State of the Rangers

The Irrational Love For Erik Christensen

With the news that Vinny Prospal may be out long term, the Rangers have shifted their attention to finding a first line center for Marian Gaborik and Alex Frolov. Considering the line combinations from practice this morning, in which Erik Christensen was centering Gaborik and Frolov, it appears the coaching staff is comfortable with Christensen centering the top line, at least in the short term. Many fans, on the other hand, believe that this is the best move the Rangers can make going forward.

Erik Christensen is a journeyman center, who couldn’t crack the Anaheim Ducks roster. He was a waiver wire pickup, and a solid one at that. He has definitely earned that two year deal the Rangers gave him last summer. That said, Erik Christensen is simply not a first line center, and a team that counts on him to be a first line center will have many problems throughout the year. Of course the Rangers don’t have many options for top line center at the moment. Prospal and Chris Drury are hurt. Todd White hasn’t impressed, neither has Tim Kennedy (who shouldn’t even sniff the top six). Artem Anisimov has clicked so well with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan, that it does more harm than good to move either Anisimov or Dubinsky off the line. Derek Stepan seems like the logical choice, but he has clicked with Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko, so the same situation applies. Naturally, Brian Boyle isn’t exactly a fit for the top line.

After eliminating Drury, Prospal, Dubinsky, Anisimov, and Stepan, all the Rangers are left with is Christensen. Sure, he has skill, but he rarely shows it. He made a nice pass in the preseason against the Red Wings, and schooled Martin Brodeur last year. It looks like those two plays really stand out in the majority of fans’ minds, because there seems to be a “common consensus” that he “belongs” on the top line. But yet, in five games this preseason, Christensen has been inconsistent, invisible, and only put up two points in five games. The majority of his time was spent on the top line during the preseason as well.

It looks like the words “by default” are the two greatest words to Christensen’s ears at the moment. He certainly has not played well this preseason, and has only been placed on the top line because it appears that the coaching staff doesn’t want to break up two other lines that have been clicking. Either way you look at it, someone is going to have to sit when Drury comes back (assuming White and Kennedy don’t crack the starting roster), and it looks like Christensen is the odd man out.

Can the Rangers do worse than Erik Christensen for top line duties? Of course. But then again, they can do a lot better too. The fact remains that he was waived by three separate teams. He has some skill, but doesn’t play consistently enough to warrant a top spot. He doesn’t play enough defense to place him on a third or fourth line, and he doesn’t play enough offense to play him in the top six. At the moment, Christensen appears to be a fringe player. He was outplayed by many in preseason, and had there not been injuries, would have lost top line duties. He can always find his game, if it can be found. For now, he is the best/only option for top line center, but for how long remains to be seen.

Update 4:50pm: After the jump, I added a rebuttal from BSB frequenter Jordan. It’s a good counter argument, and it’s good to hear both sides of the story.

Basically, from what I read, it’s that EC doesn’t have a place on this team, in your opinion. We can both agree he isn’t a top line center. You also say he shouldn’t be a top 6 guy. Then you say he doesn’t play enough defense to be a bottom 6 guy. So pretty much, he’s just a scratch waiting to happen.

I disagree.

Taking a look at EC’s GVT numbers, the best statistic we have to aggregate a player’s value, EC has been consistent throughout his career. His career numbers are 11.4 GGVT, 3.9 DGVT, 5.5 SGVT for an overall 20.8 GVT in 5 seasons.

More recently, EC’s value was 5.2 GVT through only 49 games with the NYR.

What does all this tell us? Nothing extraordinary, just that EC has tangible value. Maybe he works well with this team (player chemistry, Tort’s system, etc), hence his high GVT numbers last year. That’s pure speculation, but it could be for real. If nothing else, EC is a league average defender and better than league average offense wise. He’s a consistently average to above average player. That has value on this team and pretty much any other in the NHL. Top line, no, but the rest of the lines? Sure, why not?

I would challenge anyone who disagrees to assess their own value of Artem Anisimov, who is the player who is getting by on a few flashes of brilliance rather than a consistent showing at center. I acknowledge and fully understand he has only played 1 year and is still very young, but that’s the only sample we have to work with. I’m not advocating he shouldn’t be on this team, just that he has performed more in line with characteristics explained in this post. If anything, Artem’s small sample size data suggests he’s a better defender and should be on a lower line.

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13 Comments

  1. Basically, from what I read, it’s that EC doesn’t have a place on this team, in your opinion. We can both agree he isn’t a top line center. You also say he shouldn’t be a top 6 guy. Then you say he doesn’t play enough defense to be a bottom 6 guy. So pretty much, he’s just a scratch waiting to happen.

    I disagree.

    Taking a look at EC’s GVT numbers, the best statistic we have to aggregate a player’s value, EC has been consistent throughout his career. His career numbers are 11.4 GGVT, 3.9 DGVT, 5.5 SGVT for an overall 20.8 GVT in 5 seasons.

    More recently, EC’s value was 5.2 GVT through only 49 games with the NYR.

    What does all this tell us? Nothing extraordinary, just that EC has tangible value. Maybe he works well with this team (player chemistry, Tort’s system, etc), hence his high GVT numbers last year. That’s pure speculation, but it could be for real. If nothing else, EC is a league average defender and better than league average offense wise. He’s a consistently average to above average player. That has value on this team and pretty much any other in the NHL. Top line, no, but the rest of the lines? Sure, why not?

    I would challenge anyone who disagrees to assess their own value of Artem Anisimov, who is the player who is getting by on a few flashes of brilliance rather than a consistent showing at center. I acknowledge and fully understand he has only played 1 year and is still very young, but that’s the only sample we have to work with. I’m not advocating he shouldn’t be on this team, just that he has performed more in line with characteristics explained in this post. If anything, Artem’s small sample size data suggests he’s a better defender and should be on a lower line.

  2. Ultimately, I believe that if Sather had known that Frolov would be available on the cheap, and that Stepan would have emerged like he did, only 1 of Prospal/EC would’ve been signed, depending on who they felt better about centering the first line.

  3. if his numbers are sooo good why has he been dumped by every team hes played on.you can put numbers up all day long but the guy almost ended his career because hes been dumped so much.thats not a guy whos a top line center in the league.

  4. “He was a waiver wire pickup, and a solid one at that.”

    EC is a hard guy to figure out… it is not often that a player is either the first line center or not making the roster. I understand the hesitancy to not want to interrupt the chemistry on the Feds, Stepan, Avery line but what is more important, a third line that really ‘clicks’ or a first line that has a creative, talented center than can do the job? I understand the hesitancy of throwing Stepan out there against the opposition’s top talent (Torts likes to go with power against power) but it is hard to say Christensen has earned the spot given his preseason and enigmatic play last year. He was one of the very few players that seemed to have chemistry with Gaborik. I think that fact alone is what has Ranger fans pulling for him as the top line center.

    Anisimov has clicked well with Callahan and Dubinsky and that line may become reliable for secondary scoring (perhaps the same can be said of the third line, centered by Stepan) but I think the option to rotate and tinker with who plays between Frolov and Gaborik should always be on the table. Furthermore I think the organization should not be shy to look outside the players currently under contract depending on the severity and length of Prospal’s injury for a center that can do a serviceable job there.

    I pull for EC every night and love the fact that he seems to be playing his best hockey in a Rangers uniform but he is not a first line center. He did have good numbers going up against tough competition last year, he is good on the faceoff dot and reliable defensively. The name of the game for EC is going to be consistency, he has to play at his top level game in and game out, if he doesn’t he’ll be bumped and someone else will center Frolov and Gaborik.

  5. first off he was never put on waivors 3 times

    2008/02/26 Atlanta Thrashers traded Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a 1st-round selection in 2008

    2009/03/04 Atlanta Thrashers traded Erik Christensen to the Anaheim Ducks for Eric O’Dell.

    2009/12/02 Claimed off waivers by the New York Rangers from the Anaheim Ducks

    I think the role he had on the ducks did not fit he was a 3rd line center on the ducks he was never given a chance with the ducks top player’s if any thing I would assume the duck’s moved him because of the cap i’m not sure what he played in atlanta but i think he played third line center there also he scored 18 goals on year and I think if he has a rely good season he might be able to get 25 goals also he is exelent at the shoot out which is realy important to a team like ours to asume dury would fit any were on the top two lines is absord every one says drury is good at defence is wrong he is good at the pk however he is not a threat on the pk he dose not produce short handed goals and when he dose get a brake away he usely misses

    1. Look the guy has some talent. He was in shock in Atlanta, don’t think he saw the Penguins trading him. Anaheim was a complete bust in what I saw there. I say if he had the confidence to do what he could do, he would be a good addition. His Dad taught that hockey school where he is from, and I just think sometimes the guy is robotic, no emotion….

  6. With prospal out For surgery. What happens to dru when he returns from ir?

    If we don’t want to mess with chemistry, it either Boyle off the 4th or ec off the first.

    I wouldrather dru play first line than 4th.

    But ec has occasional flashes of offense. It’s a tough call.

  7. If you really don’t like him, why not advocate for Kyle Wellwood? Seriously, though, the Christensen thing is a moot point. We can bemoan our situation all we want, but it was two injuries that got us here. This is what happens when you have injuries to key players. Nobody’s saying that EC is a first-line center; they’re saying he HAS to be the first-line center because there’s no one else.

    In summation, I’m not sure what the debate is about.

  8. The problem with Christensen is when he is not raising eyebrows, he is nowhere to be found. He’ll go shifts, even games, without doing much of anything besides skate up and down the ice.

    He seems to disapeer b/c he doesn’t hit, he doesn’t block shots, he doesn’t consistently win battles for the puck, and he is an average face-off man. When you don’t score a whole lot and you don’t do all the little things like a Ryan Callahan, you can just become invisible.

    The one great thing about Erik is he’s cheap, but at this point in his career, he’s just a temporary solution until Stepan is ready to take on a bigger role.

  9. Regardless of injuries this spot should be Dubi’s.

    EC has never played a full season, never cracked 35 pts., is a minus player for his career, avg faceoffs, doesn’t hit, doesn’t battle, etc. etc.

    Dubi has cracked 40 pts 3 yrs in a row, takes the body, has good puck handling, is good at faceoffs, is a plus player, fights mike richards, is part of the youth movement/core of this team, etc. etc.

    As far as the consistency issue which people say about both of these players, it looks like Dubi has EC beat, by a landslide.

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