Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is Erik Christensen's Shootout Specialty Worth Keeping Him In The Lineup?

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
The curious case of Erik Christensen continues to turn for the New York Rangers and the frustration with him only mounts with each passing game.  Christensen has been given numerous opportunities at all levels of the lineup and continually fails to make a consistent impact on the game, at least in the first 65 minutes of action.  The only thing that he does do consistently is perform in the shootout.  Over the past few days I have been thinking about how much value a shootout specialist has in the NHL right now with the combination of the tight playoff races and how crucial the extra point can be at this time of year.  Obviously, come the playoffs there is no value to a player who cannot consistently produce during real action as opposed to the skills competition, but does Christensen’s shootout prowess save his spot in the lineup down the stretch until the playoffs begin?
My gut reaction is no because I want the best 12 forwards to be playing the first 65 minutes so I am not relying on the skill competition for an extra point.  Clearly he is not one of those 12 as since coming back seven games ago the point total is zero, only five shots have even hit the net and he has earned more than 11:06 in ice time just once. I would rather have less skilled guys like Kris Newbury who are going to give total effort in their roles during the game, then hope that a specialist like Christensen will be necessary at the end.
Last night for me was a clear example for me as Christensen had a downed goaltender and no defenders near him, but instead of being confident with the puck and taking his time to actually finish the goal he rushed and shanked it wide.  That miss was not the sole reason that the Rangers lost to the Devils, but it reminds me why the 12 guys to play the first 65 minutes of the game are what matters not a guy who is a specialist for an event the Rangers have only seen eight times this year, which likely equals the number of games Christensen has made an impact.  How many points would keeping him in the lineup for his specialty cost the Rangers in regulation as opposed to gain them in the shootout?  If the number is close to even, then he is not worthy having out there.
There is also the potential to market his shootout skill in a trade to a Western Conference team where they have some roster voids he might be able to be hidden and his prowess could be the real difference in making the playoffs or not.  I do not think the Rangers get that much for him, but a fourth round pick would feel pretty good for a guy who if we are lucky does something good every eight games or so.