Posts tagged: Stu Bickel

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.

Still no call up, Bickel to play forward today

The AHL Transaction Log does not have any call ups listed for the Rangers this morning, thus it is expected that Stu Bickel will again play forward on the fourth line with Mike Rupp and John Mitchell. Bickel played fairly well as a forward in yesterday’s 5-2 stomping of the Flyers. With Ruslan Fedotenko out indefinitely, Bickel has been a good short term solution. However, don’t expect him to play forward forever.

A Bickel/Eminger Rotation?

When news broke that Steve Eminger was activated off injured reserve, the assumption was that Stu Bickel would be replaced in the lineup. After all, Bickel played just ten shifts and six minutes in the previous game against the Sabres. However, coach John Tortorella gave us some relatively surprising news, and stated that Bickel would play against the Flyers, and Eminger would remain a healthy scratch for that game.

There were likely many reasons for such a move, and the most obvious one is that Bickel provides some much needed toughness on the blue line with Michael Sauer out of the lineup indefinitely. Eminger is a fine bottom pairing defenseman, but he does not have that snarl that Bickel has. That snarl was much needed yesterday, with the Flyers dressing their goon squad.

What Eminger lacks in toughness, he makes up for in footspeed and overall defensive play. It’s a bit of a give and take when it comes to dressing Eminger or Bickel. Eminger provides some nice overall defense, which is going to be useful against some of the quicker teams in the league. Bickel provides toughness, which is going to be userful against the tougher squads that like to deploy people like Tom Sestito and Zac Rinaldo.

Eminger’s return gives the Rangers tremendous flexibility that they didn’t have with Jeff Woywitka, and gives Torts some options in his matchups for any given game. It wouldn’t be considered a shocker to see Bickel continue to dress for games like the Flyers, while Eminger dresses for games against smaller and quicker teams. Both have minimal cap hits, so there is no long term damage to the cap in keeping both around.

Plus, keeping them both around creates competition. One will need to be moved when Sauer returns, so keeping them both around creates more incentive to play hard. This is one of those good problems to have.

Bickel Still Needs To Clear Waivers, Something That Might Not Happen

When Stu Bickel was called up to replenish the Rangers blue line following injuries to Mike Sauer, Steve Eminger, and Jeff Woywitka, no one was really sure what to expect.  After ten games, four assists, 18 PIMs, surprisingly good defense with only one glaring error, and a physical presence that has been missed with Sauer out, Bickel has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season, and looks to be sticking around in the short term.

What was originally supposed to be a short term call up is turning into a bit of a situation that the Rangers did not expect. When the Rangers cut Bickel from the roster in October, he needed to clear waivers. So it should come as no surprise that he would need to clear waivers again if he were to be returned to the Connecticut Whale when the Rangers blue liners return from injury.

That said, while there should be no surprise in his waiver status, the issue here is that he might not actually clear waivers this time around. In October, Bickel wasn’t a known entity, and he only made noise when he was the last player cut from camp. This time around, the league is taking notice of the young kid who has filled in on a decimated Rangers blue line, and played relatively well.

Teams looking for young, physical, reliable defensemen (note: Islanders) are more likely to take a flier on Bickel now than they were three months ago. Such is hockey, such is life. But with Bickel’s likelihood of being snatched on waivers comes a different scenario: Will the Rangers actually waive him?

I stated last week that I believe Bickel to be the odd man out based on a numbers game, and I stick by that. But then again, I’m not running the team.

If they do not waive him, it will not be because they believe him to be better than Jeff Woywitka or Steve Eminger or Anton Stralman. If they are to retain him, it’s because he’s a young kid and they don’t know exactly what they have in him. When a kid impresses, you keep him around to see what he can do, especially if it’s at the cost of a roster spot for someone who likely won’t be back the following year.

In the grand scheme of things, we are talking about the third pairing that is comprised of a combination of place holders until Tim Erixon and/or Dylan McIlrath are ready for the show. Bickel has been a nice surprise, but that numbers game isn’t working for him. John Tortorella loves his ‘jam’, so he may want to keep him around. No one knows but him.

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

Rangers Recall Stu Bickel

With the injuries mounting, the Rangers had to recall a defenseman just to have enough bodies on the blue line. That defenseman is Stu Bickel, who has been recalled by the Rangers. In 27 games with the CT Whale, Bickel has a goal, three assists, and 80 PIMs. He has been one of the more steady defensemen on the Whale’s blue line.

The decision to call up Bickel as opposed to Tim Erixon or Brendan Bell was made for two reasons. First, the Rangers have minimal cap space available, as Mike Rupp is no longer on LTIR. That essentially eliminated Erixon and his $1.75 million cap hit. Second, the Rangers need someone who is not subject to re-entry waivers, as the holiday roster freeze is tomorrow. That eliminated Bell, who needs re-entry waivers to be recalled.

Bickel was the last defenseman cut in camp, and has put together a solid season thus far for the Whale. He has certainly earned his shot, and as long as he plays well, will be with the team for the foreseeable future.

The press release is after the jump.

Read more »

Quick Roster Notes

There has been a flurry of activity the past 24 hours, so let’s quickly summarize everything in one post:

  • Sean Avery was placed on waivers yesterday and cleared. He has been assigned to the CT Whale. There is no known timetable for him to report or for him to seek other options.
  • Stu Bickel and Brendan Bell were placed on waivers yesterday as well.  Both cleared, but will remain with the roster until further notice. This is similar to what the Rangers did with Todd White last season.
  • Tim Erixon has been recalled. He will be at practice tomorrow and will play this weekend.
  • To make room for Erixon, Marc Staal has been placed on IR. This is also a move to save a little bit of cap space while he deals with his post concussion symptoms. There is no timetable for his return.

Also, the forward lines for Friday appear to be set:

Brandon Dubinsky-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik
Ruslan Fedotenko-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Callahan
Wojtek Wolski-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello
Mike Rupp-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust

The defense pairings are still relatively unknown, as Erixon has not arrived in Sweden yet.

Brendan Bell And Stu Bickel Waived; Roster Appears Set

This sure has been a busy day for the New York Rangers organization.  First, we heard that Sean Avery is going to be waived, having lost out in the battle for the 13th forward position to Erik Christensen.  Shortly after, we heard that Dale Weise will indeed get a shot at the NHL, as he was claimed off waivers by the Vancouver Canucks.  Now, Brendan Bell and Stu Bickel have been waived, which means that the Rangers roster is set for the start of the year.

The fact that Bell and Bickel have been waived means that the coaching staff expects Mike Sauer to play in the regular season openers in Sweden.  Sauer had been out with a sprained right shoulder, and didn’t play a single game in Europe.  Although Sauer is back, the Rangers will need to dress at least one of Bickel or Bell in the first two regular season games, as they currently have just five healthy defensemen.  This is not an uncommon scenario, the Rangers did this with Todd White a bunch of times last season.

The Rangers roster appears to be set:

Goal (3): Martin Biron, Henrik Lundqvist, Scott Stajcer*
Defense (6): Michael Del Zotto, Steve Eminger, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, Marc Staal
Forward (13): Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Prust, Brad Richards, Mike Rupp, Derek Stepan, Wojtek Wolski, Mats Zuccarello

Just a note regarding Stajcer, any team opening the season in Europe is allowed to carry an extra goaltender for the duration of the trip.  When the Rangers return, expect Stajcer to be returned to a CHL team for an overage season.