The Rangers have now past the ten game mark of the new season, and will be taking on the cellar-dwelling Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Madison Square Garden in search of a 7-2-2 start. There has been much to analyze in the early going, so naturally I have some thoughts…
1. Mainstream media analysis, especially in the early goings of a season, is especially broad. Good starts, slow starts and unexpected performers litter the narrative landscape. Reading publications like The Hockey News or ESPN, the assumption is that the Canadiens are invincible and the Ducks and Blue Jackets are toast. You dig a little deeper into the individual teams and you find that each club has it own sources of consternation and optimism.
2. Continuing with that thought, it brings me to the Rangers defense and star players. We have discussed the sub-par starts for all defenders not named Klein and Yandle. Additionally, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan have not met fan expectations in the nascent stages of this season. Point being, these types of criticisms are tough to met out in the broader hockey media landscape, but every team, even those off to good starts, have fans hand-wringing on these types of issues.
3. If you have been reading here long enough, you know that I am a staunch Rick Nash defender. The guy is one of the most complete star players in the NHL. I am also a big believer in process over results. Sample sizes might not give you enough time to fully regress to the mean in a given time frame, but I’d rather be good than lucky. Nash has done the things required of him to put up far bigger numbers than exist on his stat line. He creates, he back checks and he plays a 200-foot team game. Of all the early season criticisms of the team, Nash is far from a problem.
4. My word, the goaltending has been fantastic. Antti Raanta has brought a quick, efficient and simple game to NY. He appears to have all the tools to succeed as a starter and I would not hesitate to give him additional games to keep Hank fresh. Depending on the market place, he could easy walk in July to find more playing time, so once the front office becomes confident in his abilities, a Talbot-esque extension wouldn’t be terrible asset management. Mackenzie Skapski is a nice insurance policy in case it happens, though.
5. I like AV’s decision to move defensive pieces around. For all the Girardi vitriol, he is still a competent defender, albeit with a skill-set not particularly suited to this system. To give him some more sheltered minutes against less elite opponents, his lack of foot speed may not be as glaring an issue.
6. Ryan McDonagh stands to most greatly benefit from this type of move. Pairing him with a more mobile defensive partner like Yandle or Staal (to an extent), gives Mac more freedom to create and drive possession.
7. Brady Skjei’s development will be crucial to watch this season. With Klein off a strong start and his contract being one of the most movable, much will depend on Skjei, or even McIlrath, to a lesser extent and their ability to step into a top-six role. Moving Klein during this season might be the best shot to maximize the asset after holding at the Draft.
8. It is an oddly liberating feeling not to have to anticipate frustration at Tanner Glass’s presence in the lineup. It appeared to be a difficult decision for the front office, but I’m glad they were able to act objectively and put the best team on the ice. The club has tremendous depth this year and it was a necessary casualty. Something tells me we end up seeing him later in the year, unfortunately. Again, I’m sure Glass is a top-shelf human being; I am simply talking about the hockey player.
9. I am a big Jesper Fast fan, but I like him much better in a bottom-six role. I think he is capable in a scoring capacity, but I don’t think it is the best use of his skill set.
10. Just curious if there is any roster move you would not make to accommodate Steven Stamkos’ next contract?
11. John Tortorella is back in the NHL. Just terrific.
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