Posts tagged: Wojtek Wolski

Tortorella Takes Shot At Wolski; Status Uncertain

In the preseason, Wojtek Wolski was slated to be the top line left winger on a line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. After having a decent preseason, Wolski played in the first game of the regular season with the Rangers before missing the next four games with a groin injury. The Rangers eventually found a great replacement for him on the top line in Derek Stepan, which leaves Wolski’s status with the Rangers a little bit cloudy. Although he is now likely to slide into Erik Christensen’s spot on the fourth line, coach John Tortorella did not have very nice things to say about Wolski:

We can’t get him out of the tub,” the coach said, despite the fact Wolski  practiced yesterday after taking part in the morning skate on Tuesday.  Asked whether that meant Wolski was getting hot-tub treatment for the groin,  Tortorella said: “I guess.”

This is clearly a shot at Wolski, as it appears that Torts is very frustrated with the winger, and his inability to get back on the ice. Wolski, who did not hear about the coach’s comments, decided to remain silent:

“I’d didn’t hear and I’d rather not know,” Wolski, who has been sidelined  with a groin issue since the Oct. 7 opener in Stockholm, said after he remained  on the ice doing sprints and extra work following the morning skate preceding  last night’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Flames…I hope I get to play the next game,” said Wolski, who played 10:34 in the  opener against the Kings while on a line with  Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello. “If I can go full out without pain  [today], I want to play in Edmonton.”

Wolski appears to be itching to get back into the lineup, but the coach seems to think otherwise. Regardless of what either’s opinion may be, the fact remains that Wolski, although skilled, may not have a spot among the top nine forwards when he comes back. The top three lines have either looked good this year or looked good last year (Pack line), so it is unlikely that Tortorella will break them up. If that’s the case, then the fourth line is where Wolski will wind up. It’s either that or the press box.

The Inevitable Question: What Happens To The Fourth Line If Wolski Returns?

When news broke of the new lines, specifically with Wojtek Wolski out with an injury, and Erik Christensen centering Mike Rupp and Mats Zuccarello, the outside question was about what would happen should Wolski return. Wolski won’t be out forever, and he is certainly an upgrade over Christensen, but they do not play the same position. In fact, none on that fourth line are true centers, only Rupp has played the position to any success.

For the sake of this post, let’s hope that the top three lines click and don’t need any tinkering. Now that that’s out of the way, we can look at the four players who would compete for the three spots in the lineup, of which three are considered to be wingers. The one center –Christensen– is likely to be the one scratched should Wolski return to the lineup. This is what we would call an interesting situation.

Last season, Christensen won 49.4% of his face offs (over 600 taken). That’s not all that great, and certainly not a reason to keep him in the lineup. As for Rupp, he won 50.6% of his face offs, but only took 162 (82 won) last year. His past years with the Penguins and Devils don’t help much either, as his numbers fluctuated from poor (44%) to decent (51%), but he never took more than 160 in a season. It’s tough to say how well he would do with full time center duties, but he’s an under 50% career in the circle.

In a pinch, Rupp could fake it as a center, but Christensen is really the only true center among those four. It’s interesting to note that Kris Newbury is pretty good with face offs (60% last year, small sample size), and he would likely be the first call up for injury.

There is always going to be the talk of trades, but it’s too early in the season for that. Plus, you never know what happens with injuries. Ryan Callahan is good for an injury a season with the way he plays, so having bodies around isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Generally, someone plays their way out of the lineup, so this “problem” may solve itself in time.

Did Wolski’s Wonky Groin Costs Him Top Line Spot?

Wojtek Wolski was the natural player to pencil in for the top line in training camp and the preseason. He is clearly the most skilled of the Rangers forwards after Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, and has proved in the past that when he has solid players playing with him, he performs as well. When he was placed on the top line with Richards and Gaborik, the line looked good. It’s tough for that line not to look good, but Wolski seemed to be a nice fit in that left wing spot.  Then he hurt his groin.

Wolski’s strained groin led to him sitting out a portion of the preseason games, forcing cocach John Tortorella to juggle the lines a bit. Brandon Dubinsky played nicely there, and now Derek Stepan is getting his chance. Should Stepan succeed, the Rangers have a very dangerous 1-2 punch with their top six forwards. Unfortunately for Wolski, he likely won’t get an opportunity to play with Richards and Gaborik should the Stepan experiment succeed. That begs the question: did his injury kill his top line aspirations?

It’s tough to say yes or no to this question. On the surface, it appears that it did, as Wolski was the penciled in guy. But, it would be silly for the coaching staff not to try all available options and see what works out not just for that line, but for the other three lines as well. Those two answers make it difficult to really say whether or not his groin cost him his spot.

While it is a good assumption that the first 15 games will be spent doing some line tinkering, that may not be the case should these current lines succeed. The top two lines are a dangerous top two, and we’ve seen what third line is capable of. Since coaches don’t juggle the lines to get the fourth, there is a good chance that we may not see any changes to the top nine forwards. If that winds up being the case, then Wolski may never get another opportunity to prove his case for the top line.

Training Camp Full of Questions

Training Camp Is Here.  Training camp starts today and day 1 is the day that all the players fear the most. As some of the beat writers have already discussed, day one is basically ‘The Test’. It’s where Coach Tortorella runs his players in to the ground. Torts’ camps are legendary and it all begins with the first day. That said, training camp is about so much more for the team than just fitness. Here are a few things that are worth monitoring going through camp.

How many rookies will force their way on to the roster?

The Rangers camp will be different this year because of the European trip.  It affects how many players the Rangers take to Europe with them and could influence how many rookies/prospects have a legitimate chance to make the team from the outset. Tim Erixon seems to have a spot to lose; he’d have to be seriously outplayed by at least 2 players or show that he isn’t physically ready for a Torts camp.

Carl Hagelin has a legitimate chance to make his Rangers debut in his homeland too. He showed skill and great speed in Traverse but his immediate future may be tied to the upcoming camp performances of Christensen and Avery.

The dark horse, which I have maintained all along, is Ryan Bourque. Bourque remained relatively healthy last season and followed up that with a good, if not great Traverse City tourney. He displayed speed and a lot of skill to go with his undoubted team first attitude and terrific work ethic. He seems an ideal option if the Rangers insist on going younger in the bottom 6.

Beyond the Swedes and the Hall of Famer’s son, it would take a remarkable training camp for another rookie to force his way on to the plane to Sweden. The Rangers have a ton of depth but not a lot of vacancies (despite a lot of talent developing in the system) so aren’t likely to rush any prospects unless their play demands promotion.

Join us after the jump for plenty more camp questions.

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Potential Bounceback Years

If you’ve been a fan of this blog for a while, we tend to be optimistic realists.  Following up on my post yesterday regarding potential sophomore slumps, let’s put a more positive spin on the season outlook.  There are a few players that come to mind when it comes to disappointing 2010-2011 seasons, I’m sure you can think of three without even blinking.  The good thing about disappointing seasons is that it leaves the opportunity for fans to be pleasantly surprised if the player in question comes back with a strong year.

The most glaring of the disappointing 2010-2011 seasons is that of Michael Del Zotto.  After a good rookie year, defensive struggles aside, Del Zotto struggled mightily in his sophomore campaign.  He struggled so much that he was demoted to the AHL to work on his game, where he promptly was injured, and missed a good portion of the year.  Ridiculous “trade Del Zotto” rants came in at every angle (except here, we have our heads screwed on straight), so the expecations for him couldn’t be any lower.  Now, I’m not saying Del Zotto is going to have an All Star campaign, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see him return to form offensively, while holding his own defensively.  Becoming the Rangers top scoring threat on the blue line isn’t difficult (Dan Girardi led the Rangers blue line with four goals and 31 points), so it isn’t all that unrealistic to hope he can bounce back.

Wojtek Wolski, who was acquired for Michal Rozsival in the middle of the year, is another player who started off strong but tailed off at the end.  With Wolski, it appears to be a matter of motivation.  I’m sure a contract year will help for Wolski.  That and potentially playing with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.  The last time Wolski was in a contract year he was traded to the Coyotes, where he put up a point per game, and another five in seven playoff games.  Money is a motivator.  Wolski could have the best year of his career, especially if he sticks with Richards/Gaborik.

Now comes the curious case of Sean Avery.  It’s tough to understand what exactly Avery brings to the lineup.  Before last season, Avery was a spark.  Last year, Avery seemed lost.  But again, money is a factor.  Avery is playing for another contract.  Last time he was in a contract year, he was one of the best players on the Rangers roster, providing that spark and some offensive flair (33 points in 57 games).  It seems Avery is learning where to toe the line, and if he’s given free reign, a return to the Avery of old could be in the mix.

As odd as it sounds, the Rangers might need bounce back years from at least two of these three players to be considered a legitimate playoff threat.  Depth is key, and while the Rangers appear to have a strong top-nine, an off year or an injury can throw a wrench into the whole season.  For one, I think Del Zotto’s bounce back year is the most critical to the Rangers success.  The bottom pairing on defense is a big question mark.  As for Wolski/Avery, let’s hope money is a motivator.

Musings Day

It’s Musings day and it’s truly the middle of the hockey low season. Little bits of Rangers’ related news comes out – on occasion – but not exactly over flowing with news. We’ll try our best though. Let’s get in to it.

JT Miller made the US evaluation camp then. There’s a camp to get to a camp to get to the team? Leave no stone unturned I guess. Good for him though. He’s clearly a good prospect who is positionally flexible. His flexibility may see him in NY sooner rather than later.

Partners in Crime: My friend who came to NY with me in January has paid up and decided to join me in Sweden for the Rangers weekend. That mean’s two things: We’re guaranteed horrible hangovers and the two of us are truly trying to conquer the world. It’ll be our fourth different continent together.

Brendan Bell, eh? He has some offensive upside and can score at both the AHL and NHL level and is a solid depth addition that cannot hurt the club. Almost certainly one for the AHL, but he could help the power play down there. I guess someone on the blue line may well start the year in the ECHL?

I think Brandon Prust breaks the 30 point barrier next season. Why? Because special teams will be better and I think the PK will be even more lethal. He’s also looking for a pay day.

End of an Era: When Alexi Kovalev finally signed on in the KHL, the last active Rangers cup winner left the NHL. Time for a new set yeah?

(Another) draft Bust: Even though he was only just inside the first round, when ex Islander Rob Schremp signed for MODO this week it was another huge talent that failed to make an NHL impact. Kid had unreal skill and is another in the line of draft disappointments like Patrick O’Sullivan.

NFL rant: I’m a Giants fan. After this pre-season I’m seriously considering switching allegiances. (No, not to the Jets, Becky…) Seriously, could the Giants have a worse off season? Did Sather use up all the management skill in NY this summer? Didn’t think the Giants were penny pinchers. Apparently they are. Urgh

Sean Avery I am disappointed in you. That is all.

Having recently read that Wojtek Wolski is ‘working hard’ this summer, does it mean that he has read the memo that he needs to give a consistent effort to crack the line up? If Wolski can match his skill level with desire then he can still be a huge asset to the Rangers. Yes, huge.

Mikhail Pashnin. If I’m the Russian defenseman I’d also stay in Russia, for the time being. Though I’d have only signed a one year deal. He needs to remain as contractually flexible as he can until his NHL chance either comes or finally goes.

I read that the Rangers window to win is now open? No. It is opening. 2012-13 it’ll hopefully be wide open for a few years, but we’re still one year away from legitimate playoff expectation. Some more patience folks…

Me: I’ve had a bizarre 7 days. I’ve been invited to a wedding in California the week of my 30th. Seems too good to be true! I’ve also had 3 job offers in 4 days, one of them in Germany. Needless to say I’ve had a lot to think about this week!

Marian Gaborik CAN score 100 points next season. I’m being deadly serious when I say that. A good Rangers’ power play, sustained health and instant chemistry with Mr Richards and it could happen. Emphasis on could.

Insta poll: Who will be the Rangers highest scoring defenseman next season?

My answer: Del Zotto.

Current Ranger that won’t be a Ranger on October 7th: Erik Christensen.

I’m surprised Bryan McCabe is still homeless. He didn’t fit well in NY, but is likely cheap and can help as a depth guy. There’s certainly a lot worse under contract in the league.

Final poser: Who will score more points this season; Derek Stepan or Artem Anisimov?

Happy Thursday peeps. GO RANGERS (no go Giants. Urgh.)

Christensen, Zuccarello Or Wolski?

Early yesterday, the guys at CapGeek tweeted that the Rangers have $527,000 in bonuses on this year’s cap, which is essentially an extra player at the league minimum.  With that, the Rangers have roughly $10.6 million in salary cap space to work with before they hit the $64.3 million salary cap ceiling.  There are a few kinks to work out, but the Rangers clearly have a logjam at forward.  When looking at the 14 forwards listed on CapGeek, there are three names that jump out at me as “a spare forward” for this season: Erik Christensen, Wojtek Wolski, and Mats Zuccarello.

Before you get all up in arms about listing Zuccarello there, read on, it will make sense.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Rangers need to dump a forward by either trade, buyout, or demotion.  Competition is good, especially for bottom six guys, but 14 forwards (including Dubinsky and Callahan) is just too many.  Sean Avery and his $1.9 million cap hit is untradeable, so that really eliminates the idea of moving him.  That really just leaves the trio mentioned above, and one of them is going to have to go.

Starting with Zuccarello, the simplest solution is to send him to the minors, where his $1.75 million cap hit is off the books.  That becomes a wash with the Erixon or Del Zotto contract, plus gives the Rangers extra room to add that seventh defenseman at around $1 million.  When all  is said and done in this scenario, the Rangers have 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and a little more than $1 million in cap space.

Moving on to Wolski and his $3.8 million salary ($466,667 and $667, 667  buyout price), he is the biggest enigma on this current Rangers team.  Wolski clearly has skill, but it’s just unfortunate that he picks and chooses when he wants to show it.  I truly believe he can shine on a line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.  However, that is a lot of maybes to stick with someone making $3.8 million.  Especially when his buyout comes at 1/3 the price, not 2/3 the price.

Finally there’s Christensen, it’s easier to see why he would stick around, as his salary is 1/3 of Wolski’s and a little more than half of Zuccarello’s at $925,000.  My feelings on Christensen aside, I think that at his skill set and his price are a good fit for the fourth line on this club.  He is also extremely maddening to watch, but he wouldn’t be given a top line role with Richards in the fold.  I think he stays at this point.

So the Rangers have a choice to make between now and October 1, and it’s not an easy choice.  Much of this will depend on the final cap numbers for Dubinsky and Callahan, so don’t expect any decision on this front soon.  The only thing we can infer is that the Rangers will be sending one of Zuccarello, Wolski, or Christensen away.  I’d have to assume that Zuccarello starts the year in the AHL, and is the first call up for injury replacement.

Conflicting Wolski Reports Fuel Rumors, Confusion

After the news broke that the Rangers would indeed be buying out captain Chris Drury, rumors ran rampant about what the Rangers would do with LW Wojtek Wolski.  Jesse Spector of the NY Daily News suggested that Wolski will likely be bought out.  I asked him the same question on Twitter, in which he responded that the Wolski buyout isn’t as set in stone as Drury’s, but it will more that likely occur.

Less than 3 hours after Spector answered my question via Twitter, Larry Brooks of the NY Post released his article stating that Wolski will not be bought out.  This of course led to a feeding frenzy among the blog-o-sphere, as many were quick to post the Brooks confirmation, as if the Spector confirmation never occurred.  I have to admit, I penned a post as well, but decided last minute not to post it (courtesy of some coaxing by The Suit and Chris).

Instead, let’s take a step back and look at a few factors here.  Both Brooks and Spector are respected mainstream media members, who have been very generous in answering many fans questions, and giving us breaking news as it occurs.  When reading their articles, Spector uses logic to suggest that Wolski will be bought out.  The logic makes sense, and I agreed with him that it makes sense for the Rangers to buy out Wolski for the $3.3 million in savings next year, with just a $667k cap hit the following season (details here).  Spector was not the only beat writer to believe Wolski would be bought out, as Arthur Staple of Newsday believed so as well.

Brooks, on the other hand, is citing an anonymous source that Wolski will in fact not be bought out.  I can see the logic here too, in that Wolski has tremendous skill, and might excel on a line with Brad Richards (assuming he winds up a Ranger) and Marian Gaborik.  His inconsistencies generally level out when he is paired with a playmaking center, which he was not during his half season here.

When taking a step back from it all, Brooks is generally right when he breaks this kind of information.  I am inclined to side with Spector and Staple that he will be bought out to make more room for Richards, but keeping Wolski isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world for the Rangers.  They would be taking a chance on a 26 year old who would still be under team control when his current contract ends.  He is also a short term commitment, compared to any UFA the Rangers might chase after.  I still think he’s bought out, but I won’t exactly be crying if he isn’t.

Wolski, Del Zotto, Prust To Work With Barbara Underhill

Via Blueshirts United, Brian Boyle answered questions from fans yesterday as a part of an offseason fan interaction promotion. One of the questions asked was about his training with Barbara Underhill, if he would be training with her this summer, and if any Rangers would be training with him.  The answer was very positive.  Boyle stated that not only would he be continuing his training with the former Olympic skater, but teammates Wojtek Wolski, Michael Del Zotto, and possibly Brandon Prust will be joining him as well.

The news about Wolski and Del Zotto joining Boyle in the skating training is fantastic news.  Both Wolski and Del Zotto had underwhelming seasons, which has led to a demotion for Del Zotto and rumors of a buyout for Wolski.  Both players are in similar positions as Boyle was at the end of last season, their roster spots in jeopardy barring a significant showing in camp.  As for Prust, his roster spot isn’t in doubt, but imagine what he can do if he improved on his skating a bit?

Saying that the training worked for Boyle is a tremendous understatement, as Boyle quadrupled his output offensively and was a force on the ice.  He went from borderline 13th forward to core piece on the third line.  Del Zotto is a key to the future of the franchise, and if Wolski shows improvement, he may answer the Left Wing Connundrum and provide some support for Marian Gaborik.

*** Additional Note By The Suit: For those of you who are unfamiliar with what power skating coaches teach, a lot of the drills are designed around skating and turning on your edges like inside edge – outside edge crossovers, toe cuts, transitions, etc. The purpose of these drills isn’t just to make you “skate faster,” but to become more explosive while making your stride more balanced and efficient.

As far as Boyle goes, I think his posture was a lot better this past season, as well as his overall technique. His arms didn’t seem to be flailing as much and he looked like he was skating more effortlessly. This is what a power skating coach will teach you.

Stay Or Go: Wojtek Wolski

The acquisition of Wojtek Wolski in January sure did make a lot of people happy, as it resulted in the jettison of Michal Rozsival to Phoenix.  At the time of the trade, Wolski represented three things: 1) a young, tremendously skilled forward who has the potential to be great; 2) another body to fill out injury-ravaged roster; and 3) some cap relief ($1.2 million to be exact).  The potential for Wolski was there and will always be there, but he was maddingly inconsistent in the half season with the Rangers.

He burst onto the scene in NY with eight points (3-5-8) in his first ten games with the Rangers, but quickly cooled off.  In his final 27 games of the 2010-2011 season, Wolski netted just three goals and 11 points.  His production wasn’t too poor, as was scoring at a 40 point pace, but it was the inconsistency that drove the fans –and coaching staff– mad.  Wolski’s effort seemed to disappear for games on end, and he failed to score a goal for 17 games, a span that covered late February to early April.

Wolski has tremendous talent, and has been a savior in shootouts, but he simply doesn’t play defense and is so inconsistent that it drives most people up the wall.  He wound up as a healthy scratch for a few games late in the year, and spent a significant amount of time on the fourth line of cast-offs with Erik Christensen and Sean Avery.  Once Chris Drury returned, he was bounced from the lineup on days were Christensen or Mats Zuccarello were in the lineup.

Even though Wolski was the team leader in points in the playoffs  with a goal and three points in five games, his future in New York is up in the air.  He has a year left on his contract at a $3.8 million cap hit.  However, he is under 26 years old, thus making his buyout ridiculously cheap.  In short, buying out Wolski saves the Rangers $3.4 million in cap space.  But, buying him out leaves another roster spot to be filled, either via free agency or with kids.  I find it unlikely that Wolski will be traded as there are few teams willing to give up much for an inconsistent player.  So if the Rangers decide to dump Wolski, it will likely be via the buyout.

I personally do not think the Rangers will keep Wolski around for next year.  They have enough spare forwards in Christensen, Avery, and possibly Drury that they don’t need Wolski and his $3.8 million cap hit to sit on the bench.  The question then becomes who will replace Wolski in the lineup?  Is Carl Hagelin NHL-ready? Are there potential free agents that can fill as a stop-gap?  In the end, the cap hit saved by buying out Wolski far outweighs any lineup questions the Rangers may have, as they need all the cap space they can get with the possibility of Brad Richards looming.