The New York Rangers made the playoffs for the third straight season, but it wasn't enough for head coach John Tortorella to keep his job.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Rangers team facing changes this summer, not least of which is a new man in charge behind the bench.
Alain Vigneault, recently fired in Vancouver, wasn't out of work long and joins the Rangers with expectations to win, and win now.
What Vigneault brings to the table, in addition to 806 career regular season games and at least reaching the second round in five of seven playoff appearances, is strategic use of his top scorers. In Vancouver, the Sedins took more faceoffs in the offensive zone than anyone else, leaving Manny Malhotra and others to take the vast majority of defensive zone faceoffs.
Translating that to New York, that figures to give Rick Nash a steady diet of offensive zone draws. Nash was already leaning that way (60.1% last season), but expect his usage to be tilted even more.
GM Glen Sather explained the coaching change this way: "It was getting to be so hard on some of our players. We needed to make a change to give them a little fresh life and more of an optimistic view of how to play."
The biggest decision facing the Rangers this summer will be what to do with Brad Richards. Signed as a free agent in the summer of 2011, Richards struggled in the shortened season, but fell totally flat in the playoffs, getting sent to the press box for the last two games in Round Two.
With a new coach, maybe the Rangers will be inclined to give Richards another shot next season, particularly since a compliance buyout is a big cheque to write for Richards to play somewhere else, so it's possible that Richards gets another chance in 2013-2014, but no matter which way that decision goes, it's going to be a msjor decision for Sather and company.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Glen Sather/Alain Vigneault
Rangers Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
It's easy (and fun too!) to be down on Rick Nash after he scored one goal in 12 playoff games, but his first season in New York was very good. 21 goals in 44 games was his best goal-scoring rate (0.48) since 2008-2009, he was a career-best plus-16 and his 32 even-strength points ranked 15th, ahead of Phil Kessel, John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf and Henrik Sedin. (His 17 even-strength goals ranked sixth.)
Yes, Nash is paid big money and with that comes an expectation of production when it matters most, in the playoffs, but the Rangers ought to be very happy with the early returns from the 29-year-old power forward.
Team captain Ryan Callahan has been a consistent goal-scorer and frequent hitter, earning more and more ice time, up to a career-high 21:31 per game in 2013. Over the last three seasons, Callahan has 68 goals in 181 games, hit 0.38 goals per game tied for 22nd with Marian Hossa, Taylor Hall and Ryan Kesler. Real-time stats have to be taken with a grain of salt at the best of times, and perhaps pounds of salt when coming from Madison Square Garden, but Callahan has also finished among the top dozen forwards in hits for five consecutive seasons and among the top five forwards in blocked shots for each of the last four seasons. It's that willingness to lay his body on the line that makes the blue-collar winger the captain of a marquee franchise.
A healthy scratch in the playoffs after managing one point in 10 postseason contests, Brad Richards is now in danger of having his contract bought out, as the Rangers see a way to get out from a cap hit of $6.667-million through 2020. That's a lot of money to pay someone not to play, however, so it's still conceivable that the Blueshirts could give Richards another season before deciding on a compliance buyout next summer.
The strange thing about Richards' playoff collapse is that he was crucial to their efforts to get there, scoring 16 points in the last games of the regular season. There are 13 centres to score at least 100 points over the last two (er, one-and-a-little-more-than-a-half) NHL seasons and Richards is one of them.
Coming to New York in the Marian Gaborik trade may have been a career-saver for Derick Brassard, the sixth overall pick in 2006 who had scuffled along for the last four-plus seasons before he arrived in Manhattan and, between regular season and playoffs, scored 23 points in 25 games. If he's back on track as an offensive performer, that gives the Rangers more flexibility down the middle; potentially enough flexibility to cut Richards loose and not be left with a gaping hole for a point-producing pivot.
A hulking winger who has a history with new coach Alain Vigneault, Taylor Pyatt's point production last season (0.23 per game) was the lowest of his career. He's as strong as they come, but doesn't use that to his advantage consistently enough and that leaves him in a depth role at this stage of his career.
Following a couple of productive seasons in which he emerged into a more prominent role, Brian Boyle struggled last season, finishing with a career-low minus-13 and getting scratched at times. He was better in the postseason, earning significant ice time, an indication that he could still be counted on in a top-nine role going forward.
A tough winger who worked himself into a regular checking role with Columbus, Derek Dorsett didn't get into a Rangers jersey until the playoffs. Acquiring Dorsett, a scrapper who can play a bit, seemed to be a tacit admission that the Rangers missed the presence of Brandon Prust, who signed with Montreal as a free agent last summer.
After making his debut with the Rangers in 2012 playoffs, scoring five goals and seven points in 18 games, Chris Kreider was expected to be a regular for the Rangers last season, but he struggled in the AHL (23 points, minus-11 in 48 games) and couldn't get into a regular spot when he was called up, managing three points in 23 games while playing about 10 minutes per game. A rare combination of size (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) and skating ability gives Kreider potential to be an impact player, but he'll have to be much better next season.
Darroll Powe is a hard-hitting checker but also failed to register a point in 42 games last season, setting a record (since time on ice has been tracked) for the most minutes played by a forward without a point.
Derek Stepan made a quantum leap forward in his third season, setting career-high rates across the board (goals per game, assists per game, time on ice per game) as well as plus-minus. He's the Rangers' No. 1 centre now and likely looking at a big payday this summer.
After scoring 28 points in 44 games with Metallurg in the KHL, Mats Zuccarello re-joined the Rangers late in the year, and had 15 points in 27 regular season plus playoff games. He's tiny, but carries a long stick and has the offensive instincts to help in a supporting role.
Speedy winger Carl Hagelin wasn't quite as productive as he was in his rookie year, but he's a puck possession beast and is one of 10 players, since 2000, to start his career with two double-digit plus seasons.
If the Rangers keep Richards, then there isn't a lot of room to maneuver. Maybe a veteran checking winger or a full-time spot opens up for prospect J.T. Miller, but if Richards is bought out, then the Rangers will have room to make a bolder move in free agency. It would put them in the market for Patrik Elias, Stephen Weiss, Derek Roy or re-signing Ryane Clowe, the free agent power forward who was acquired from San Jose, but got hurt late in the season.
Rangers Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
When Marc Staal took a puck in the eye March 5, against Philadelphia, that really undercut the Rangers' hopes because, while he returned for one game in the playoffs, losing a 24-minute-per-game defenceman in the midst of a career season is impossible to make up. Staal may not regain 100% of his vision, but is expected to be ready to play next season. If he can still fill a shutdown defensive role, that will be a major positive for the Rangers.
The best puckhandler on the Rangers' blueline, Michael Del Zotto ranks 21st among defencemen with 62 points over the last two seasons, but has struggled in the possession game as his minutes have climbed in recent seasons.
Dan Girardi has led the league in blocked shots in two of the last three seasons (and finished in the top six for each of the last four seasons). Not surprisingly, his puck possession numbers aren't strong, but some of that is a factor of playing a defensive role against the other team's top lines night after night.
Though he played fewer than 12 minutes per game after coming over from Columbus, John Moore was more productive with the Rangers and saw his ice time go up to 17 minutes per game in the playoffs. A 22-year-old who is a tremendous skater with good size, he's still just getting started in his NHL career and has potential to get better.
Though he usually contributes more offensively than he did last season, Anton Stralman had terrific puck possession stats, while playing admittedly protected minutes. That's okay, territorial success from a third pairing defenceman is fine no matter how it happens.
In three NHL seasons, Ryan McDonagh is plus-54, which ranks third over that span. He's played more than 24 minutes per game in the last two seasons and should land a nice contract this summer.
Michael Sauer hasn't returned to the ice since suffering a concussion against the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 5, 2011 and it's a significant loss for the Rangers. He had a chance to be a top four defenceman, but that's light years away now as he deals with post-concussion effects.
The Rangers have a steady enough top six returning on the blueline, but could use another veteran, possibly one who can handle the puck a bit. Ryan Whitney, Ron Hainsey or Marek Zidlicky could hold some appeal, if the price is right.
One of the game's elite puck stoppers, Henrik Lundqvist is the only starter to have a .920 save percentage in each of the last four seasons and his .924 save percentage over that span is best among goalies with at least 150 games played. With one year left on his contract, expect an extension to be part of the Rangers' plans this summer.
He doesn't get a lot of work as Lundqvist's backup, but Martin Biron is one of the better second-stringers in the league, with a .913 save percentage in three seasons with the Rangers.
||8-15-23, -12, 42 GP
||18-17-35, +13, 47 GP
|Michael St. Croix
||37-55-92, +30, 72 GP
||0-5-5, +7, 45 GP
||19-16-35, +5, 73 GP
||1-2-3, +11, 36 GP
||7-19-26, -2, 40 GP
||17-25-42, +1, 55 GP
||8-21-29, -5, 40 GP
||5-14-19, -1, 33 GP
A two-way player who spent more than half of the NHL season in New York (four points, minus-7 in 26 games), J.T. Miller is able to create some offence, but his initial mark will be made with strong work in the corners and along the boards.
A speedy winger who came into his own in the Swedish Elite League, Jesper Fast, a sixth-round pick in 2010, should get some apprenticeship in the AHL, but if he can handle the adjustment to North America, could move up quickly.
Drafted in the fourth round in 2011, Michael St. Croix has 197 points in 144 WHL games over the last two seasons. He'll have time in the AHL to prove that his offence is legit at the pro level, but the playmaker could turn out to be a nice addition because of his offensive upside.
A big, bad dude, Dylan McIlrath is more than just a puncher, as one might expect from the 10th pick in the 2010 draft, and McIlrath can play a physical role. He may be able to challenge for an NHL job soon.
Size will be a challenge for Christian Thomas to overcome, but the 2010 second-round pick had a solid first pro campaign, tallying 19 goals. If he progresses next season, that could put him in line for a future spot.
Drafted 28th overall last summer, Brady Skjei is a superb skater who doesn't offer much, if anything, offensively, but will have some time to round out his game at the University of Minnesota.
An undrafted free agent, Marek Hrivik had a decent first pro season, though he missed significant time with a concussion. With another full year of seasoning in the AHL, he could be closer to challenging for a position with the Rangers.
Acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes, Oscar Lindberg had a very productive season in the Swedish Elite League. He's 21-years-old, which would seem a good time to come to North America to see how his game translates.
A lanky forward with scoring potential, Cristoval Nieves needs time to round out his game and he'll get that at the University of Michigan.
Signed after his junior year at Massachusetts, Conor Allen is expected to provide steady two-way play on the blueline and an important addition given how thin the organizational depth is on defence.
No first-round pick.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Rangers have approximately $50.9M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 17 players.
Check out my possible Rangers lineup for next season (with Richards) on Cap Geek here.
Check out my possible Rangers lineup for next season (without Richards) on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two-three top nine forwards, depth defencemen.
What I said the Rangers needed last year: Two top nine forwards, two defencemen, backup goaltender.
They added: Rick Nash, Taylor Pyatt, Arron Asham, Jeff Halpern, Matt Gilroy.
Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, prospects.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.