Musings: Lundqvist for Vezina and Eric Staal the playoff hero?

Pencil Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei into the lineup for 2016-2017
Pencil Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei into the lineup for 2016-2017

– The news that Dylan McIlrath will miss a couple weeks with a knee injury will likely effectively end his season. Barring another significant injury, there’s no chance Alain Vigneault will look McIlrath’s way upon his return when he won’t immediately be at full speed, nor in the postseason given Vigneault’s preference for the veterans. But it is a pretty huge luxury for the Blueshirts to know that their 23-year-old seventh defenseman and 21-year-old first call-up from Hartford can both be penciled into the lineup for next fall. Dan Boyle will obviously be a goner and at least one of the other five veterans will likely be out as well, but the Rangers are lucky to have two replacements in house.

– While Cam Talbot was busy wrapping up First Star of the Week honors in Edmonton, Antti Raanta was giving up three goals in the first five minutes of the game against the Islanders on Sunday. Raanta has been mostly OK, but there’s been a noticeable drop-off from Talbot last year to Raanta now. Granted, Talbot was among the top backups in the game over the last couple years and Raanta was acquired for Ryan Haggerty (remember him!?), but with Henrik Lundqvist getting older, the backup goalie is only going to be a bigger issue each year going forward. While Chris advocated for keeping Raanta this summer, I’m not as sold. I wonder if Magnus Hellberg could be the No. 2 next season?

TSN’s Travis Yost, one of my favorite #fancystat number crunchers, posted a great piece yesterday explaining why Lundqvist should be the favorite for the Vezina Trophy. It’s hard for me to imagine that actually happening given Lundqvist’s horrific December, but Yost makes a pretty compelling case with all the high-danger shots Lundqvist faces relative to other netminders and his ability to save the Blueshirts an extra half-goal a game. Yost also notes that part of the reason Lundqvist isn’t mentioned among the Vezina contenders much anymore is that we’re all so used to this level of play, it no longer stands out. I think even among the Rangers’ own fan base so much is expected of Lundqvist that even a single off game seems confusing.

– Yost also shared a very thought-provoking piece a couple of weeks ago about how the NHL should eliminate the draft and draft lottery.  A lot of the logic is sound, but my concern is that it seems highly unlikely that top prospects would give much consideration to signing with teams like Winnipeg, Arizona, or Carolina. And yeah, you can say that a lot of those markets shouldn’t have teams anyway, but that’s not the reality of the situation. I also thought there would be no way the NHL would be willing to surrender the revenue that surrounds the draft hype – but what if there was a Signing Day the same as there is in the U.S. for college football players? Essentially a July 1 just for youngsters? Could be pretty fun.


– I’ve tried to be very patient with Vigneault this year, but his treatment of J.T. Miller on Sunday really blew my mind. Miller has been one of the team’s best forwards over the last couple of months and has been busting his hump on the backcheck, where he was completely lost about a year ago. He wasn’t dominant against the Islanders, but did anyone play well to start that game? Gluing Miller to the bench in that contest seemed like a really bizarre place to send a message.

– There seems to be a lot of concern about the Rangers losing all three of their games against the Islanders, the Blueshirts’ likely first-round playoff opponent. Sure, losing three times in a row to a hated rival is never ideal and the Islanders’ forwards are a handful – but it’s hard for me to be too worried about a best-of-seven series knowing the Blueshirts will essentially have home-ice advantage in every single game. Barclays Center will be packed with blue sweaters come April.

– Some of the folks most excited about the Eric Staal acquisition pointed to his impressive playoff production, which is of course a little silly since that came six years ago. Still, Staal plays exactly the style of game that is so conducive to the postseason and it’s going to be really nice to have a guy that can win clutch faceoffs. I’ll tell you right now, he’s going to be my pick early and often for #bucciovertimechallenge.

– Speaking of crowds, I went to my first game at Verizon Center on Friday night and the atmosphere was phenomenal. The D.C. Rangers fans are legit diehards and took over an entire section of the upper deck, where they were louder than a lot of the crowds I’ve heard at MSG this season. The dueling chants between the Blueshirts faithful and the Caps’ fans were terrific and made for a playoff environment. Credit to the Caps fans, too, for being very knowledgeable and spirited.

Question time:
1. What’s your favorite arena other than MSG? And where else have you encountered great Rangers fans?
2. Who’s your pick for the Vezina?
3. What do you think about the idea of getting rid of the draft?


Show More
  • I’m begging you to stop with the JT Miller stuff. Please go back to Sunday’s game and watch his first two shifts. He was at a different arena to start that game. His first shift resulted in a 2 on 1 when he drifted away from his check, and his second shift resulted in an Islander goal. He lost a 1 on 1 with Boychuk for the fourth Islander goal. He HAS NOT been anywhere close to the best forward in the last month or so. His goal last night was his second in 16 games. He’s not anywhere as good as you want him to be.

  • Excellent post Kevin, tough break for Mcllrath, ( at least its not a surgery required injury) and this does take away the fight fire with fire weapon that we so desperately need. AV will go with his vets, lets hope they take their B-12 shots before the playoffs begin. I would not mind having Brady Skjei, stick around, the kid skate. I do look forward to a full season of Skjei and Mcllrath on the D-line in the near future.

  • Was the decision to bench JT Miller? Or was the decision to shorten the bench and roll 3 lines and it was decided that Hayes was playing a better game then JT. So AV switched the two up since Hayes started the game on the 4th line.

    And I disagree with that JT has been great the last few months. He was great a month ago. He hadn’t scored a goal in about a month prior to that game.

    • Scoring has dried up a bit, but going both ways I still think he’s been great. One of the more defensively conscious forwards on the team, which I’m amazed I’m saying. Hustles his butt off on both fore and backcheck

      • Kevin,

        No he isn’t. Please watch him with your eyes. He floats a lot. He did it again last night on 2nd Sabre goal. Sunday was a disaster.

        Btw, #6 is slower than me. Before he got hurt on Sunday, Martin took him to the cleaners on a rush.

        Open your eyes folks.

        • #6 is slow. But so is half the back end. The injury stinks only because it will presumably give more ice time to #5 and #18, neither of which can defend or pass the puck anymore.

  • Sunday’s game was sloppy on both sides J.T didn’t have a good game a lot of guys didn’t but they made up for it last night

  • 1) Been to Staples a few times. Nice venue and environment
    2) Although he’s slipped a bit, hard not to give it to Holtby as of now
    3) Keep the draft, but develop rules to keep teams from tanking (worthy of an entire column or two). This is a problem impacting all major pro sports leagues and it smacks at the integrity of the game.
    Bonus #4) I’m fine with Raanta. Aside from the clunker vs. the Isles and his play after the long layoff after injury, he’s been mostly solid.

  • Nice piece, Kevin. FWIW, I’m with you in the Raanta discussion. All for bringing him back if Hellberg isn’t deemed ready, but guessing cost may be prohibitive.

    1) Montreal. Going up again this yr for their game on the 26th. Pretty hard to beat the atmosphere there and trolling in my McDonagh jersey might be the reason why it’s always such a blast.
    2) From a #s standpoint Bishop, Crawford, Schneider, Mrazek, Holtby are in the conversation. Honorable mention to Luongo, though he’s hit the skids (like many) since the ASB.
    3)No problem with the draft, though I haven’t read proposals for other alternatives.

  • My favorite arena before it was torn down was the Chicago Stadium, that organ was something else. I would be in Chicago, and would take customers to a game. I worked the trade show at Mc Cormick place. As for the most Ranger fans, at an away arean, that would be Filthadelphia, as much as I hate that town………..

    Braden Holtby, he is having a great year…………..

    Getting rid of the draft would be crazy, you have to give the bottom feeders a shot at some quality players!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • First of all, so glad you could join us in DC, Kevin! It is a great crew of fans.

    Here’s my proposal for modifying the draft lottery to promote competition while still giving the worst teams preferential picks:

    As soon as a team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, they also get entered into a secondary set of standings. In that standings, they continue to earn points as they do now (2 points for a win, 1 for OTL, etc.). These would be called “points after elimination” or PAE. The draft lottery picks would be probabilistically assigned to the POE total. The more PAE you have, the higher your % of getting the #1 pick is.

    So the bad teams, which get eliminated first, have the most number of opportunity (games remaining) to earn points in those standings, but they still have to try and win. If they continue to tank, then better teams that get eliminated later could still catch up. It’s kind of like a loser’s bracket in a double elimination tournament.

    The problem I can forsee with this system that teams might try tank in the middle of the season to get eliminated as soon as possible. But then the end of the season, they have to try and keep winning. The NHL would have a field day with this system, because as the season winds down, they could track team’s place in two different standings and every game had some sort of significance. An Oilers – Buffalo game on April 2nd would actually be a really meaningful game in the draft lottery based on who wins, not who loses.

  • McIlrath may not be done. If Girardi, Klein, Boyle stay healthy, he likely is, but if a RH defenseman goes down, I suspect AV will pick him over Skjei (and playing four LH defensemen).

    I think Hank for Vezina is just crazy talk. Who is really having a better year – Hank or Cam Talbot? Hank’s numbers are slightly better, but Cam has an awful defense in front of him. Not arguing that Talbot really deserves it, but noting the slippery slope you are walking on. Best to take a safe choice like Ben Bishop, whose numbers don’t need to be qualified.

    Keep the draft of course.

  • Lots of great stuff on the musings…..

    1) Very unfortunate about McIlrath, obviously. I agree, the chances he will play again this season are probably not good, but you never know. The reality is, he had little chance of playing much if at all in the playoffs this year, so we probably are losing much anyway. He’s done good things, but he is the 7D. Next year, with a year of seasoning under his belt and Boyle gone, he will get a great shot and we will really see what he can do. To me, the jury is still out on him as to what his actual upside is, but he’s been way better than I thought he would be. Seems like a good kid, head screwed on right, who works hard and will make himself into the best player he is capable of being–whatever that is. Time will tell.

    As for Skjei, I like his upside a lot more than McIlrath’s. But, I’m always very, very suspicious of young players. I’ve seen far too many “can’t miss” prospects wind up “missing”. And, in Skjei (as well as Graves), it’s unclear whether the Rangers will even have room for one or both, especially if Yandle is re-signed. Could Skjei and/or Graves fetch you back a significant haul of future draft picks or prospects to fill needs at other positions? Should be a fascinating off season.

    2) Raanta….I agree that with Hank getting older, this position becomes more and more important. However, I also agree with Kevin, I’m not sold on bringing Raanta back. Managing the cap is critical, and with Benoit Allaire, the goalie whisperer, you get the sense that he can turn chicken s#%+ into chicken salad with many NHL goalies. I’d go on the cheap here and find another bargain like Raanta is now and use the extra dollars for other needs. Maybe the answer lies within with Hellberg or Skapski.

    3) fascinating column by Yost on Hank. I’ve certainly been on his bandwagon for sometime now. We sometimes take for granted just how great he is. Despite his slump between the holidays, he’s been mostly terrific. I doubt this season it will be enough to even get him a Vezina nomination, let lone the award itself. But he’s been way better than people give him credit for. As usual, he is the key to our hopes against this post-season.

    4) Yost’s draft column was also fascinating. Having all draft eligible players be FAs is a great idea, especially since they would count against the cap. The downside as I see it is that it would effectively make the trading deadline almost meaningless. With so much parity, and then on top of that no draft choices to either trade or acquire, deals would be few and far between. And I think that would be a negative for the league and the fans.

    At the end of the day, I wouldn’t get rid of the draft. I know it’s not a perfect system, but few systems are. I still think it serves it’s purpose in a mostly fair way.

    5) on Miller. Totally disagree Kevin. I agree with Roger. Please, please, please make this crazy talk about Miller stop! Here are Miller’s thoughts on his benching, which was reported in today’s Daily News by Pat Leonard–

    “(The Islanders) game, I mean, I wasn’t pissed off. I played like s–t. You get benched. It’s a long season. You’ve got to move on.”

    THAT is what I like to see. A young player who’s had attitude and work ethic issues in the past, showing maturity now by taking full responsibility for what happened, as opposed to some out here who for some reason thinks the kid is too mentally fragile to handle the occasional benching. (And before anyone chimes in with “well, what did you think he would say?”, the answer is simple. If he didn’t like what happened, he would have said something to the effect of “it was the coach’s decision. I guess I have to be better”. To take it the extra step and say he played like dog doo shows me something about the kid. You win championships with players who are accountable, as opposed to excuse makers that take the easy way out and blame others for their failures).

    6) Islanders–I agree. I’m not worried about them at all. They are a flawed team (as we are) that looked like a train wreck Sunday. We win that game easily if Hank is in and we’re healthy. No guarantees vs anyone in post season, but they don’t scare me in the slightest.

    7) I think E-Staal is going to be terrific for us down the stretch and in the playoffs. I love his game and his approach. When we get fully healthy….look out!

    8) I’ve been to some games at the Verizon Center. Agree, the place is electric!

    Now to the three questions…(you all should do this more, because it’s great fun!)

    A) Current arena? No question, it’s the United Center in Chicago. Was at the Rangers-Hawks game last year and that place just rocks! Lived in Chicago for years, and even when they were bad, it was still a great game day experience. As for old arenas, agree with Walt…Chicago Stadium was awesome! The Madhouse on Madison! But another great arena from bygone times? The Montreal Forum. I get chills just thinking about what it was like to be in that building with all that history!

    B) Vezina–has to be Holtby.

    C) Draft? As I said earlier, intriguing idea but at the end of the day I’d leave things as they are.

    • Also on Miller — this was a one game thing. In the next game, he scores an empty netter. A player the coach does not trust is NEVER going to see ice time when the opposition pulls its goaltender.

  • I wouldn’t get rid of the draft, but hell the way we trade away high draft picks a new system might be an improvement!

  • The Miller bashing isn’t really fair. He’s still a 22 year old kid in the biggest city in NY City. His game has become much more consistent this season which shows growth. That’s all you can expect from the youngster.

    I think Staal is not only going to be a beast in the playoffs, he’s going to help Nash to his breakout playoff performance as well. I think those 2 will form a dominant pair.

    Daryl Katz will never allow the NHL to do away with the draft. He gets all the best young players every year. Who would volantarily sign with Edmonton?

  • Regarding the draft – check out Bruce Dowbiggin’s “Of Ice and Men,” originally published sometime in the late ’90s/early aughts. He has a whole chapter where he basically argues that most of the problems the league faces stem from the draft, and thus, it should either be abolished or reduced to 2 rounds.

  • 1. What’s your favorite arena other than MSG? And where else have you encountered great Rangers fans? The Old Montreal Forum, my one time game with my Grandmother (Big time Ron Greschner fan) who took me for a Birthday present. Fans were great there – Second is the Amalie Arena (TB Lightning) transplants from NY there make it just as awesome as MSG

    2. Who’s your pick for the Vezina? Holby hands down

    3. What do you think about the idea of getting rid of the draft? Like it just needs to have the kinks worked out of it.

  • 1) Pepsi Arena – Denver Colorado. Hands down. Used to go to Denver often on business and caught a few Avs games and Nugget games. So clean, you can practically eat off the floors there.

    2)Hank! Sorry, but I have a hard time giving goalies of trap teams too much credit, let alone the Vezina. Although, Holtby seams like he would have had a wonderful season, regardless of how the team in front of him played this year.

    3) I don’t know. Never thought there was an issue with it to begin with, aside from it being the Pierre McGuire show..

  • Back to top button