The Rangers have made no secret of the fact that they want this to be a Stanley Cup year–that the Rangers are serious contenders for the Stanley Cup. The Rangers play this week (including two bad losses in two nights) has to be somewhat discounted as it was mostly younger players vying for roster spots, but a few telling cracks were revealed that will require some changes for that quest to come to fruition.
It is very hard to judge where the team is actually at with this pre-season schedule–two games last week on the East coast, then a bonding trip out West, with no game for five days, then four games in another five days, then back across the country to practice in NY for four days, then back out West to start the season. I understand that the charity golf tournament in Banff raised many thousands of dollars for a very worthy cause (I have interests in the area too and know what devastation has occurred), but maybe a fundraiser with a resulting big donation done from New York might have been easier on the team. Bonding is good, but West Point is only down the road, and, if the travel was lighter, the games could have been more evenly spread out.
But what is done is done. And thankfully, the pre-season is over. So, where does the team go from here? Some thoughts below.
As respects Rick Nash, he really needs someone to feed him the puck–he is not a player who can do it all himself. And he has been trying to in the pre-season. It remains to be seen whether Derek Stepan, who just signed a two-year contract late this week, is that guy. If he is, then there needs to be a smaller highly skilled guy on the other side–one dreams of a Marion Gaborik for this function, but alas he longer is here. Who that right winger will be is one of the big questions for the team. There are one or two of the younger players who I think may be able to fill this function over time (Fast, Kristo), but probably not in time for this season.
Then there is Brad Richards. He freely admits that he did not play up to par last season and has dedicated himself to improving the outcome this year. Although it is very clear to anyone who meets him or sees him working out that Richards’ intent and work ethic are some of the best on the team, after watching him over the last two weeks, one has to question whether or not all this effort will be fruitful for the Rangers. I know that others see positive changes in his game–I do not see sufficient changes in foot speed to really help the team with its “Stanley Cup now” goal.
The younger players will be discussed by management over the next couple of days. How many will be kept? Yesterday, AV suggested two young guys will remain of four competing for spots–he did not say whether that included Kreider and Miller. Lets get bold and suggest that Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin start on the IR and that Kreider and Miller are not in this race–they are regular roster members. So, that would mean that two of Fast, Lindberg, Hrivik and Mashinter will stay. Although yesterday I suggested that Mashinter should be kept out of this group of contenders, by the light of day, after watching the game last night, I am less certain that this is a good idea.
Kreider, Miller, Fast and Lindberg are the core of the Rangers future top nine. I believe that, even if Callahan and Hagelin are not on the IR to start the season, that Miller and Kreider will both be kept on the roster and given a chance to show what they can do. However, even if Callahan and Hagelin are roster players, can Fast and Lindberg stay? After watching the game last night, I think that both Fast and Lindberg should stay on the Rangers roster. What would the cost be? Veteran bangers and PKers. Fast and Lindberg both appear to be able to play on the PK, which is what will be needed if three of the more defensive forwards (including Mashinter) are waived. One tough guy can be kept from among the other forwards. It makes sense to do this, which will make this team much more exciting, more in line with AV’s system, and, once the youngsters get acclimated, there will be four good lines to roll against all opponents.
As respects the D, it has looked absolutely awful the last two games. AV’s system of having the blueliners more involved in the play has caused upheaval. I hate to single him out, but it is Dan Girardi who appears to have struggled the most. Maybe some thought should be given to changing the pairings until he can get with the new program.
As to who will stay as the seventh defenseman (and maybe eighth as AV has indicated he wants), I have to say that Conor Allen has made a good case for it to be him. But, Justin Falk and Stu Bickel would need to go through waivers to be assigned to Hartford, and it is uncertain that either would clear. Allen can be sent back without going through waivers. Extra defensemen are always needed through a season and the Rangers can’t afford to lose Falk and Bickel–especially since Marc Staal is unproven in his return (although he has looked fine thus far) and Girardi has struggled. So, I expect Allen to be returned to Hartford.
All these questions will be answered by Monday, when the Rangers have to cut to 23 players. Stay tuned.