Monday, December 2, 2013
Though arguments over which of your team's netminders is better have been a part of hockey for a long time, it seems like recently you can't go a few months without some team being in some crisis between the pipes, real or imagined. Of course, the best-known Goalie Controversy in recent memory was resolved over the summer, when Canucks fans were either relieved or appalled to learn that one of their two very good goalies, Cory Schneider, had been traded to a Devils team desperate for a goalie under 40 (or at least one who probably hasn't fucked his wife's sister), leaving room for their other very good goalie, Roberto Luongo. But there's been no shortage of other goalie arguments around the league over the last few years: Fleury vs Vokoun, Bernier vs Reimer, Halak vs Price, Halak vs Elliott, every man for himself in Philly... they run the gamut from "our team has no good goaltending prospects" to "our team has two good goalies and we, the fans, have decided to irrationally hate one of them," and they're always a hot topic of discussion, where "discussion" means hockey fans pretending to be psychologists and ignoring statisticians.
The recipe for a Goalie Controversy is not so different from that of most other invented sports narratives: take a narrow enough window of time that the sample within it fits some very specific trend, add an emotionally charged description of that trend, and then claim it applies to the subject at large. Season with a dash of the phrase "head case," and you've got yourself a Goalie Controversy! For example, in Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury (career save percentage .910, playoff save percentage .903) is a head case, but knows what it takes to win the big games, while Tomas Vokoun (career .917, playoff .928) couldn't win when it counts.
And that recipe has finally landed on Broadway. This season, the Rangers finally did away with their charming, gorgeous-eyed, terrible backup in Martin Biron, leaving room for young stud Cam Talbot to finally get some NHL starts. The kid has played very, very well, and the new coach isn't afraid to actually use his backup, which has led some fans to question the heartiness of the Kingdom. This came to something of a head this morning, when it became clear that Talbot would start for the second game in a row. So this is where I tell you why you're worried, why it's fine, and what this might actually mean.
Why you're worried
First of all, Talbot is playing a lot more than we're used to during the reign of the King. In his first 5 full seasons, Lundqvist never played fewer than 68 regular season games (playing 70 twice, 72 once, and 73 once), and after a brief reprieve in 2011-12, in which he played only 62, he returned in the lockout-shortened season to play 43 of 48 (on pace for another 73). This season, including tonight, he'll have started only 19 of 28, on pace for a career-low (in full seasons) 56 games. That's low for any starter, but it's extremely low for Lundqvist.
And the games he's played haven't gone too well. Lundqvist is posting an 8-11 record on the season, compared to Talbot's 6-1. Looking at those records, it'd be easy for you to conclude that Talbot is playing better hockey right now. And you wouldn't necessarily be wrong: the King has allowed 46 goals on 553 shots (.917), while Talbot has allowed only 11 on 198 (.944). Lundqvist isn't at the top of his game right now, and Talbot certainly appears to be. Searching for extra-hockey explanations, it's easy to find some: the Queen (which is what I assume Mrs. Lundqvist is called) recently gave birth to the Prince (which is what I assume their child is called), so maybe he's distracted. It's a contract year, and the Rangers' future with Lundqvist is not yet clear. Maybe he needs to play 70+ games a season to feel good enough about himself to play his best. Maybe the new coaching staff doesn't fit with him. And so on.
Why it's fine
That's all bullshit. We don't have to get into why win-loss record is a terrible way to judge a player, since it's something a whole team does. When the disparity is that strong (Talbot is 6-1!), it's easy to start feeling like it's one guy's fault, but that's nuts. Also, Talbot's opponents have been the Canucks, the Predators, the Canadiens, the Blue Jackets, the Islanders, the Red Wings, and the Flyers - of those, only Detroit and Montreal are playoff teams right now. Yes, Talbot's .944 is very impressive, but he's only faced about 36% of the shots Lundqvist has, and from generally subpar teams. Come talk to me when that save percentage stays consistent over another dozen games against teams like the Bruins, Penguins, Ducks, Sharks, and Blues. Until then, there is no question who the starter on this team is.
And here's the thing, you guys: it's a good thing when you have a reliable backup so your starter doesn't have to play so much. Remember that reprieve season I told you about, 2011-12, when Lundqvist only played 62 regular season games? It was the best season of his career. He posted a .930 save percentage, averaged fewer than 2 goals allowed per game, and won the Vezina. I'm not saying more rest is the only ingredient for that kind of success, but it sure as hell isn't going to hurt.
What this might actually mean
There's no doubt that the King remains one of the best goalies in the league. But his numbers, while still good enough that basically any NHL team would want him (.917 is nothing to be embarrassed about), are not quite as superhuman as we're used to. To be sure, he's not playing his best hockey right now. And that is okay! It is December! He is likelier to remain very, very good for the next few seasons than he is to settle into mediocrity.
But. This offseason, his contract will expire, as will those of some other key Rangers. Lundqvist would be the hottest free agent goalie in a very long time, and he will likely command a 7- or 8-year deal at around $10 million per year. Conventional wisdom to date has been that, as one of the few elite goalies in the NHL, he'd be worth that (even if 5 years from now, depending on the cap, it could start to look ugly), and that the Rangers should do their best to get it settled before he hits the open market. But, if the King is starting to look only very, very good, then that becomes a more interesting question. The going rate for a very good goalie is a sight less than $80 million. Even if he has been the face of the franchise for almost a decade, even if he's often been the only reason the team has been respectable, let alone competitive - would Lundqvist really be worth $10 million a year for 8 years, in an offseason in which we have to sign Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi, if he's only very, very good?
It's way too early in the season to be asking that question, of course, and so the question isn't really the point. The point is that even if you are concerned about the King's "meager" .917 so far this season, you still shouldn't be asking whether or not he's about to be replaced by Cam Talbot; you should be asking whom we're signing next summer.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Of course, imaginary fan-created trade proposals are dumb, and this one will be no different. Generally they're dumb because, for some reason, no fan of any sports team is comfortable with the idea that you have to give up good assets to get good assets. Sure, once in a while, you trade Scott Gomez and two assholes for 4 pieces including Ryan McDonagh and the guy you can trade for Brandon Prust. But usually, your plans to trade your team's 4th line left wing, 7th defenseman, and 20-year-old AHL goalie for Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury because "the Penguins have goalie troubles" probably aren't going to pan out.
Now, with that said, here is my brilliant proposal to trade our 4th line left wing and 7th defenseman.
No, wait, where are you going? Hear me out. For the first time in a while, the Rangers have some possibly vestigial pieces that might actually have some value.
When Rick Nash returns (which, by the way, really should not be on Tuesday to face the Big Bad Bruins in his first game back, please, regardless of how few goals we scored this weekend), he'll likely end up replacing Zuccarello on the Stepan line, sending Zucc down to replace either Miller or Pouliot at Moore's side (at least, that's what I'd do). Miller and Pouliot are playing similar hockey right now, showing occasional flashes of offensive brilliance while spending the majority of their time oscillating between mediocrity and defensive liability. So all things being equal, I'd be just as happy to sit one as the other.
But many things are not equal. Pouliot is a 27-year-old who has been on 5 NHL teams and 2 AHL teams since entering the league in 2006, his stint with the Rangers being his fourth "fresh start" in as many calendar years. Miller is a 20-year-old Rangers first-rounder fewer than 50 games into his career, fresh off of leading Team USA in both assists and points on its way to Gold in the World Juniors less than a year ago. Pouliot's on a 1-year, $1.3 million contract; Miller's is 2 years at less than $900,000 apiece, after which he remains a restricted free agent. It is far easier to invest a roster spot and its requisite patience for defensive lapses in Miller than in Pouliot. And with Powe, Pyatt, and Mashinter all capable of rotating in reliably in case of injury, Pouliot isn't the kind of guy worth carrying around to be a regular scratch. Like a backup goalie, you want your 13th forwards to be low-risk, even if they're relatively low-reward.
Meanwhile, back at the blue line, an interesting thing occurred. Michael Del Zotto, who is whatever the opposite of a fan favorite is, and who saw quite a bit of questionable (and indeed questioned) ice time under Coach Tortorella, was a healthy scratch on Saturday night, making way for Justin Falk, who Wikipedia informs me shares my birthday. Falk, nothing special, nonetheless played solidly enough to remain in the lineup the following night. I'm not saying we've seen the last of Del Zotto in Broadway Blue, but it's clear that, with Staal and Stralman as Vigneault's "offensive pair" (and I can't believe I'm saying this, but Stralman's actually been pretty good lately), it's clear that the Rangers can get by just fine without DZ to round out the bottom pair. Even if he should be on the ice instead of Falk, if your top 5 D-men are McDonagh, Girardi, Staal, Stralman, and Moore, do you really need to pay him $2.55 million to do it? Like Pouliot, Del Zotto is the kind of player you don't keep around if you're not giving him good minutes - better to pay less for someone with lower highs and higher lows.
Understand: Del Zotto and Pouliot are not without their up sides, and on a team with a slightly different makeup, it would likely be worth keeping them around. But that's really the point: you have to give up value to get value in a trade, and these are two guys that might not be doing much for the Rangers, but who might have meaningful value for some other team. Not for a team with its shit together, mind you - which basically rules out everyone in the West that isn't from Tennessee or Alberta - but for a team that, for whatever reason, is willing to take some risks with some "enigmatic" pieces with high potential, and who might give up a single consistent resource in return. That's not so crazy, is it?
Right, so. Here's my proposal: offer Del Zotto and Pouliot to Philadelphia for Wayne Simmonds.
Eh? If they say no, maybe let them upgrade a lower pick one round as well, or possibly even throw one in? Am I crazy to think a team like Philly would go for a move like this? Am I crazy to think it would benefit the Rangers, not insignificantly? It sounds plausible to me. So, let's throw it in the mill and see what comes out.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
First of all, Jim Dolan should eat a dick, for continuing to price actual hockey fans out of actual hockey games. I get that everything in New York is expensive, and I get that, as it's the city where all the culture and business come from, there are going to be a lot of attendees at MSG to Be At An Event, rather than to watch a game. But with lower bowl seating starting at $150 and going as high as $1300 per ticket, and many games selling out before individual tickets even go on sale (resale easily doubling a ticket's face value at the minimum), it's hard to feel like the crowd at the home opener was really as full of Ranger fans as it could have been. In years to come, will the Garden still feel like the Garden, or will the rowdier place to watch the game be the Flying Puck? If it's the latter, Dolan's the primary conspirator, and he should eat a dick.
On that note, Adam Richman should eat a dick. I had no idea who this guy was before tonight, but apparently he hosts some Food Network bullshit. Whatever: dude walked down the blue carpet for an interview pregame, as if he belonged there as much as Stemkowski, Matteau, or Greschner, talking a big game about how he used to work with Dave Maloney, and how tonight was "more than just a game" for him, a "part of [his] history." In the same breath, he got the Garden's nickname wrong (calling it "The World's Greatest Arena"), and said he couldn't wait to get inside and see the Broadway Blues. (Out of the mouths of babes, eh?) The whole thing stunk of "Dad trying to use modern slang to seem cool to teenage daughter, but obviously getting it wrong." Next time, if you wanna blend in with the fans, ditch the peacoat for a blueshirt, and try keeping your mouth shut. Until then, eat a dick.
Now, as for the player intros -- Oh, wait, I can't comment on that, because I didn't see it, because NBC Sports Network should eat a dick! My MSG feed was blacked out at exactly 7:30, because NBC Sports Network has exclusive rights to broadcast the game here. But, of course, they weren't as interested in showing me the opening night intros as they were in showing me Liam McHugh, Jeremy Roenick, and Keith Jones talking about other hockey games. So, they didn't want to show me the intros, but they also didn't want anyone else to. That's a dick-eating policy.
Of course, the centerpieces of the dick-eating dais have to be Gord Dwyer and Dave Jackson, the disastrous duo of referees who saw the Garden opener as their time to shine on the national stage, rather than the Canadiens' and Rangers'. The game was called terribly, and, as is so often the case with terrible officiating in the small sample size of one game, it heavily favored one team (the other guys, in this case). Most calls were bad, but none were as awful as the interference call on Kreider that cancelled out a Ranger power play in the 3rd. Courtesy of SB Nation, here's the play in convenient gif form:
According to Vigneault in a post-game interview, when he asked for an explanation, he was told that "if a player is skating backwards, the defenseman has to get out of his way, even if he was standing still." For the record, as if this needs to be clarified, the NHL Rulebook, section 56.1 ("Interference") clearly states: "A player is allowed the ice he is standing on
(body position) and is not required to move in order
to let an opponent proceed." In conclusion, these referees are bad at their jobs and subsequently liars, and should definitely eat a dick.
But it doesn't stop there! Granted, the Rangers aren't scoring much these days, and they're giving up plenty. And it's absurd to blame a couple of goal reviews for that. But, in the "insult to injury" category, the NHL Situation Room can eat a dick. Thursday night, in Philadelphia, J.T. Miller had a goal (as called on the ice) disallowed by the Situation Room on the grounds of a "distinct kicking motion." Tonight, Alex Galchenyuk had a goal upheld (as called on the ice). The phrase "eerily similar" has been used, and not inappropriately. Let's go to the video.
Here is Miller, whom multiple camera angles convinced the brain trust in the Situation Room "propelled the puck into the net with a distinct kicking motion":
And here is tonight's goal, on which multiple camera angles convinced the same brain trust that "the puck deflected off Alex Galchenyuk's right skate and into the net in a legal fashion":
No further analysis is necessary here; the Situation Room should eat a dick.
Speaking of the Rangers not scoring much these days, Brad Stuart should eat a dick. His headshot on Rick Nash 3 weeks ago cost himself a justified 3-game suspension, but cost Rick Nash who knows how long? The team remains totally silent about Nash's status, which is a very, very bad sign for its future. Speculation at this stage is dangerous and depressing, but one thing is clear as Lucite: Brad Stuart absolutely ought to eat a dick.
It's not right for me to write this long a frustrated post without getting angry at any Rangers, so let's remember that, as ever, Anton Stralman should eat a dick. Attention, everyone! I don't know why you like this guy so much! He! Is! Shitty! He's a defensive liability with an imaginary offensive upside! Seriously, some nights I feel like I'm watching a totally different guy than everyone else. Special bonus dick-eating sentence for the usually blameless Doc Emrick here, who called a play in which Stralman, from the point, passed the puck backwards to no one, leaving Marc Staal to make a diving play at the blue line to stop the puck from trickling out by inches. Doc described it as a "brilliant shuffleboard move" by Stralman. Dicks for everyone. To eat.
Also, Peter Budaj, who made a perfectly serviceable 27 saves tonight, should eat a dick, for being generally outplayed by a back-to-form King but nonetheless earning the shutout over him. I understand that all Budaj did to deserve this was his job as perfectly as he could have, but still.
Finally and even less fairly, because his production is so impossibly good so far, and I'm so very angry about unrelated things, blog favorite Sidney Crosby should eat a dick. In 12 games, Crosby has netted 8 goals and 12 assists. In 10 games, the whole Rangers team has only scored 15. In other words, Sidney Crosby is contributing to more goals per game than all the Rangers combined. If he stays healthy and on this (likely unsustainable) pace, Crosby will finish the season with 136 points, which would be the most in a single season since both Jagr and Lemieux broke 140 in 1995-'96.
Monday, October 14, 2013
I was going to say all those things, and it was probably going to take me longer than that, but then today the Rangers put him, and Arron Asham, on waivers. So, I guess I don't have to convince anyone of anything. But, of course, this raises a pretty obvious question: Who goalie now? Vigneault isn't ruling anyone out, including Talbot and the Moose, but in the meanwhile, Biron will either be claimed on waivers or clear and be sent to Hartford. So, who goalie now? Do we believe that 40-year-old Hedberg, whose last NHL game was 6 months ago (he gave up 4 goals on 21 shots to the Rangers) will be more consistent, if he joins Callahan, Stepan, and Hagelin among the ranks of Rangers who didn't have the luxury of a training camp? Do we think that it's time for Talbot to start becoming familiar with backup life? Who goalie now??
Okay, and look. Fuck Arron Asham. Dude with that guy's history should make way for inexperienced kids, even if they're less talented, 10 times out of 10. I've said in this space many times that the Rangers would be easier to root for without him, and I'm excited about entering that reality. But. Since camp started, the guy has been better than plenty of other Ranger forwards. Hell, he has even won fights (something I couldn't say for him at all last season). If he was worth keeping around before, I can't imagine what has changed now. Am I really supposed to be excited instead about Derek Dorsett - he of the three unprovoked, unnecessary offensive-zone infractions Saturday night, of which two led to goals?
In conclusion, two things that I wanted to happen happened today, and I'm worried/unhappy about both. Thus, I have achieved what I believe to be the very essence of the Garden Faithful, and I am ready to transcend.
The rest of the planned post was to be an exciting numerical foray into just how bad the Rangers have been so far. That's the fun thing about such a small sample size: 5 games into an 82-game season, you can really combine the numbers to tell an atrocious tale. For example:
- The Rangers have amassed a goal differential of -16 in only 5 games. Not only is this obviously the league worst, it puts them on pace to be outscored by their opponents by 262.4 goals by the end of the regular season. This is only 2.6 short of the NHL record, set by the Washington Capitals, who were outscored by 265 in 1974-75.
- The Rangers have given up 25 goals in those 5 games, putting them on pace to give up 410 on the season, 36 shy of the record set by those same Capitals.
- The Rangers have, logically, then, scored only 9 goals so far. This puts them on pace to score 147.6, only 14.6 goals more than the NHL-low 1953-54 Chicago Black Hawks.
- 4 of the Rangers' goals were on the power play (2 on 5-on-3s), and one was that really bizarre shorthanded Jonathan Quick misplay over 100 feet from anyone else. Thus, the Rangers have only scored 4 even-strength goals: 3 by Brad Richards, one by Derek Dorsett.
- Ranger goalies have given up those 25 goals on 179 shots, for a combined save percentage of .860 through almost 300 minutes. .860.
- Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are already each -7. Ryan McDonagh is -5. Yes, plus/minus is dumb, but I don't have "on the ice for an even-strength goal," which is really only a little better anyway, and I don't know if you heard me but Staal, Girardi, and McDonagh are on pace to average under -100 each.
- The Rangers have been outshot in every game, obviously. But also, they have only even outshot their opponents in 4 individual periods (of 15), and 2 of those were the second and third of their shutout loss to the Ducks (can you say "score effects"?). The other two were the second period in LA and the second period in St. Louis.
- The Rangers have taken 135 shots on goal, bringing their shot differential to -44, an average per game of -8.8. The depressing part about that one? That's exactly what it was last season.
Look. Here's the thing. The Rangers are not this bad. At least, as you can see, it is statistically unlikely that they are this bad. We know this without even bothering to notice that the team shooting percentage (just as meaningless in a 5-game sample as the rest of these numbers) is as low as 6.67%. The team is bad for every reason, and it's fixing whatever it can. Lundqvist will get better. Biron will not. Callahan and Stepan, and eventually Hagelin, too, will return to regular season form. Everyone is learning a new system, and as they do, they'll stop focusing on it, and their ability to complete basic tape-to-tape passes is likely to return. Do those changes make the team likely to win the Cup, or even the division? No. But they make it better than this.
The point is: you shouldn't worry about any of that. The only thing from the last 5 games that you should worry about is the hit on Rick Nash. Nash is legitimately one of the best forwards in hockey. He is certainly the best on the Rangers. He's now retroactively on IR, out indefinitely, with concussion-y headaches. The Rangers had better take their time with this one, but who knows how long that will be, or if he'll ever come back the same? Best case, Nash returns soon and everything is fine. Worst case, he is, as my father fearfully suggested, "this generation's Eric Lindros" - and then, the Rangers are shitty this season, so Lundqvist signs elsewhere. Then, without Nash or Lundqvist, we can talk about how much this team really sucks. And we will.
Friday, October 4, 2013
Look, the entire coaching staff (Benoit Allaire notwithstanding) was changed in the offseason (for those of you keeping score, the offseason was one game ago). Not a single forward line even resembles a line we had a few months ago. Brad Richards is a left wing now. Derek Stepan didn't go to any of training camp. Two of our top three scoring wingers from last season are currently out recovering from identical shoulder surgery. When Jesper Fast was born, Mark Messier was already a Ranger. This team hasn't exactly had time to gel, is what I'm saying.
Shouting about how "Vigneault's Power Play" is supposed to look better at this stage is just the bigger-scale version of shouting at the point man to shoot the puck a few seconds into an instance of it. I know you want them to score, but just chill out and let them get set up first! I am not a professional hockeyman, so I cannot be sure about this, but please allow me this supposition: it takes more than zero regular season games to learn a brand new system with a bunch of brand new guys well enough to use it to succeed at the highest professional level.
Breathe. This was supposed to happen. Trading Tortorella for Vigneault was likely a good move. Moving Richards to the wing was likely a good move. The Rangers will likely be a good squad this season. And it will all likely take some time. Meanwhile, even while we're losing, we're already more fun to watch. So, everything is okay, and everything is going to continue to be okay.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Up front, only 5 cuts were made, not 6, as Hagelin will start the season on Injured Reserve (Callahan, who is recovering somewhat faster from the identical surgery on the same day, will not). I expected 4 of the cuts to be Fast, Hrivik, Lindberg, and Mashinter. 3 out of 4 ain't bad, but in a surprising move, Vigneualt kept Jesper Fast up with the big club. His other two cuts were Kreider and Powe, leaving Asham and Pyatt up to round out the roster.
If you've been paying attention, the starting goalie and defensemen should be obvious at this point (Lundqvist, McDonagh-Girardi, Staal-Del Zotto, Moore-Stralman), but the forward lines are something of a mystery. Some light was shed today when it was reported that Richards has been moved to the wing, skating at practice opposite Nash on a line centered by Stepan. This move makes sense to me: simplifying Richards's game might lead to good things for him offensively, and the Rangers, as my dad put it, "have 14 forwards, of whom 18 are centers," so this is a pretty solid shift. Behind that first line of Nash - Stepan - Richards, Vigneault seems to be keeping Pouliot - Brassard - Zuccarello together as a 2nd line.
Behind them, based on what we've seen at camp, it seems like Boyle will be the #3 center and Moore will be the #4 (with Miller, who is also a natural centerman, shifted to the wing). That leaves 4 wings to be taken up by any of: Asham, Dorsett, Fast, Miller, and Pyatt (given reports that Callahan, though active, will not be dressed on opening night). I don't imagine the Rangers leaving Fast in the lineup just to bench him (even if he outplayed others, wouldn't they rather develop him in Hartford, like Conor Allen?), so it seems most likely they'd try to use him on the third line, most likely along with J.T. Miller, who deserves more than 4th-line minutes. Behind Miller - Boyle - Fast, I would guess that Pyatt is the odd man out, in favor of a fourth line of Dorsett - Moore - Asham.
And so, here's my best opening night guess:
Nash - Stepan - Richards
Pouliot - Brassard - Zuccarello
Miller - Boyle - Fast
Dorsett - Moore - Asham
McDonagh - Girardi
Staal - Del Zotto
Moore - Stralman
Healthy Scratches: Pyatt, Falk
What do you think?
Saturday, September 28, 2013
So, great preseason, yeah? 1-5, outscored 22-9? Whatever, it's the preseason; let's wait until next week, when we've been outscored 22-9 in the regular season, to be upset.
The Rangers will announce their final training camp cuts tomorrow, in anticipation of the deadline Monday at 3 PM, by which time they must be at or under 23. By all indications (again, based on the airtight reliability of Twitter), it sounds like they'll be cutting down enough to leave Callahan and Hagelin among the active players. Between that and the signing of Stepan (for almost exactly what the Rangers had been offering this whole time, by the way), Vigneault will have to make quite a few more cuts than I anticipated. 20 dress per night, and if Callahan and Hagelin are 2 more under the 23, that leaves room for only 1 more, likely a 7th defenseman. From the current 20 forwards and 9 defensemen, then, it sounds like Vigneault may cut as many as 6 up front and 2 on the blue line tomorrow. So, who?
It seems pretty likely that Boyle, Brassard, Moore, Nash, Pouliot, Richards, Stepan, and Zuccarello make the cut. Given the way Miller's played, including last night's team-wide Frozen Fury Failure, he's got to make the list as well. It's harder to be sure of this, but Dorsett's probably also looked good enough to stick around. That leaves 2 spots open for: Asham, Fast, Hrivik, Kreider, Lindberg, Mashinter, Powe, and Pyatt. Fast, Hrivik, Lindberg, and Mashinter almost certainly get cut, but it's hard to guess at the other two. Regardless, it seems like they're the two that would sit if Callahan and Hagelin came back immediately.
In the back, obviously, Del Zotto, Girardi, McDonagh, Moore, and Staal are starters, and unfortunately, so is Stralman (though he's been outplayed by others). So, the 7th D spot is left to one of Allen, Bickel, and Falk. To me, Allen has clearly outplayed the other two, but he's also the 23-year-old who would benefit from regular play time in Hartford. Personally, I'd give him the 6th spot in Stralman's stead and see what happened, but that's unlikely, and it seems like a waste to have Allen on the NHL squad to sit on the bench every night - much like Cam Talbot, who outplayed Biron in camp, but who was ultimately sent down to the Wolfpack to get regular play. Discounting Allen, Falk should get the #7 spot over Bickel.
That's all I've got. Tomorrow, we'll see why I'm an idiot. Bye!
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Up front, though, the cuts were a little bit unexpected. The staff sent Haley, Kantor, and Yogan to the Wolfpack, as I (and many others) thought. They left Brandon Mashinter up with the big club, which I did not see coming (I would have expected Haley to stay up before him), but which you will recall I have no problems with. Because of the face-punching.
The one surprising move was their ninth and final cut: Danny Kristo. Not that I'm ready to make a case that Kristo is NHL-ready: he's a kid who needs more playing time before he's responsible enough to play in the league. It's just weird that he got sent down while others of his ilk (like Hrivik) and below his ilk (Lindberg, about whom I really must be missing something) stayed up. Ultimately, cuts have to be made, and this was probably a smart one, but it's surprising that it came in this round.
So, who's left? 30 players:
Aaron Asham, Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Ryan Callahan, Derek Dorsett, Jesper Fast, Carl Hagelin, Marek Hrivik, Chris Kreider, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Mashinter, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Benoit Pouliot, Darroll Powe, Taylor Pyatt, Brad Richards, Mats Zuccarello
Conor Allen, Stu Bickel, Michael Del Zotto, Justin Falk, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman
Marty Biron, Henrik Lundqvist
Obviously, the goalies are set. Vigneault has said he intends to carry four defensive pairs on opening night, so that leaves only one cut to be made on the blue line: surely it will be either Allen or Bickel, and the other seven should still be around next Thursday night.
To get down to the maximum 23-man roster, that leaves room for 13 forwards. Of the 19 still on the list right now, Callahan and Hagelin will likely start the season inactive, which leaves 17 people to fill those 13 spots. So, in addition to Allen or Bickel, the Rangers must cut (at minimum) four more forwards before opening night. Obviously, nothing is sure - Boyle, Dorsett, Kreider, Moore, and Pouliot could all be on the bubble as well - but I have to imagine that those 4 cuts would most likely come from among 8 dudes: Asham, Fast, Hrivik, Lindberg, Mashinter, Miller, Powe, and Pyatt.
Next stop: Vancouver. Any storylines anyone can think of for that game?
The two overarching takeaways seem to be: those young forwards are really fast, and we made a lot of defensive mistakes. That is absolutely the right summary. It is also largely uninteresting, because it describes basically every 18-year-old hockey player trying to play at the NHL level ever. So, while I too was impressed by speed and disappointed by defensive lapses, I'm trying not to get too worked up over either.
Here's what I think I learned:
-- I may have been right when I said I like Jesper Fast. He had another impressive offensive game, and I'd like to continue to see more of him in the Blueshirt. Vigneault presumably even liked him enough Monday night that the coach ended up switching him with Kreider, and so he had a chance with Richards and Nash, which was fun. Speaking of lines that may or may not exist in the coach's head, the Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line appears to remain a thing, at least for now.
-- I may have been wrong when I said I like Justin Falk. Obviously, Monday's 1-game sample is no bigger than than the previous Monday's was, but he was a step behind in it. Does this mean he's worse than Stralman? Or penalty magnet Stu Bickel? Who can say?
-- I now have something to say about Marek Hrivik: Hooray Marek Hrivik! Dude's been hanging out with Danny Kristo, and it's been quick and delightful. You know that feeling you get whenever you watch the Oilers play these days? Like, you know they aren't actually a big deal, and that none of this holds up, but you can't help getting excited? That's how it is to watch these two. It's starting to look like Hrivik, Kristo, Fast, and Pouliot should top the list of forwards you've never heard of who might still be around next week.
-- Relatedly, I'm just missing the Oscar Lindberg boat for some reason. He centered that duo last night, and he seems to be on the coach's short(er) list, but he hasn't stood out for me at all.
-- This part sucks. Arron Asham has actually had a pretty good camp. Understand: this does not make him any less of a codpiece, and it would be far easier to root for a Ranger team without him than with him. But, he's been fast, strong on the puck, making the right passes, and responsibly position. I'm sad about it, because if he'd looked this week like he looked last season, I wouldn't still be faced with a reasonable possibility of rooting for a team that employs Arron Asham. Other people this is bad news for: Micheal Haley.
-- Meanwhile, while I'm not inherently opposed to Vigneault's experimentation among forward positions, either I've found center Darroll Powe to be significantly less effective than winger Darroll Powe, or I'm remembering winger Darroll Powe as being better than he was. Brandon Mashinter hasn't looked any better, but he's not supposed to, and he did punch Cam Janssen's face a lot last week, so for some reason I just have more positive feelings about him.
-- Aaron Johnson has not gotten any better since last week, paired last night with the Invisible Tommy Hughes. I wouldn't blink if both were cut today. Conor Allen, on the other hand, actually made some nice plays opposite Marc Staal. Although, maybe that's just the effect of being opposite Marc Staal. In the best news of all, against all odds, Marc Staal appears to be Marc Staal again.
-- None of Dylan McIlrath, Danny Syvret, Michael Kantor, and Andrew Yogan got the chance to suit up in either of these two games, after all had uninspiring showings last Tuesday. With only two preseason games left and a 39-man roster still to be whittled down, I can't imagine the Rangers holding onto spots for any of these guys (although my imagination may be lacking).
-- It was nice to see J.T. Miller finally get some action after starting camp with an injury. He looked all right, but it's hard to judge either way after just the one game. So this is me, spending three sentences to say "I don't really know what to think about J.T. Miller right now."
Is that everyone? I hope that's everyone. With the final two games of the preseason tomorrow night and Friday night, I expect more roster cuts today, though it's hard to say how many (Twitter, the ultimate source for such things, seems somewhat split on this issue right now). I guess, looking at what I've just written, that the obvious cuts are something like: Haley, Kantor, Mashinter, Yogan, Johnson, Hughes, McIlrath, and Syvret. That's 4 forwards and 4 D-men, bringing us to 19 and 9. If I were in charge, it looks like I'd also cut Powe and Lindberg (and probably Bickel, whom I left off of that list because we don't need to go down to 8 defensemen yet and because my father likes him).
So, those were my impressions. I guess we'll see later today how closely they line up with the coaching staff's.
Monday, September 23, 2013
You know what I missed most about sports blogging, you guys? No, it wasn't the steady paycheck nor the inherent respect that comes with the position, but good guesses. No, it was the wild speculation! You see, when actual hockey is happening, it's easy to stay entertained by hockey, because there is hockey. But when shit like a week of training camp in Banff, Alberta between preseason games happens, what is an obsessive fan to do?
I'll tell you: blog irresponsibly about what the fantasy Rangers in my head might look like in a few weeks, when there is actual hockey! Now is arguably the perfect time to be a fan, in one's imagination: we've already got enough specific information about the squad to imagine what the lineup might look like, but we've yet to experience any of the inevitable disappointment that comes with watching the actual team play actual games. Hooray! Let's go Rangers!
Vigneault has said that he ultimately wants to carry 8 defensemen on the roster, because he feels like they're more versatile (it's easier for them to fill in for forwards than vice versa), which gives us an idea of the ultimate opening night roster size: 12 forwards, 8 blue liners, and 2 goalies. The netminders are easy: barring catastrophe, Talbot needs the playing opportunity afforded by the starting position on the Wolfpack, leaving Biron to back up Lundqvist.
On D, it's starting to look like the opening night top 6 are pretty much set. The coach has said that he likes McDonagh with Girardi, Staal with Del Zotto, and Stralman with Moore. I'd like to see Falk paired with Moore instead, but like so many of his predecessors, Alain Vigneault stubbornly refuses to call me for advice. That basically leaves Bickel, Falk, Johnson, Allen, Hughes, McIlrath, and Syrvet competing for the 2 spots in the "extra" pair. I'd be disappointed and surprised if one of those didn't go to Falk, but I imagine the other is legitimately up for grabs.
Up front, conventional wisdom is that the top line is shaping up to be Richards centering Nash and Kreider. Score one for conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom also expects a line of Brassard between Pouliot and Zuccarello. I'm not as convinced of Pouliot as conventional wisdom is, but we're blogging irresponsibly, so let's go with it. With the "missing persons" line (Stepan between Callahan and Hagelin) likely to be back within the first month, that leaves us two lines to totally fabricate: the "4th line" (which would be promoted to 3rd in the beginning of the season) and the "5th line" (which would be cut once the missing persons line returns).
It seems pretty clear that Boyle and Moore are the two centers who round out those lines, and it's likely they'll also include Pyatt and Dorsett. That leaves 11 forwards vying for those last 2 opening night wings. Haley, Lindberg, and Miller are all natural centermen, and Asham's a fuck, which brings us down to 7 legitimate candidates for those two spots: Powe, Fast, Hrivik, Kantor, Kristo, Mashinter, and Yogan. Based solely on his play last week, I'd really like to see Fast get a chance with one of them. Meanwhile, to split the lines, let's say that Pyatt and Dorsett are the "4th line" wings, and that Boyle vs. Moore is a legitimate competition to center those two.
Incidentally, we can now do some clearer cap math. Let's assume that the missing persons line is back and that we were right about all our wild assumptions here. Then, given the least expensive variation (Syrvet as the 8th D; Moore at center), the Rangers' cap total without Stepan would be $59,102,500. The most expensive variation (Allen as the 8th D; Boyle at center) ups that to $60,990,000. This year's cap is $64.3 million, leaving the Rangers somewhere between $3.3 million and $5.2 million to sign Stepan and leave room to maneuver throughout the season. With the Rangers reportedly offering Stepan $3 million while he asks for 3.5, it sounds like best case, we'll have just over $2 million of wiggle room this season, and worst case, we'll be right up against the cap.
Of course, that's all based on lineups I completely invented, so none of it really means anything. But that's what you get when the team is at training camp in Banff.