State of the Rangers

Grading the Rangers: the top six forwards

“Hey guy’s, look at us, we’re bargains! “(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Let’s have a gander at the grades for the Rangers’ top two forward lines shall we?

Rick Nash

Rick Nash’s overall season can be argued both as a positive and a negative. Indeed, there are few players that have divided opinion the way Nash has since he became a Ranger. A season that featured notable career highs but that was offset by another underwhelming postseason, things went as far as culminating with Nash being considered prime trade material this offseason. Hardly the appreciation you’d expect for a 42 goal player and early season Hart Trophy candidate. The problem is that Nash, like many Rangers, is now judged primarily on what he does after the regular season and this is where he failed to live up to both his regular season production and significant salary.

Nash needs to be a leader, the go-to guy offensively and in the postseason that didn’t happen nearly enough. Nash lacked postseason consistency, was never close to being his dominant regular season self and as the Rangers went quietly into the offseason, tellingly, so did Nash. Once again, despite solid numbers the microscope will firmly be on Nash come October. Despite the disappointing end, Nash finished in the top ten for the Hart trophy.  Grade: B

Derick Brassard

It is hard not to class Brassard’s season as anything other than a complete and utter success, if it were not for the fact this Rangers team were expected to reach another Cup final. Brassard has almost made a mockery of his new contract (bargain!) scoring an impressive 60 points in the regular and leading the Rangers in both postseason goals and points. Several times throughout the year but particularly in the playoffs Brassard came up huge for the Rangers and he arguably overtook Derek Stepan as the team’s #1 pivot. Or has he? (what a luxury the Rangers suddenly have).

Brassard played the entire season with infectious enthusiasm, was effective on an otherwise inconsistent powerplay and found great chemistry with Mats Zuccarello and Nash. The only real criticisms of Brassard could be his (continued) reluctance to use his wonderful shot more and again, as the Rangers struggled to score at home at the end of the playoffs, Brassard was another that was found wanting. Brassard took several careless penalties this season but if that’s the worst aspect of his game compared to all the positives sign me up. Grade: A-

Derek Stepan

Stepan has become a fine two-way pivot for the Rangers and has played himself into what will likely be a big new contract this offseason. Again, like other key forwards, Stepan didn’t step up to save the Rangers season when needed and going pointless in the last four games of the playoffs will have left a bitter taste on his otherwise productive season. Stepan did however score some huge goals in the playoffs including the series winner over the Capitals and was usually matched up against other team’s top lines so Stepan cannot be judged purely by his offensive numbers.

Stepan has become an established 55 point centerman but you get the sense there is more to come from the homegrown Ranger. Stepan’s biggest weaknesses remain the long stretches he goes without scoring (three droughts of at least 8 games without a goal, including a 14 game stretch) as well as his faceoff inferiority. It is a weakness that has undermined his game his entire pro career. You get the sense that Stepan’s career could go one of two ways: he could become a 70-80 point elite center or he could settle into a nice yet perhaps underwhelming complimentary piece.  Either way, another season passed where Stepan was critical to the Rangers on ice fortunes. Grade: B

Martin St Louis

Grading St Louis hurts. It was hard to watch a future Hall of Famer and genuine good guy’s game disintegrate at the end of the season and make no mistake, St Louis’ game crumbled. St Louis has always been streaky and this year was no different but the lows have truly begun to outweigh the highs. How can his season, even when the winger was the Rangers second leading goalscorer, be classed a success when it featured two separate scoreless streaks of at least 15 games?

St Louis was often far too easily muscled off the puck, he coughed the puck up a lot in open ice, and wasn’t a difference maker or go-to guy the Rangers had thought they had acquired and in truth, he’s never quite been the force he was during his Tampa days. St Louis never really had that spark about him this year and after he returned from his injury lay off he looked a step slow, something he’s never recovered. It’s the measure of the man that his 52 point regular season (a quality year for 80% of the league) was underwhelming. His playoffs were almost a tragic occurrence. Grade: a generous C

Mats Zuccarello

Mats Zuccarello and the Rangers’ season overall may be summed up ‘what might have been’. Zuccarello was sorely missed in the playoffs and we’ll never know if his presence would have been enough for the Rangers to go the distance. What we do know however is Zuccarello is the glue that holds the Rangers top six together, he is a strong possession player and with the decline of St Louis, maybe the Rangers most creative spark. Few in the league can share Zuccarello’s vision. Zuccarello was often the catalyst for his line and is a big part of Derick Brassard’s emergence into a front line, quality NHL forward.

Zuccarello’s regular season started slowly and generally speaking, he really needs to score more consistently and shoot more frequently – a trait too many Rangers forwards share – but when Zuccarello was on his game, the Rangers invariably were a lot better for it. The fact Zuccarello did almost nothing on the powerplay all season long is borderline inexplicable and he’ll need to return to contributing to the powerplay next season to really become a force. With his new team friendly deal in place Zuccarello remains a critical piece of the puzzle. Grade: B

 Chris Kreider

Consistency, consistency, consistency. One word, repeated over and again that can sum up Chris Kreider. If Kreider can discover some form of game to game (even period to period) consistency he could genuinely be one of the game’s very best power forwards. There were games where Kreider absolutely dominated opponents whether it was through his speed or his physical play and when he drives to the net with the puck he is oh-so hard to stop. Kreider set career highs across the board yet, like others on the roster, you get the feeling there’s much more to come (which clearly is exciting for Rangers fans).

Kreider was at times huge in the playoffs (something he’s done a lot), highlighted by his mammoth series saving goal against the Capitals but even then, 9 points in 19 games leaves you wanting more, even when his stat lines were full of big goals. Kreider flirted with 200 hits and 200 shots this year. Imagine if he played every game like it meant something? Kreider’s defensive gaffes still need addressing, his penchant for bad penalties needs sorting but the potential for Kreider is so great it’s hard not to be excited. Despite all that, the huge consistency issues and limp finish to the playoffs haunt Kreider’s season. Grade: B-

It’s perhaps surprising to see C’s and B’s on a top six forward group that just helped win a President’s trophy but the Rangers had room for more, had a disappointing finish to their year and really, they’ve set these standards for themselves. It’s exciting that there’s so much upside (still) among this group. 

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  • Mr, October has to prove that he can win the big ones. Some have even suggested re-naming him A-Rod 2, that would be me thinking out loud!!!!!

    Brass is by far the best center we have, proved he can play in all circumstances, and should continue to be a very good player.

    Zucc is our spark plug, plays with more heart than anyone on this team. If Nash had half the balls of Zucc, we would have something going there!!!!!

    Kreider will get better, this is going to be his coming out party.

    MSL, bye bye, and good luck, that’s all I’ll say………

    Step is an above average player, ore towards the better side, and he will demand more money this year. Bottom line, he had better produce if he gets what he thinks he is worth!!

    Over all scoring of this group is fair..

      • I posted this on another blog, too: 2015 playoffs: Stamkos 26 games, 18 points (7g, 11a), 0.69 points per game. Nash 19 games, 14 points (5g, 9a), 0.74 points per game. Should we assume that Stamkos also should be called “Mr. October”? Nash is by far the better defensive player and seems to help his linemates more, too (+8 in 19 games vs. Stamkos +2 in 26).

  • I can’t say I feel, based on the year long numbers that I would rate Nash and Stepan equal. Nash was by far the biggest scoring threat we had, and isn’t that what a top six forward is supposed to be?

  • Given that the grades are for the regular season and playoffs, they seem fair. If just judging the regular season, most of them should be bumped up some.

    It’s been pretty wild watching almost 2 full seasons with no line shuffling as compared to how players were rolled out under the previous regime. AV really gives these guys time to settle in, eh?

      • Agree, but even with today’s roster Torts would be line shuffling in game giving guys different looks often.

        Not for better or worse, just different individual coaching tendencies.

          • Sorry, Dave… I’m usually in your corner but I think you’re off on this one. Not that it matters in the slightest and I am not arguing that it is a better/worse strategy.

            But very matter of fact-ly, John Tortarella would 100% change up line combinations both in-game and game-to-game more than Alain Vigneault did. Whoever has “jump” in a particular game would be seeing more minutes. We certainly wouldn’t have had to wait to the playoffs to see Hayes in the top six for a few odd shifts.

  • In other news, the Rangers qualified 8 of 9 RFAs, Connor Allen being the odd man out. He will become an UFA July 1 (tmrw).

    • Everyone was clamoring for this guy to be brought up, well I guess he isn’t what management thought he was. I wish him well, maybe he can land on the Arizona team who didn’t qualify J Moore, whom I’d offer a contract as possibly a 7th d-man!!!!!!!!!!

      • Yeah, it’s a head scratcher. It looks like we have a log jam at LD and mgmt may have wanted to make room for other bodies. A big part of it could have been trying to get down to the 50 contract limit.

        Solid call on J Moore. Low percentage, but it’d be pretty wild if he found his way back to Ranger Blue.

        • Give the Rangers credit, they sure know when their young defensemen are on the way down.

          That’s two years in a row of dealing away pending RFA Ds and seeing them get non-tendered in the summer.

          Moore isn’t finished though. Much like Del Zotto he will latch on somewhere and put up decent numbers on a bad team.

          As for Connor Allen, I think he simply got passed on the depth chart, specifically by Mat Bodie. There are only so many minutes for D to play in Hartford, with guys moving up this summer (Skjei, Ryan Graves) Allen no longer had a role. Also, like Hatrick said, the 50 contract limit played a huge role in letting Allen walk. I imagine Allen will also find a new organization this summer and might even make an NHL club out of training camp.

          • MDZ put up solid numbers with Philly. He was qualified by them, and will be back.

            MDZ got a really bad rap here. He wasn’t Leetch, so people hated him.

          • I wasn’t very clear about Del Zotto’s situation. The reason he wasn’t qualified in Nashville was money. MDZ had a backloaded bridge deal with the Rangers specifically to raise his Qualifying Offer. Nashville wasn’t going to tender MDZ at $2.9M.

            Young players, like MDZ, that fall off their growth curve need to become non-tendered to reset their QO. Of course Philly gave MDZ a QO, his QO is now only $1.3M by virtue of the “prove it” deal he signed with Philly last summer.

            And for the record I was always a fan of MDZ, but it had reached the point where the Rangers had to deal him since there was no way they could offer him that $2.9M QO last summer.

            Getting back to John Moore, his QO was about $1M so Arizona opting to non-tender him seems to be more about performance and depth chart issues than financial reasons. After all if there’s one thing Arizona has, it’s Cap Space. They are still almost $14M below the Salary Floor right now.

      • That’s the thing: None of us know what the inner workings are. Allen may get a shot with another team, he may not.

        I’m very surprised Moore wasn’t given a QO.

      • Brassard has past by Stepan as our number one center and he’s trending up. Stepan doesn’t make players around him better. Brassard does and I wouldn’t pay Stepan more than Brassard. I would trade him now. Here’s one for you guys Stepan or Hayes. Who would you keep. Easy choice for me Hayes.

        • Harlem, do some research and throw out a couple (NON RANGER) comparable centers. Age, point totals, career trajectory and salary.

          Then lets see where we think Stepan should fall in the mix. That is how salary negotiations and arbitration works in the real world.

          FWIW, I choose Hayes over Stepan long term as well, BUT that does not mean that we have no room for Stepan on this roster.

          • What research have you done? I don’t care if another team over pays for their players. I wouldn’t .

          • Without looking at what other teams in the league pay for players of similar abilities and production how do you determine what is FAIR or DESERVED?

            The Rangers don’t operate in a vacuum, even though you seem to form your opinions in one.

          • What research has he done? Wow!

            He doesn’t need to come up with any numbers, because he’s not just throwing out number outta the corner of his behind.

            It’s a fair question….If you think a player is worth this much or that much, give us rational reasons why.

    • What’s with the Stepan hate? The guy’s a quality two way top 6 center. He gets better every year. I don’t understand the unreasonable expectations for certain players.

  • When Brass signed, I said it would be an over payment if he continued to produce 45-50 pts / yr. Great job Brass fulfilling your potential!

    Let’s hope history repeats itself and Step signs to something < $6m and then he increases his production so we can say his deal is a bargain as well!

  • Brass does not deserve a A-. He had a few great games. Don’t get me wrong he has some great plays and shots. I have been following him closely and want to tear my hair out because for every 1 good play 3 shitty plays. I had the magnifying glass on him and Glass, If you put Nash on Stephans’ line Derek would get a shit load of points. So come to think about it Brassard did well because of Nash. One good pass to Nash and everyone drools over him. I saw too many mistakes to give him an A. Each player should be analyzed one by one, When you put a group analysis, its had to focus and really analyze the players.

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