Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Daily Recap: Fixing PP; Gaborik the Problem?; Richards Price Tag; Frolov Needs to Shut It; SJ Trade Rumor

Nice wide ranging day of stories concerning the Rangers assets both present, future assets on and off the ice along with rumors about potential future ones.  Let me start here by talking about the present assets as the Rangers are once again juggling their lines in an effort to improve the overall offense, but more specifically get more from Marian Gaborik on a consistent basis.  In “Rangers Change Lines Again: Is Gaborik The Problem?” I looked at the differential in the amount of line shifting that has been done with Gaborik in and out of the lineup, how it might be impacting the players and if Gaborik is a superstar in the upper class of the NHL since with many of the elite scorers the other players on their line are not that important. 

Also in dealing with the current crop of Rangers there was the issue of Alex Frolov’s issue with a Russian journalist over the past week.  “Frolov Hammers Final Nail in his Rangers Coffin: Stop Whining, Start Packing.” Looked at exactly what Frolov said (through translation) to the journalist on issues like playing time, his role, his meeting with Tortorella and whether or not he wants to be traded away.  The quotes are very enlightening and will certainly not help his cause with the fan base that is already relatively tired of his lack of production.

In trying to help out those current Rangers this morning I attempted to tackle a problem the Rangers have been trying to solve for years in looking at a possible solution to their impotent power play.  In “Reshaping the Rangers Power Play: New Formation, New Personnel, New Coach?” I looked at how to change the power play structure, who I would use out there and briefly if the fact that the Rangers have failed so miserably to fix this problem for so long meant they needed a new PP coach.  The biggest problem for me with the Rangers PP this season has been the utter lack of aggression and urgency the team has while on it and I think the new system if implemented correctly by the players I have suggested can fix that problem.  There are no guarantees that it would work, but frankly it cannot do much worse than they do right now and a few extra percent on the man advantage could really change the viability of the club.

In the those who would potentially be Rangers segment of the day there was a new rumor to address and a more specific price tag to an old rumor.  Dealing with the new rumor, “Rangers After Devin Setoguchi?” meant taking a look at the talent they would be getting in Gooch, what the needs of the Sharks are in dealing him away and finally what the Rangers should be willing to part with in order to get him if they should even want him in the first place. 

As far as the old rumor that became more clear it was about who else; Brad Richards.  Tonight in a chat ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun laid out what the Stars were said to be seeking at least in terms of overall effect of the package.  In, “Stars Establish Price In Richards Trade...Can Rangers Afford It?” I attempted to decode the full context of the LeBrun answer to his chat question in terms of how available Richards might actually and what from the Rangers it would take to meet the criteria that was being espoused.  There are still obvious unknowns in the scenario that will play out over the next few months, but based on what I took from it I laid out my beliefs as to the course of action the Rangers should take.

Last but not least today in dealing with the future Rangers, “Rangers Prospects Chris Kreider, Ryan Bourque On Team USA WJC Prelim Roster” dealt with exactly what the title says how those two highly regarded Rangers prospects were named to the Team USA preliminary roster for the tournament which runs Dec. 26-Jan. 5.  In the article I looked at what the potential roles for each player might be on the squad, a telling quote from the team GM about Kreider and who else is going to cause the greatest challenge to a Team USA repeat.

Stars Establish Price In Richards Trade...Can Rangers Afford It?

The Brad Richards rumors have been coming fast and furious of late and tonight would be no exception to that.  In a chat today on ESPN.com, Pierre LeBrun in answering a question from a Stars fan about a possible Richards to New York Rangers trade said the following:
I know from talking to a Stars front office source that, should they ever decide to move Richards before this year's Feb. 28 trade deadline, it's only because 1) they weren't able to sign him to an extension and 2) they're offered the kind of deal that sets them up "for the next five years." That was the way the Stars source described a possible Richards deal. If the Stars move Richards, and there remains the chance that they won't, it's for a package that helps the team long term. So whether it's the Kings or Rangers or any other team ponying up for Richards, young assets will be the key component.
Yikes.  I have said all along that those who thought the Stars were going to give him away for the scraps some thought the Rangers could get him for were insane.  I also believe that if this deal goes down it will be for more than Kovalchuk got the Thrashers whether people believe that is the case or not or even if they think it should be. 

So let us fully break down what Pierre said.  The first piece of news that might shock some but not really myself is the idea that the Stars are trying to re-sign or should I say extend Richards contract passed this season.  There is all the talk about money problems and those are legit, but the moment they deal off Richards they lose a lot of revenue in ticket and merchandise sales.  Also with the good news for the Rangers on the cap increase yesterday there was also a negative for the Rangers in terms of someone like Richards.  What I mean by that is the cap floor also is raised to 46.4 million which means one way or another Dallas needs to spend some money so why not spend it on a guy that can help them win and make them money.  Obviously there is no guarantee Brad Richards wants to stay in Dallas or that they will give him the years or dollars it takes.

Now let’s take a look at what he said about any possible trade and see if we can deduce what the package for Brad Richards would have to look like to get it done and then if that amount is worth it.  Not to be too literal but I do not think it is an accident when they say set for the next five years and what I mean by that is they want talent that is under team control for the next five or so years before they hit free agency.  I think this takes guys like Dubinsky and Callahan off their wish list in because they are about to get paid this season, but it could put a Dan Girardi on it since he has a set deal for the next 3+ seasons.  More likely for me is that it means a deal built around Artem Anisimov or Derek Stepan as both are five or more years from free agency.  I think it also means you are going to have to add on at least one high end prospect and a high if not first round pick.  If I was guessing my package does not change much from what it was a month ago but something like Anisimov/Stepan + Kreider/Grachev/Werek + McDonagh and a pick.  To me that is the kind of package that can help shape a franchise for the next five seasons and it is one that the Rangers should take for themselves in keeping what they have and continuing forward in their building process. Obviously it is the case that what a team wants and what a team gets are too very different things in many cases, but that does not mean they have to deal him at the deadline for pennies on the dollar and frankly for me anything of value to the core of this team going forward is not worth the move.  From the Dallas perspective they can keep him and make a run at the playoffs which means more money for the ownership in tickets and revenue especially if they get in and it would also give them more time to sign him or he can be dealt like many others in the summer at the draft or before FA.

If Richards hits the open market in July then we can debate the cap merits of that then but if the Stars are truly looking for a package that “sets them up for the next five years” the Rangers must decline and hang up the phone.

Rangers After Devin Setoguchi?

There have been and will continue to be trade rumors that surround the Rangers as the season goes on.  The latest that I have been made aware of involves the New York Rangers apparently trying to acquire 23 year old RW Devin Setoguchi from San Jose.  Initially I had planned on avoiding the rumor because of the source, but my job is not really to judge the source just let you tell you what I think, let you decide and discuss it with you if you like.  So since some of you asking me about it I guess I should just write my thoughts on trading for Setoguchi, what San Jose could possibly want from the Rangers for him and what I would give up to obtain him.

On the surface the idea of acquiring Devin Setoguchi looks intriguing especially when you look at what he did a few years ago as a top line player.  Two seasons ago Devin Setoguchi played on the top line with Joe Thornton and as a 21 year old have a 31 goal 34 assist campaign which had him looking like a rising star in the league.  Fast forward two years and after being removed from the presence of Joe Thornton and struggling to maintain a shadow of the prior year form he showed he has 2 goals and 5 assists in 21 games this season.  It leads one to question if the numbers that Gooch put up in that great season were signs of how good he can be or more a product of playing with Joe Thornton.

Not that it is a definitive answer to that question, but let us look at another guy who had a similar differential with and without Joe Thornton. The case that keeps running through my mind is Jonathan Cheechoo who five years ago playing with Thornton put up 51 goals in a season then declined to 37 then 23, 12 before being part of the Heatley trade scoring 5 goals and going to the minors.  As I said there is no way to know if Setoguchi is another Cheechoo or just a guy that has that 30 goal talent and needs a change of scenery since he is no longer getting the same opportunities in San Jose. 

The main attributes to Setoguchi’s game are his hard shot and his speed, but at this point he is more of a third line player based on his production and the Rangers certainly have enough of those already.  There are many who will say that maybe he just needs a change of scenery and that might well be the case, but the Rangers over the years have played that card hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and it never seems to quite work out just look at their history.  Heck look no further than three wingers they thought they could fix the last two seasons in Higgins, Kotalik and Frolov. 

I do not know what the Sharks would want for Setoguchi though their main need is a top 4 d-man and their prospect line could use some help, probably along the defense more than anything as well.  For me the only defensive player in the Rangers top 10 d-men who are under contract so including Kundratek, McDonagh and Valentenko from Hartford that I would give up to take a flier on Setoguchi would be Gilroy.  The salaries basically match and Gilly is done getting a real shot here, but I doubt the Sharks would make that deal and still will try to market Gooch based on his past performance for a higher return than that. I know that a lot of Rangers fans will hope for Rozi but he has been too valuable this year to move in this kind of deal as have Eminger, Sauer and the three in Hartford are all showing big improvements as we move along.

So, if it was not clear, I pass.

Frolov Hammers Final Nail in his Rangers Coffin: Stop Whining, Start Packing.

To say that the excitement over the Alex Frolov signing has died for Rangers fans would be the understatement of the year.  What was excitement turned quickly to disgust as they watched him try wraparound after wraparound along with missing the net at a staggering pace from right in front of it.  If the fans needed any more reason to turn that disgust to hatred then Alex Frolov just gave it to them with his interview with Russia’s Sport Express reporter Vasily Osipov last week. 

In the interview which has been fully translated by Beyond the Blueshirts he told the reporter that he was not happy with his ice time and being relegate to the fourth line.  He spoke of how he had a private conversation with coach John Tortorella to complain about the move and was apparently told that it was not a personal move by the coach but part of Torts wheel of lines. No, they did not use that terminology.  The money quote was the following:
It’s absolutely unacceptable to me that that I spend 7-8 minutes a game on the ice, especially on an energy line. It’s just not my game, which I told the coach candidly. But there are no personal problems between me and him. I’m not a quarrelsome person. Even in our recent conversation there was no swearing or raised voices. Nobody blamed anyone, we simply discussed the situation. The coach promised that soon everything will change, I just need to be a little patient and work harder in practice.
Here we have a guy who was forced by lack of alternate interest around the league to settle for a one year deal with the Rangers in the hopes that playing with Marian Gaborik could get his career back on track and he has failed to perform whining about how he is being used.  How about instead of whining about the line you are you act like Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov did when they were relegated down by the spinning line changes and raise your level of play.  Instead of running your mouth, run your legs and swing your stick to where the puck goes in the net.  Do that and I can guarantee your minutes, your line and the way you are used will all improve to your satisfaction.  If anything the way that Frolov is playing now he should be thanking the coach for putting him in the lineup at all as he is having less impact than Derek Boogaard.

This type of move is not new for Frolov as he did the same thing last season to try and explain his continued deterioration in his numbers putting it on being used in a lower capacity by the club.  At some point a player has to look in the mirror and hold himself accountable for his own play or else your complaints just become a joke to everyone else.

Personally I do blame Tortorella for this in one respect and it is personified in this translated quote:
Torts gives wingers completely different tasks, making them work more on defense. In comparison with the tactics of Los Angeles, where I spent the previous seven seasons, it was very unusual. However I’ve already adapted now to the new system [and] begun to understand the head coach’s requirements. And he seems satisfied with my performance on the ice. Or so he says at least. He promised that in the near future he’ll give me more playing time. We’ll see what happens.
I understand that Torts wants to put on his happy face when he talks to Sam Rosen on MSG before games but that he is consistently talking about how close Frolov is and how hard he is working even when the results are not there sends a mixed message when he leaves him on the fourth line.  If he was really that close he would be putting him in a position more apt to get chances, wouldn’t he?  You cannot blow smoke up the hole of someone who already has an oversized view of themselves and not expect them to be confused when you fail to slobber over them in terms of ice time and opportunities.

This scenario as I commented on last week is growing more and more like that of Ales Kotalik and like Kotalik it would behoove the Rangers to see if they can move Frolov for anything they can get in return.

Let me know what you think.

Rangers Change Lines Again: Is Gaborik The Problem?

It is another day so that must mean another new set of lines for the New York Rangers.  I would at least feign shock over this development but at this point I have become as numb to this as Joan Rivers face to just about anything.  Yes I know they failed to generate anything on Sunday against the Senators, but how many times can we reshuffle the deck before we ask if either the cards are bad or the dealer doesn’t know what the heck he is doing?  I am going to skip the talent on the roster question and the Tortorella clueless one as well to ask a different one; Is Marian Gaborik the problem?

Rangers Prospects Chris Kreider, Ryan Bourque On Team USA WJC Prelim Roster

In a shock to absolutely no one Rangers 2009 1st and 3rd round picks Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque were named to the 2011 USA U-20 World Junior Championship preliminary roster.  Expect both to make the team and for Bourque to wear a letter for the tournament, possibly the Captain’s ‘C’ as he has for other tournaments for Team USA.  Kreider and Bourque will be returning to the team hoping to repeat last year’s thrilling performance all the way to the Gold medal which including fellow Ranger Derek Stepan.  The task of the repeat will not be easy as once again Team Canada is loaded with talent and looking to avenge last year’s disappointment, but team Russia is also one of the favorites as they showed in the Canadian Subway Super Series against the different Canadian junior leagues.

It was at this tournament last Chris Kreider turned around what was a disappointing early Freshman season at Boston College going from 5 points in 15 games to 6 goals in this tournament and 18 points in his last 23 games for the Eagles.  So far this season Kreider has 5 goals and 6 assists in 16 games. Kreider is no stranger to being on a winner as he won gold in this tournament and the NCAA title last season.  When announcing Chris Kreider the general manger of Team USA, Jim Johannson, said he has “unparalleled speed” and is “one of the best skaters in the game.”  Those attributes were certainly on display when Kreider scored this goal last Saturday against BU while shorthanded.

As for Bourque he will be asked to be more of an offensive threat this year than the checking line player he was last season.  The great thing about Ryan Bourque is that he can do both as he is a tremendously talented two-way player.  Bourque is have a superb season in the QMJHL for the Quebec Ramparts putting up 16 goals 19 assists in just 24 games played.  Look for this tournament to be a breakout for Bourque on the national stage in much the same way it was for Kreider, Stepan and others on the USA team a season ago.

The final roster will be announced Dec 23 with the tournament happening Dec 26-Jan 5 in Buffalo.

Reshaping the Rangers Power Play: New Formation, New Personnel, New Coach?

One of the biggest weaknesses for the New York Rangers of late and for the past few years has been the ineptitude of the New York Rangers powerplay.  The list of problems wrong with the powerplay is very long and includes: lack of movement, not enough screens, do not shoot enough, do not get shots through, get pass happy and more that I surely forgot.  The Rangers are not the most talent laden roster in the league but they have more than enough talent to be a successful team with the man advantage.  Besides a good special teams unit is not dependent on talent, but it certainly does help.

Obviously I am not qualified as a coach to fix it, but as an observer I certainly have some thoughts and ideas on the things that might help the situation and create more disadvantages.  One powerplay that the New York Rangers could certainly stand to emulate is one that shredded their penalty kill for three goals; the Tampa Bay Lightning.  The beautiful thing about the way Tampa runs their team with the man advantage first and foremost is they actually have a system.  Too many times watching the Rangers it looks like freestyle hoping for something to happen in a good way instead of having a plan, practicing the plan and then executing the same plan.  While the Rangers do not have the same talent as the Lightning I would like to see them employ the 1-3-1 system.  I believe the 1-3-1 system brings a more natural amount of player and puck movement because there is always the freedom to interchange positions. 

The 1-3-1 system is a European based system that has not come on yet in the NHL other than in Tampa.  The point of the system is to create three-on-two all over the ice and force the defense to focus on the player in the slot thus disrupting the natural penalty killing box many teams use.  You create natural passing lanes and as fans saw when the Rangers were manhandled by the Lightning it creates plenty of one time shooting opportunities, which means no one on the ice can be afraid to pull the trigger.  It is an aggressive style of play that the Rangers could really use to change their mentality with the man advantage.  To run this system you need a combination of offensively skilled players, but also defensively responsible since there will only be one defender on the ice.

The way that I would run the system is with the following personnel playing the following roles:

Brian Boyle - in front of the net taking on the Ryan Malone role as the screener and the garbage man.  His sole job is to stand there and annoy the goaltender the entire time in the offensive zone which by doing that alone will create more space for the wing players as a defender will have to account for him and it will create traffic on shots.

Derek Stepan – He plays the left side wing which allows him to play the Marty St. Louis role as the playmaker from his off side.  This low on the left wing position is where Stepan has a history of running the power play from and it allows him to see the ice better and put more pressure on the defense then being stuck at the point.  To me there is a misconception that you have to be at the point to be the quarterback on the powerplay and if you watch the way Tampa runs there unit they disprove that notion.

Marian Gaborik – I would put him in the middle of the 3 line as a guy to have the freedom in the high slot where the combination of Stepan’s vision/passing and Dubinsky’s passing from the other side along with Brian Boyle screening should create tons of chances for Gaborik.  This will also cause the Rangers to have odd man situations when Gaborik gets the puck inside the penalty kill just like playing against a zone in basketball where Gaborik basically becomes the outlet at the foul line and creates numbers down low.

Brandon Dubinsky – I would play him on the off wing side even though he is used to playing the left wing because of the other forwards I believe he is the best passer and also the best threat for a one time shot when the puck works its way around outside of Gaborik.  I am also open to the idea of swapping Dubinsky and Gaboirk in this formulation, but I just don’t think of Gaborik as a slap shooter like a Stamkos is.

Dan Girardi – While Michael Del Zotto is working out his issues this is the spot that with the most uncertainty but because Girardi has been the best this year at getting his shot on target I would put him back there to start.

I do not expect this to turn the Rangers into the Lightning on the power play but I think this system with this formulation of players has a very good chance to eliminate some of the major issues that have plagued this team with the man advantage over the past few seasons.  Below is a video of the way the Lightning run the power play practice and you can imagine substituting in the guys as I have described them and see how the natural motion and shifting occurs during a play.

Lastly and I do not want to spend too much time harping on it, but if the Rangers system is this bad continuously and everyone in the organization says that Mike Sullivan is the one who runs the power play there has to come a point where either you take it away from him or you get rid of him and bring in someone who can run it.

Let me know your thoughts.

Also check out HockeySuit for his post on the power play issue and all the different systems that can be employed.  It is very thorough and maybe the Rangers can find one.