Archive for Stu Bickel
Entering the first day of free agency it was widely thought that the Rangers would seek to upgrade their offense and add a depth defender.
Instead, the Blueshirts added grit on July 1st while watching several of their own free agents depart for greener pastures.
Here’s what went down on Sunday.
Before Friday’s draft it’s a good idea to take stock of what the Rangers already have in the system. If New York follows suit, then the Blueshirts will pick the best player available regardless of position. However, it’s worth evaluating where the team’s strengths lie. Kevin evaluated the forwards, so let’s look at the defense.
Erixon has been met with a lot of hype since the Rangers stole him (along with what turned out to be Shane McColgan) from Calgary for two second round picks and Roman Horak last year. After two successful seasons with Skelleftea HC in the SEL, Erixon came over to the NHL and was expected to make the club without any time in the AHL, which is exactly what happened. That said, Erixon struggled during his first NHL stint in October, finishing with no points and a -3 rating in nine games before being sent to the Connecticut Whale. Those nine games would be Erixon’s longest stint with the big club, but all was not lost. Erixon dominated the AHL, finishing with 33 points (3-30-33) in 42 games). The Swede is as NHL ready as you can get. Barring a major setback, he should be a Ranger next fall.
Whether you agree with the suspension or not, Brandon Prust will not be playing in tonight’s Game 4 against the Devils. With the opportunity to build a two game lead, the Rangers will be without one of their warriors and top penalty killers. It’s a blow, but not a blow that can’t be overcome. Unlike with Carl Hagelin, the Rangers have a few options readily available to replace Prust for the one game ban.
Option 1: Brandon Dubinsky
This option is the best option for the Rangers. With Dubi cleared for contact and partaking in optional skates, he is on the cusp of returning to action. It has to be assumed that if Dubi can play, then he will play. Dubi would be a perfect fit to replace Prust, as Dubi can slide in quietly to a fourth line role for this game, and ease back into playoff hockey. Plus, if Dubi comes back, the penalty kill won’t suffer too much with Prust out.
Option 2: Insert Stu Bickel at forward
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.
So we get a lot of questions on Twitter, and it is unfortunate that we cannot always respond to every question. In an attempt to address the most popular questions, we are going to start with these “Twitter Bag” posts, where we answer some of the more consistent questions we get on Twitter. We love addressing these, so keep them coming, and we will do everything we can to answer each question sent to us.
A: It’s tough to really say why Bickel is still in the lineup. He played better on Saturday with double the normal amount of ice time, but his usual three minutes don’t really give him an opportunity to be a difference maker. Tortorella likes him because of his physical ability, which is something that neither Woywitka nor Eminger really have. Eminger is ahead of Woywitka on the depth chart, so we can essentially eliminate Woywitka from the occasion (barring injury). In terms of ability, Eminger is a marginally better skater than Bickel, but it is clear Torts likes the latter. I think the club can benefit from having someone like Eminger take more than three minutes of ice time, but only if Torts trusts him to do so.
Q: Why did Torts bench Chris Kreider? Isn’t that sending the wrong message?
A: I’m in the minority that agrees with the benching. The club is in a tough spot of trying to teach the kid on the fly while winning games in the playoffs. That turnover –and Hank’s flub– was the direct cause of the goal. Every other youngster that Torts has coached has seen significant time on the bench when similar mistakes are made. It would be a coaching inconsistency to not bench Kreider. Lesson learned. He won’t do it again.
The Rangers play their biggest game of the season and perhaps biggest game since the lockout on Thursday night. A win over the Senators and progress to the next round could be the springboard to a successful post season. Or Friday morning could be the start of golf season.
With that said, should John Tortorella shorten his bench in the series finale? Given his tendencies to do so during his tenure with the Rangers will we see the Rangers coach double shift the top lines? This comes back in part, once again, to the potential part Chris Kreider may have to play in this game.
Despite scoring a huge goal in game six, being praised by the coaching staff after the game and generally, playing his best game as a pro Kreider still only played just over ten minutes. With a do-or-die game on Thursday any mistake, any slip in defensive assignments could mean the end of the Rangers season.
This morning Dave discussed Stu Bickel’s declining role and the potential introduction of Steve Eminger. Bickel is another example of Tortorella not wanting certain players in certain situations. The fact that he’s playing 5 blueliners right now is another example of shortening the bench. Given how tightly this series has been played a blow-out victory for either side is unlikely. In part because of the closeness of each game Bickel is routinely playing absoltely minimal ice time right now.
In last night’s 3-2 victory that sent the series to a seventh game, Stu Bickel was nowhere to be found. In fact, he only played three shifts the entire game for less than two minutes of ice time. In the Rangers 2-0 loss in Game Five, Bickel played just seven shifts for less than five minutes of ice time. Game Four? Seven shifts for 3:33 of ice time. Game Three? Ten and 9:18. Game Two? Six and 3:40. His first ever playoff game? Eight and 6:42.
Total all that together, and you get 41 shifts for roughly 32 minutes of ice time. Bickel is getting about as much time as Mike Rupp. John Tortorella is rolling five defensemen right now, and it makes you wonder why.
Bickel was one of the coach’s favorite defensemen during the season. Bickel saw time on the top four while Marc Staal was working his way back to regular playing time. With Staal fully healthy and back to at least 85% of his former self, compounded with the emergence of Anton Stralman as an apparent offensive and defensive force, Bickel has been seeing more pine than a dendrophiliac.
It makes you wonder if and when someone like Steve Eminger –who is healthy enough to play– will get a shot in the lineup. It’s not like Bickel is bringing anything other than some intimidation to the bench. But intimidation only means something if you play. Just ask John Scott how long his intimidation factor lasted with the Rangers.
When Chris Neil took out Brian Boyle with a questionable hit on Saturday night, he took out the Rangers most effective forward. He took out their leading scorer, top defensive forward, and top penalty killer in this series. He took out the only player that has managed to get under the skin of the Senators. It’s a big blow to the Rangers, and not a player easily replaced. The best the Rangers can do is find some sort of lineup option that maximizes the return of Carl Hagelin, and minimizes the departure of Boyle. This is no easy task.
Side note: Is it great for the depth of the team to say that Boyle has been the best forward, or is it a sign of weakness in the top six? Tough call there.
The good news, as mentioned above, is that Hagelin will be returning to the lineup tonight after serving his three game suspension for elbowing and concussing Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. The addition of Hagelin adds some much needed speed and puck possession to the lineup, which also helps minimize the negative effects of having their top defensive forward out of the lineup.
This leaves the Rangers with a few lineup options to consider for the game, and while none are perfect, they give the Rangers much needed flexibility.
Update 12:40pm: Per Andrew Gross, John Scott has a nameplate above a locker tonight. Steve Eminger, Jeff Woywitka, and more importantly Chris Kreider do not have name plates up. This likely means Scott will be inserted into the lineup tonight.
Original Post: With the news that Carl Hagelin is gone for the next three games, the Rangers have a few decisions they need to make regarding the lineup. The loss of Hagelin is a big loss, as the Rangers lose their fastest skater and a top six forward. That is not easily replaced in the lineup. Rookie Chris Kreider is the best option to fill in for Hagelin, as discussed earlier today, but the coaching staff may be hesitant to insert the rookie into the lineup so quickly.
The reasoning here is that Kreider may not be the best option for a series that has taken a dirty, physical, and nasty turn. Zenon Konopka, Chris Neil, and Matt Carkner have taken liberties with the Rangers, and there might be some retribution.
Since John Scott is likely not the answer the Rangers are looking for, that leaves another option that I mentioned on Twitter. When the club had a few injuries at forward, they left Stu Bickel in the lineup at forward on the fourth line, and inserted Steve Eminger into the lineup on defense. This is still an option for the Rangers, who may want to have some added toughness up front without losing much on defense.
Flexibility is nice, and it’s tough to really say there’s a right and wrong answer here for the Rangers. It really depends on what the coaching staff feels is a bigger need for Game Three. Do they need to replace the skill, or do they need the toughness? Personally, I would insert Kreider, but I don’t coach the team.
With a playoff spot clinched, we are running a new series about turning points in the season. These posts will focus on moves the Rangers made that effectively turned their season from mediocre to great. Part one: Calling up Hagelin and Mitchell.
The Rangers started the season shorthanded on the blue line. Marc Staal was out indefinitely with a concussion to start the season, so the Rangers were already short a top pairing defenseman. A rotation of Anton Stralman, Steve Eminger, and Jeff Woywitka was being used to fill the bottom pairing, and had been doing so with minimal success.
Fast forward to December 5, when Mike Sauer hit the boards awkwardly after a thunderous Dion Phaneuf hit. Sauer was diagnosed with a concussion, and hasn’t been seen since. Now, the Rangers are down two top-four defensemen. Just like he had last year, Eminger filled in nicely on the top four while paired with Michael Del Zotto. He made the injuries to Sauer and Staal easier to manage.
Then the world seemed to come crashing down for the Rangers. On December 17, the Rangers lost Eminger to a separated shoulder. In that same game, the Rangers also lost Woywitka, albeit for a short period of time. With Eminger out of the lineup, and Tim Erixon not ready for the show at that time, the Rangers called up their last cut in preseason: Stu Bickel.
Acquired in a deal with Anaheim for Nigel Williams, Bickel wasn’t garnering much attention until he was the last man cut in Europe. The Rangers blue line was in shambles, with four players lost to injury, three long term. Bickel and Erixon would play on the third pairing for the next week until Woywitka returned from injury, but Bickel was the attention grabber.
With four assists in his first three NHL games, Bickel was creating a stir in New York. Add in his physical presence that the Rangers sorely needed with Sauer injured, and Bickel instantly became a favorite of the coaching staff. Now, even though the Rangers are close to full strength on defense, Bickel still remains with the club.
The Steve Eminger injury paved the way for Stu Bickel to make his mark in the organization. Bickel may not have had the affect that Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell did (in terms of puck possession), but don’t underestimate how important it is to have a steady presence on that bottom pairing. Bickel’s call up was the beginning of the end for the revolving door that was the bottom pairing.
Four months later, none of Eminger, Woywitka, or even Stralman are coming close to dressing for a game. And it can all be traced back to a separated shoulder in December. Sometimes injuries are blessings in disguise.