredible rate.
The offensive side of McDonagh’s game has developed the most, visibly. However that is because he has such a solid foundation defensively that it allows him to get involved more at the other end. His positional play is exceptional and he takes the body with regularity. Given the style McDonagh plays he doesn’t take a huge amount of penalties and he fits in Tortorella’s system perfectly.
McDonagh has become a minute muncher. He’s playing a shade under 25 a game and while unfortunate for Marc Staal, the absence of Staal has been a blessing in disguise for McDonagh’s development. Nobody could have foreseen this rate of progress and it probably wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for a Staal brother collision last season.
It’s hard not to be excited about the Rangers future given how the club is being built the ‘right way’ (from the goal out). There’s an embarrassment of riches developing in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Del Zotto highlight a corps that still has Mike Sauer as well as Tim Erixon and Dylan McIlrath in the wings. There’s not another club in the entire league (outside of Nashville) that can boast that kind of pipeline on the blue line. And we said all this without finding a way to thank Bob Gainey again. Oops.
So, is McD the Rangers best defenseman right now? It’s hard to argue against him. When healthy, a valid case can be made for Del Zotto with the way his game has developed this year but either way the Rangers are sitting pretty with a 21 and 22 year old leading the charge to the post season.