First thoughts of 2017


Happy 2017, BSB faithful!  Now that that the dumpster fire that was 2016 is in the books, time to get back to business.  The Rangers have had something of an interesting week; a horrific showing against Buffalo, a nice bounce back win against Philly, some defensive adjustments and a looming matchup with the red-hot Blue Jackets. Unfortunately, the Caps bludgeoned Columbus last night, so we won’t get to see our potentially record breaking showdown, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some thoughts…

1) Since the back-to-back shellacking’s against Minnesota and Pittsburgh, the Rangers have had a very soft schedule, and for the most part, have taken advantage. There were some suspect performances along the way, but you could do a whole lot worse than 4-1 through that stretch.

2) I liked the look of Brady Skjei as McDonagh’s partner. Obviously, it is an exceedingly small sample, but I don’t see any reason not to see what you have there.   It’s a bit awkward for the rookie playing on his off side, but I think he acquitted himself well. Considering the current structure of the defense, I say let it ride until there is a serious issue.

3) I also liked Adam Clendening’s game against Philly. He made some very smart plays to transition the puck out of the zone and showed a knack for understanding how to support the transition game when the forwards flew the zone a bit prematurely. He is not the upgrade the blue line needs by any stretch, but incremental improvement is still improvement considering the issues the defense has had.

4) What I like most, though, is that the Staal injury has forced some adjustments. The forwards have been tinkered with all season, but the defense has remained relatively static. Let’s shake it up and see if we like where the pieces land any better. Sheltering Girardi was a big step in the right direction.

5) I still don’t like Nick Holden’s game at all, but I am willing to give the guy credit for a run of strong play.   He is putting up points at a pace I never expected to see when that trade went down. Maybe the Rangers can put this Klein-like streak of offensive output to good use on the trade market, especially with the expansion draft looming.

6) As for the forward group, I’m still reserving judgment until Nash, Buchnevich and Zibanjad are ready to return and set the depth back in place.

7) I will this say about the forwards, has Chris Kreider been a beast or what?  How convinced are you that he is finally putting it all together?

8) I thought Hank had a much needed return to form against the Flyers. He had his typically slow start and found himself a bit upended by the red hot play of Antti Raanta. I don’t think he ever found the opportunity to get into a groove, and then the ridiculous schedule compression happened. I’m not trying to make excuses, but trying to cite reasons.   With the schedule relaxing a bit, I think you can get Hank a consistent run of games, while still giving him the requisite rest. The Rangers need him at his best this spring.

9) There is no question this has been a down year for the King. However, he is rounding back into form and still has a half season to turn his numbers around. As it stands today, Lundvist has a 2.49 GAA and a .913 save percentage. Regular readers here know I hate those stats, but as a quick reference, I think Hank still ends up around his typical .920 save percentage when all is said and done. The guy is a human metronome.

10) Man, is the top of the metro a tight race, or what? The Rangers would be in first place in every other division in hockey. I’m not convinced the Blue Jackets can keep up a President’s Trophy pace, but they have clearly cemented themselves as a playoff team. It would not be surprising to see five teams make the playoffs out of the Metro division. Scary stuff.

11) Speaking of playoffs, if the regular season ended today, the Rangers would secure themselves another date with the Penguins in the first round.   The Penguins high powered offense and the Rangers porous defense have not made for good bedfellows in recent years. Between the Blue Jackets and Caps, there aren’t many soft spots in the other potential playoff matchups, either.

12) After heading to Columbus tomorrow, the Rangers have six (!) days off before a back-to-back set with Toronto and Montreal. If this isn’t a reason to leave everything on the ice tomorrow, I don’t know what is. The big break should hopefully allow guys to get a little closer to returning and let the coaching staff tinker with video and some line combinations in extended practice time.

I know the other guys tend to give you some questions towards the end of their musings, but I only have one: What is your best explanation as to why Jimmy Vesey shouldn’t be the most expendable forward in taking about a meaningful defensive upgrade?

Have a great weekend everyone. Happy New Year!

"First thoughts of 2017", 3 out of 5 based on 4 ratings.
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  1. Vesey is showing us that he can play, is young, smart, and seems to have good hockey IQ.

    When everyone is healthy, the lines should be as follows:

    Z, Buch, Kreider
    Step, Zucc, Nash
    Hayes, Miller, Vesey
    Lindberg, Grabner, Fast

    Vesey skating with Miller, and Hayes could be a great line going forward, size, speed, and plenty of skill, while giving Vesey protected time to develope into a front line winger. The team would have four lines that could score, and a very good shut down 4th line, as proposed. This is too simple to figure out, let’s see if it materializes !!!!!!!!!

    1. One last thought, no more shuffling of the lines, give these guys time to develop chemistry, stop the silly tinkering………..LGR

      1. The one line that has had chemistry and should not be tinkered with if possible in my opinion is Miller-Hayes-Grabner.

        I would put Buch with Oscar, and I bet the results would surprise you, and put Vesey with Nash again because they also demonstrated real chemistry.

        1. I really don’t see Buch as a fourth liner, he is too gifted as an offensive weapon. He and Z feeding Kreider could be one hell of a scoring line IMO !!!!!

          1. It is a minor quibble, and Buch is not a 4th liner in the long run, I agree. Definitely, his future is bright. But for now, particularly with what Grabner has shown when hooked up with Hayes and Miller, and with Buch being out so long, yes, 4th line most of the time. He will compliment Lindbergh nicely, who I like as the 4th center and that 4th line would be a scoring threat too. Grabner has been hot on the 3rd there is no denying it, so I’d ride that for now.

          2. I agree Walt, when healthy put the KZB line back together. That line was so explosive and Buchnevich hadn’t hit his stride. It’s a special combo. Grabner has over performed and it’s been great but he’s slowed. Grabner will be himself whichever line he plays on.

          3. I agree but the Rangers don’t use their 4th line like a typical team has. Therefore, to say hes not a 4th line player I think everyone in the Rangers organization and readers here would agree with you – he will get 12 minutes a game which, for a rookie who has never played the north American game is a pretty solid chunk of minutes. Furthermore, when the Rangers move on from Nash/Zucc in the next couple years they already have 2 young players that are EERILY similar in playestyle with Vesey/Buch. So, in short, no hes not a 4th liner but yes he should play on the Rangers 4th line this year :).

          4. The only problem I see with giving Buch more minutes is he clearly developed a usage injury this year. With his treatment, length of injury, and symptoms, it looks to me like he has a pretty bad sports hernia that they decided to not perform surgery on. With that being said, he did not play a ton of games before it happened – giving him top 6 minutes vs the others team top 4 D playing physical on him and not giving him much space may be detrimental to his health for this year. Is it cautious? Of course, but what makes us think he can handle top 6 minutes this year given what has already happened (not from a skill-set perspective but a North American physical grind perspective.)

        2. Not, I’m with Walt on this one Buchnevich,Mika and Krieder drove this team until injuries started. Buchnevich should never be out of the top 6. It’s Miller, Hayes that have been clicking Grabner has performed beyond expectations. When healthy let the big dogs be big dogs. Lindbergh,Fasth and Grabner would be a really good 4th line. Zuccarello is should a player and he makes Stepan better and also protects him and Nash brings the power.

          1. Yes, that is a perfect 4th line. And having the invisible Pirri as the 13th FW is fine with me.

            Fast and Grabner have really good chemistry, and Oscar has proven me wrong, he is a legit player! He’d be the perfect pivot between those two. That’s a modern NHL 4th line, hard working, smart, fast, physical, and some skill.

          2. Before the start of the season I thought this was going to be the case but Pirri absolutely lit it up in a couple preseason games and as a Rangers fan I was not used to seeing a shot like that so I can absolutely see why hes in the game but he disappears not for minutes, no for shifts, not for games, not even for weeks – this guy disappears for months at a time and in a division like the Met you cannot have guys who are that inconsistent playing 12 minutes a game when you can get a player who doesnt score and plays lights out defense in his place (a la Jesper Fast)

          3. Pirri is a triggerman, that’s it. I think once Mika returns, Pirri will become useful on the PP again, but once Mika returns, there likely won’t be a spot left for Pirri in the lineup as he has been passed on the depth chart by Lindberg and possibly Hrivik.

            I have zero love for one dimensional players like Pirri. I cringe whenever the puck comes near him now, but of course, for every ten cringe worthy moments, he manages something that makes you stop and think that he’s actually a decent player.

            And don’t knock poor Jesper’s ability to post points, he’s on pace for another 30 point year. Not bad for just over $1M a year.

          4. Exactly my thinking Chris today’s 4th line. Buchnevich is a waste on that line. To reap the benefits of his skills he needs to play with finishers high end skill or it’s a waste of his talent. His skill level is off the charts. Watch and see.

    2. I don’t see why everyone is so in love with Buchnevich as to believe he is another Malkin. He is an unproven rookie who you would give first line minutes? He hasn’t played a dozen games and many think he is a savior. What pressure.

      1. 1 or 1A, line, he feeds the puck well, and showed his potential early on before he got hurt !!!!! Where would you play him then ???????

        1. Exactly, Walt. Talent is talent, and Buch has boatloads of it.

          The beauty of having, when healthy, 12 top 9 caliber forwards, is that AV can lean on whoever has their legs on a given night and the three guys that aren’t really going at full speed can have their ice time dialed back.

    3. Perfect line combos…..Definitely all for reuniting the zib line, and all in for hayes playing with miller……4th line will be real good when lindberg starts scoring…..
      Now to convince AV to stop changing combos and let them get some continuity playing together…

  2. From article- “I still don’t like Nick Holden’s game at all, but I am willing to give the guy credit for a run of strong play. ”

    Wish bloggers or fancy staters could just say Holden had a rough start being put on the top pair and adjusting to a new team. But I was WRONG on this one and has proven a solid bottom pair dman when deployed correctly.

    It is ok to admit we were all wrong and AV was correct. There is nothing to hate about his game at this point.

    1. Let me provide a little more context. I’m not saying Holden is a bad hockey player, I’m saying that I believe his offensive output to be unsustainable (he does not an offensive profile) and I think there is way too much risk in his decision making for a guy with limited upside.

      I think he is a fine third pair guy, so I’m not trying to run him out of town, but he is definitely miscast in top four duty. So this is not to say I don’t like the player, but I don’t like his approach relative to his skill set.

  3. LGR!

    #10 – Justin, Why Not, Why do you think Columbus can not keep up their top play?

    #11 – Sad, without a more solid defense, we are a first round departure team… sad

    Vesey should not be traded because he is a rookie, first go in the NHL, his line mates have been changing, he shows glimpses of really good play, I don’t want to see another Anthony Auclair move, and IMO Vesey is a big kid, I see him growing into a nice powerful, tough, quiet, player…

    Trade Stepan before Vesey, IMO

    but hey, who knows, we are all air chair GM’s


    I fear the blue jackets are gonna get tough with us, who will protect us, ZUCC!!!

    1. Columbus won’t keep it up because they simply aren’t talented enough. Outside of Saad, Wennberg, Jones, and Werenski, there are a lot of bad offensive players on that squad.

      I agree with not moving Vesey. He’s another massive talent and he’s a bright kid with a high hockey IQ. He’s basically Baby Nash, and that’s a very good thing.

      1. I agree with the Nash insight, a few times when they were line mates, it almost looked like decent chemistry and a teacher student thing out there…

        he is a big kid too, and he barely shows emotion… even in the scruffs…

      1. He’s the guy. Look he’s owned 30 plus and he will never live up to that cash. The young guns have passed him by for far less money. Buchnevich by next year will pass him by. He’s a good two way player and some on this site have said he’s great. He’s still a young RH center with experience and if he’s as good as some say bring back a big chip.

        For the skilled RHD we need I’d trade Stepan and move Miller to center if Boo isn’t ready for fourth line mintues. The rest of this year for me is about getting guys ready for next years real run at the cup. Trade Stepan for RHD, buy out Danny G, sign Shattenkrik at reasonable dollars along with Mika. Vesey,Buchnevich and maybe Boo get more experience.

        1. I like miller at center, his talent fits it, he seems like the guy who is bjg enough, physical and fast enough to cover Crosby….
          Although I like pairing him with hayes,,,,

    2. Sorry but the thought of trading vesey is just plain Stupid…..
      Our untouchables are kreider, miller, vesey, hayes, zib, buch…….
      next level are zucc and nash and grabner but …..
      Stepan …personally i couldt get rid of fast enough…..

      1. Stepan is a good #2 center, but the vast improvement in the play of Kevin Hayes now makes Stepan expendable at the end of the season. Make Zibanejad #1, Hayes #2, Lindberg#3, and Nieves #4.

  4. Since I’m waiting on a dental cleaning, I’ll just answer your question.

    Because he is a cost controlled young player that you hold on to. In the hard cap NHL now, he’s the exact kind of complimentary peice you put around your higher end talent.

    It takes more work, but the “older” players (28, sometimes 27 depending on when they started) are the assets you should try and move now to another team that feel they “need” that asset while getting back a younger aspects that either compliment what you have, or fill/rehill a soft spot in your prospect pool.

    Having said that, if another team offers you a league known elite player/prospect straight up for him naturally you move him. But if we’re talking like Vesey and others for say Cam Fowler, no. That would be wasting that asset.

      1. I’d trade Vesey for Vatanen. I’d be sad to let a talent like Vesey go, but you move pretty much any forward for a top pair D like Vatanen.

          1. I’m not saying I would be happy about it. I always feel a top pair D is the most valuable asset in the NHL. Even if Vesey’s ceiling is a 60-70 pt forward, Vatanen, or any top pair D is still equal value.

  5. RE Vesey- to me the worst part about trading him is the optics. I’m not in the show so I’m not saying it will be a problem, rather I fear it could be. How would it look after our recruiting effort this summer to move him months later? How might that be interpreted around the league?

    Aside from the politics of it all, I agree that Vesey only the 9th most important forward to this years team behind: Zibanejad, Nash, Kreider, Zucarello, Stepan, Miller, Hayes, Buchevnich. And honestly Grabner should be on that list too. That said, in 3 years I expect him to fully entrench himself in the team’s core and wouldn’t be too loose in moving him. Vesey + pick/prospect for Vantanen? If there were no expansion draft looming, yes I’d do it.

    1. Agree wholeheartedly. The Rangers have signed Hayes and Vesey in recent years, college free agents who could go anywhere they wanted. They wanted to be Rangers. To trade Vesey in his first year (unless he wants it) is something of a betrayal of trust. And it gives the next Vesey or Hayes something to think about.

      But otherwise I could see trading him.

  6. Wow….that was some long post. Had you been drinking?

    The reason I ask is what possibly could make you think that Jimmy Vesey would be the guy to deal? JohnB lays it out for you, but we certainly tend to overvalue our own players. Vesey is good, but he’s certainly hit a bit of a road block in the last month or so, and if he doesn’t keep his head up like against BUF the other night, he might end up in La-La Land.

    If Staal hadn’t gotten hurt, I think Sjkei would have been in the press box against Philly. He was that bad on Tuesday night against the Sabres. Eventually, he will learn to keep both hands on his stick in this new fangled NHL. Clendenning did likewise against the Flyboys on Wednesday. He made a couple of nice breakout passes, though, and played fine. So, you don’t like Holden’s game, but Sjkei and Clendenning are fine? Holden has been a revelation. Where would the NYR be without him? Scrap heep pickup. Solid second pairing guy.

    And if Holden’s offensive output is unsustainable, so what? NYR have gotten 10 goals 5v5 from their defense this year so far, they got 30 last year, 30 the year before that, and 19 the previous year. None of those numbers are game changers. It’s not like we have Brit Burns on the back line. And SJS ended last year with the same number of goals from their Dmen 5v5 as the NYR even with Burns. Somebody on the D will score.

  7. At Hatrick says, trading Vesey would ruin the confidence all future UFA’s have in the team. They have the freedom to choose where they want to go and eliminating that freedom means they won’t come anymore. Also, I disagree about Skjei on the right side – yes he would be the best RD on the team but its more about his development as a player and less about how the rangers perform this year. I want him to develop into a top LD (1/2 punch with him and McD) and acquire some RD support via cap money/free agency in the offseason. Blowing up this forward group to acquire an expensive dare I say overrated puck mover like Hamilton or Cam Fowler would be counter productive to the long term prognosis of this team. Look at the Keith Yandle situation – sure hes a great puck mover but at his cap hit and how well he plays defensively its an awful awful awful contract that will lead the panthers down the path of obscurity.

  8. Buffalo has Four RHD and I want one Zach Bogasian who’s still young,tough and skilled. We need to tell G NMC no play and trade him and eat salary.

  9. I like Nick Holden play, he has done everything the club could ask for. He is steady on the blue line and provides timely offence.

    The Metro division are the beast of the east. Pitt, CBJ, NYR and the Caps are all Cup contenders.

    I am not in favour of the Rangers giving up any of their young forwards for a dman, particularly Vesey, if any forward gets moved it should be Rick Nash. He still would reap good value and the Rangers could get a talented young defenseman in return. Preferably, the Rangers develop their own talent (Skjei, Clendening for starters) on the blueline and not move anyone.

    Too much emphasis on the need for an upgrade on defence when their problems has been with Henk. He has not been good so far this year and his sub-par save percentage verifies this. Should Henk return to form (which is likely), and the Rangers get their offensive players back from injuries, they will be in good shape to contend for the Coup La Stanley.

    1. Defensemen are the most underrated players. You judge forwards by their accomplishments (goals) and goalies likewise (saves). Defensemen get judged by their miscues – it is just a much tougher scale.

      I agree that the Ranger defense is basically fine.

    2. The issue has been the goalie?

      Numbers aside, which torpedo your whole point but that’s irrelevant, it’s the goalies fault defenseman are routinely running around and out of position?

      It’s the goalies fault the 5 man unit in front of him decides to take a siesta in their own zone for entire periods at a time and do nothing?

      It’s the goalies fault the defenseman can’t skate and players are left wide open?

      If you care to do the research yourself, as I have already posted the numbers, Hanks numbers are exactly in line with his norms. He “looks” bad because the defenseman are leaving him hanging out to dry.

      1. Lundqvist has a .913 save percentage this season, which is what you would expect from a minor league goalie not a past Vezina trophy winner and a future hall of famer. If you were to ask Henk if he is satisfied with his performance so far this year, I am sure you know what his answer would be.

        1. In case your new to the Rangers, Hank also said he should have played better in the Cup finals when his defenseman cost him the cup, after EVERY loss, even 1-0 losses, he says he needs to play better. Him saying “I need to be better” after a loss is like a kid saying “I’m sorry” after getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

          Let’s see:
          LDSv% of 98%
          MDSv% of 88%
          HDSv% of 84%

          And of all goalies in a similar TOI level, the ONLY goalie who faces shots closer than Hank? Schneider. Hank’s average shot distance a whooping 30 feet. So is Hank telling his D to let the shooter get that close? And oh which goalie is amongst the leaders in rebound save %? You’re right, our “minor league goalie”

          Of which only number with a noticeable drop is MDSv%. All the others, exactly in line with his career norms from Oct to Jan.

          When he retires or is traded, all the haters are in for a world of hurt. The man single handily carried the NYR franchise and brought it back to respectability. In his “minor league” version this year he’s still an elite goaltender. God-mode Hank? No. Elite yes. When this organization goes through an average goalie phase, the tears will be enough to raise the sea level.

          1. Using my iPad and messed that up. This: “Of which only number with a noticeable drop is MDSv%. All the others, exactly in line with his career norms from Oct to Jan.”

            Should have followed the save percentages, then shot distance.

  10. Taking a longer view I think these are the players who will be on the roster
    for the 2018-19 season.
    Hayes- Kreider-Miller-Vesey-Zibanejad-Holden-McDonagh- Skjej-Raata.

    1. Lon….did you forget #5, 18, 30? Who is taking those contracts? And there is not a slight chance Raanta is on the roster then.

      1. We are talking 3 years down the line. 5 is gone at the end of this
        year.[buyout] 18 is having a good year. Could be traded in one or two years with Rangers paying some of his salary.30 will be playing less and less and three years from now he will renegotiate
        his salary to play full time else where.
        I didn’t think out Raanta to well.
        Just remember,people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.

          1. Buchnevich even at this point doesn’t skate well
            enough. In three to four years I don’t think he will
            make the team because of his lack of speed.

  11. 10) Man, is the top of the metro a tight race, or what? The Rangers would be in first place in every other division in hockey. I’m not convinced the Blue Jackets can keep up a President’s Trophy pace, but they have clearly cemented themselves as a playoff team. It would not be surprising to see five teams make the playoffs out of the Metro division. Scary stuff.

    – It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the Rangers finished as one of the Wild Cards and was grouped with the Atlantic Division for the playoffs (would likely have to be WC1, as the best record will most likely be in the Metro and will face off against WC2).

    1. So, you want to play Price and the Canadians in the first round? And knowing Lundquist is awful in MTL?

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