Monday, June 27, 2011

Penguins Don't Qualify Tyler Kennedy; Is He A Fit For Rangers?

The deadline for NHL teams to extend qualifying offers to their restricted free agents was 5:00 pm today.  In one of the more surprising decisions the Pittsburgh Penguins decided not to extend a qualifying offer to Tyler Kennedy.  There could be any number of reasons that the Penguins chose not to qualify Kennedy, but the move still makes little sense.  If the Penguins were truly afraid of what he was going to be offered in arbitration, they could have still qualified him and then walked away from the award.  At least by qualifying him they would have the right to match an offer sheet or collect compensation.  Strange move for a team that needs wingers and is now letting arguably their best forward in the second half walk for nothing.  The question now on the table: Should the Rangers pursue Kennedy as an unrestricted free agent?

Kennedy, 24, had a breakout season for the Penguins scoring 21 goals and adding 24 assists in 80 games.  The breakout for Kennedy was in large part due to the injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evegeni Malkin that forced Kennedy into a more offensive role and he responded.  Is he an answer for the Rangers in the top six? No.  Is he more of what the Rangers already have in the system? Probably. 

The key to the whole thing, as with most free agents, is what his demands are.  Kennedy is likely a third line player on a good team that has numbers inflated because of the drastic increase in opportunities based on the Penguins’ injury situation.  If Kennedy is looking to cash in big on his couple months of output, then the Rangers should stay away.  However, if the asking price is reasonable, then the Rangers will likely be interested.  Reasonable for Kennedy is likely going to end up in the $2-2.5 million range, which should make him more attractive than bringing back Ruslan Fedotenko for $1.5 million. 

As was said in my twitter conversation with @Juggs88 and @TheWrage, the determining factor, beyond price, is likely whether the Rangers believe that a player like Carl Hagelin can be ready for the season.  I think Hagelin can be so I would likely pass on Kennedy, but it never hurts to have depth. 

Wrap Up of Development Camp Day One: McIlrath Skating Improvement Stands Out Most

The New York Rangers opened development camp today and it gives the coaching staff to get their first in person look at the recent draftees as well as see how far returning prospects have come over the past year.  Just as coach John Tortorella does to start training camp, development camp opens with a day of nothing but conditioning. 

Having the players do only conditioning will not show much in terms of their overall skills, but it can show how seriously they are taking their offseason work to see who is truly prepared physically.  Before we get into what came out on day one, earlier I did a primer on the three players at development camp that have the best chance to make the roster and what they have to show to do so.

After hanging out with Kevin DeLury of The New York Rangers Blog during the draft party, and since today was mostly just opening day stories instead of action, we are going round-up some of the observations and stories from today in a sort of NYRangersBlog style:

Dylan McIlrath
Steve Zipay notices that 2010 first round pick Dylan McIlrath looks considerably faster than he did last season.

Andrew Gross notices similar things and has quotes from McIlrath at Ranger Rants

My take: Improvement and hunger are things you want in your prospects and having McIlrath make strides with his skating from last year gives hope for even bigger things from him in the future.  Do not get ahead of yourselves in thinking it means he is making the team as this is just skating at the Rangers are pretty stacked on defense this season.  Do go ahead and be excited for what this means in terms of McIlrath's dedication to improving his game.

Carl Hagelin:
Carl Hagelin tells the New York Rangers official twitter that he didn’t think the conditioning tests were too bad. 

Jesse Spector talks about the transition that Hagelin is looking to make and how he is the type of player the coaching staff loves at Blueshirts Blog

My take: Hearing Hagelin talk about how the conditioning was not too bad  must make coach John Tortorella smile and shows how seriously Hagelin is taking his chance to make an impression before camp even begins.  I agree with Spector that Hagelin is the prototypical player for the Rangers coaching staff as I wrote earlier this afternoon.

Tim Erixon:
Both Jesse Spector and Andrew Gross have stories about the player seen as the most likely of all participants in development camp to make the NHL roster this fall.

In a light moment this afternoon, while Barbara Underhill was working with the prospects on their skating, Erixon nailed her with a snow shower had the other prospects laughing and tapping their sticks over.

My take: Erixon comes into this camp and training camp this fall with a lot of expectations on him between the trade to get him and the hype about his NHL readiness that has been coming out all month.  The real time to learn about Erixon will come as the week progresses and the actual scrimmages get going and you see how he stacks up against the competition.  He will be expected to dominate it by some, but this is just another step in his growth as a player.

Other Prospects:
Jesse Spector says that the Rangers 2011 fifth round selections are slightly different in the speed category.  Shane McCoglan is very fast, while Samuel Noreau is not.  Being 5-foot-8 McCoglan has to be extremely quick to survive against bigger players, while the massive Noreau can just do what he does best and knock them to the ground.

With Drury Not On Waivers Today Rangers Have One More Chance

In yesterday’s report that Drury was leaning towards accepting a buyout from the Rangers, I passed along that New York would have to waive their captain by Tuesday for him to be bought out by the June 30 deadline.  According to Andrew Gross, Drury was not put on waivers today by the team, so he must be on tomorrow or no buyout will happen and long-term injury reserve is the likely option for Drury.  The good news is that the twists and turns of this story will end one way or the other tomorrow.

Rangers Prospects Erixon, Hagelin, Thomas Look To Leave Impression For Fall This Week

With prospect development camp getting underway today there are plenty of storylines to watch for during the week, while understanding that very few of these players stand much of a chance to make or contribute at the NHL level this coming season.  Tim Erixon, Carl Hagelin and Christian Thomas are the three main players at this week’s camp that do have a chance to crack the roster this year and have carrying levels of impact.

For these three, development camp is a combination of leaving an impression with the coaching staff and organization as it is learning what will be expected of them during training camp this fall. Erixon is the one seen as most likely to break camp with the Rangers as they open the season in Sweden.  His status as NHL ready and the Rangers willingness to give young defenders every opportunity to show they belong at the NHL level over the past few seasons makes him a good bet to be on the team.  He will have to show that he is steady enough to play at the highest level while showing the promise of adding some offense to the team.

Hagelin is a complete player and while many are regarding him mainly as a third or fourth line type player, he has the ability to play higher in the lineup.  The fact that the Rangers' coaching staff values players who work hard and play well in all three zones will certainly give Hagelin a chance to make the club. His work this week could impact the decisions the Rangers make in terms of filling out their roster this summer.  Hagelin is not seen as being as likely to make the Rangers this fall as Erixon, but he will certainly challenge for a spot and even if he doesn’t make the team out of camp the former Michigan star will be with the Rangers at some point during the season.  In order to make the squad he will have to show the complete game he was known for at Michigan in terms of playing both sides of the puck, being an excellent skater, able to play in any situation and some offensive finish.  He could be someone that threatens the role of a Ruslan Fedotenko this year.

Thomas is the most intriguing of the three because of his potential to add a sniper to the Rangers lineup and the fact that he is one of those NHL or Juniors players this season.  If Erixon or Hagelin need more time to develop in the AHL this fall as Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello did last season, then they can go to Hartford and play until they are ready to be in the NHL.  Thomas does not have that option as he will get this week, Traverse City and training camp to prove the Rangers should take a chance on him during the regular season.  If the Rangers do so, then he will have 9 games to prove he belongs there before the Rangers would have to send him back to Juniors in order to not lose a season on his contract.  Thomas has to show the offensive ability he displayed in Juniors can translate against the better competition and that his size wont be a huge detriment to him.

Lots of storylines going on this week at development camp, but watching how these three leave their mark in an attempt to make the team to start the 2011-12 season is one of the most intriguing.

Could Rangers Lose Anisimov To Offer Sheet?

When free agency begins on Friday much of the focus where the New York Rangers are concerned will be on Brad Richards and the chase to secure the top player on the market.  The hope is that bringing in a top line center like Richards will not only add his production to the Rangers inconsistent offensive lineup, but spark a bounce back season for sniper Marian Gaborik.  The Rangers made their intentions to spend big money even clearer on Saturday when general manager Glen Sather told the assembled media that the team is not going to sign any of their restricted free agents quickly in order to save money under the cap to make other moves. 

There is potential risk to this plan of action as it opens the team up to offer sheets on their five key restricted free agents.  Offer sheets are a rare thing in the NHL, but that does not mean the Rangers are immune to the possibility.  Many will automatically jump to the idea of Ryan Callahan or Brandon Dubinsky being overpaid by someone else, but to overpay them would potentially equal large compensation heading back to the Rangers.  Of the five, Artem Anisimov might be the most attractive to other teams in terms of his upside to the level of compensation it would cost to acquire him.

As Jesse Spector of the New York Daily News reported yesterday, the Rangers routinely are asked about the availability of Anisimov, but are turned away.
A source told the Daily News that several teams are ere interested in acquiring the lone remaining Russian on the Rangers' roster, center Artem Anisimov, but that those approaches are routinely rebuffed.
Anisimov, 23, had 18 goals and 26 assists in 82 games during his second season with the Rangers.  The year, while inconsistent, showed significant strides from his first season when he had 12 goals and 16 assists in 82 games.  His play with Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky showed Anisimov capable of being a top six forward in the NHL.  What the season showed more than anything else is that he is doing this with a lot of room left to grow.  There is a clear need to add strength and aggressiveness to his game to go with the tremendous skill he possesses.  If he adds those things to his excellent shot he could become a force that is capable of 60+ points, which every team could use on their roster.  The attractiveness and the upside potential of Anisimov could make him a very attractive restricted free agent.  

An offer sheet would be one way for those teams that are interested in him, but turned away by the Rangers to put pressure on New York to either pay more than they want to retain Anisimov or lose him for a draft pick.  He doesn’t have the numbers now that a Callahan or Dubinsky do, but he also would cost significantly less in terms of salary and compensation to hit a number that the Rangers would allow him to walk away.  If a team offered Anisimov a contract for 3-4 years at $3 million per season, then the Rangers would be put in a scenario where they either let him walk for only a second round pick as compensation or create potential salary cap issues with other players in order to keep him for more than they would have projected.  To pay Anisimov $3 million per season right now would clearly be an overpayment right now for whatever team did so, but if he develops as he is capable it would become a great value very quickly.  Giving up a second round pick as compensation for a top-six forward is also something that would be very attractive to the acquiring team.  This could be especially true for teams that must spend money this summer just to reach the salary cap floor.

Anisimov is not the biggest name amongst the Rangers restricted free agent class, but his combination of upside and lower cost than Dubinsky or Callahan, might just make him the most vulnerable to an offer sheet. The rarity of the offer sheet might mean this never comes to pass, but it is a risk that you take when you publicly come out and say that the RFA's can wait so the chase for unrestricted free agents has as much flexibility as possible.