Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rangers To Qualify John Mitchell

Per Bruce Berlet at CTWhale.com, Rangers Assistant Coach/Assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld in discussing the contributions of the Whale to the New York Rangers 2010-11 season last month said that the team will qualify restricted free agent John Mitchell this summer.  
“I was really happy with him,” Schoenfeld said. “Here’s a guy that had a knee injury and missed seven weeks and then broke his foot (in Hartford), so one thing that was hurt was his conditioning. And yet he’s a big body (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) with skill, and he’s competitive and intelligent. So this is a very important summer for him in terms of his commitment to conditioning. He’ll get a real good look as far as becoming a Ranger.”
His skills lend him the ability to make the team as either a fourth line center or an extra forward that they carry in case of injury.  Mitchell was acquired at the trade deadline from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 7th round draft pick in 2012.  The qualifying offer for Mitchell will be $761,250 and because he did not play 60 games last year, or 180 NHL games in the past three years that qualifying offer can be a two-way deal instead of requiring a one-way contract.  Given those factors, the decision to qualify Mitchell was one that seems easy for the Rangers to make as he either makes the Rangers at a very reasonable salary or becomes a solid AHL veteran to mix with all the young prospects that will be infused into Connecticut next season.
Hat tip to Dave Shapiro over at Blue Seat Blogs for finding this.

2011 NHL Draft Prospects: Ty Rattie

The 2011 draft now less than one month away, and the Rangers scouting and front office staff is looking through many prospects to see who they want to select with the 15th overall selection.  With the current state of the Rangers defense both at the NHL and prospect level one would expect that New York will look for offense in the first round of the draft hoping to find an impact scorer.  There are a number of offensive prospects that could be available at 15.  We have already looked at Mark Scheifele, Mark McNeill, Zack Phillips, Joel Armia and their potential fits for the Rangers.
Yesterday we looked at Sven Bartschi of the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League and today we will examine his teammate Ty Rattie.  Rattie is not as explosive as Bartschi, but he did manage to put up 28 goals and 51 assists in 67 regular season goals.  Like many of his Portland teammates, Rattie had a very good playoffs with nine goals and 13 assists in 21 games.
Kirk Luedeke of Bruins Draft Watch’s:
Small but creative playmaking winger hit the wall a bit in the second half, but is still a solid first-round prospect with upside. The Albertan isn't a blazer, but is very strong on his skates and highly elusive, able to slither through defenses and would-be checkers in full control of the puck. NHL scouts tell us that his second WHL season was so much more impressive than his first, when he seemed to spend more time trying the flashy play and forcing things. This season, Rattie was much more patient, working with his linemates better and not trying to do it all himself. His 79 points were third on the team behind Ryan Johansen and Bartschi, and look for Rattie to push for 90 to 100+ points next season.
The Scouting Report (Ranked 20, midseason):
Since his huge October, he has seen his point per game total dip after posting 23 points in 12 October games. There is no question that Rattie has the potential to be a top 6 forward in the NHL one day.  Rattie is an above average skater who sees the play extremely well and is very skilled at creating quality chances in the offensive zone.  He also has the scoring touch to finish off those opportunities.
A forward with a good hockey sense. A decent skater but has improved lately. Has very good hands. Works hard and takes care of his defensive duties. Has a good attitude. Needs to improve his skating and gain strength. (Matias Strozyk)
Rattie is on the smaller size and is not the fastest skater, but he makes up for his lack of explosion with agility and elusiveness on the ice.  He can do this because of his hands and ability to handle the puck.  He adds to that excellent vision which he uses for himself and to set up his teammates.  Having a player who can create for others as he has done this season for Bartschi and plays with an edge is something that the Rangers could use, but the organization does have a few small forwards already in the system so his size could be an issue selecting him. The Rangers should consider Rattie at 15, but he could likely be had slightly later in the first.

Del Zotto Working Hard This Summer To Regain Past Form, Roster Spot

Al Bello/Getty Images
According to Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com Michael Del Zotto is looking to put his forgettable sophomore season behind him and look ahead to being an impact player for the Rangers during the 2011-12 season.
“Last year was last year and I’m not thinking about it,” Del Zotto said. “I have to move forward. It was just a bump in the road. I believe that I have a long career ahead and I want to help this team out. I have to come back with confidence and the mind-set that I do belong in New York. I’ve got to come back with that swagger. I kind of lost it but I know I have what it takes.”
It was clearly early on last season that the swagger he had during his successful rookie campaign of nine goals and 28 assists was missing and Del Zotto never found a way to capture it again during the year.  The fact that he believes that he can get it back, that he belongs at this level is something that will be critical to him actually proving those things are the case again.  He will not be handed anything this time around and it is good to see that he recognizes that fact.  
 Asked if he felt he would get a fair shot to reclaim his roster spot in training camp, Del Zotto said, "I believe so, but, you know what? Who knows? It's a business out there. I'm just coming in with the mind-set of trying to make the team."
Fair or unfair there are those who believe that his rookie season left Del Zotto with a sense of entitlement to his place in the lineup and caused for a lack of effort last summer to prepare for this year.  I do not know if that is true, but it certainly appears that some of the struggles this year, and his demotions to the minors, have shaken him of any of those notions and the effort will be there this summer.

The fact that Del Zotto is going to spend time this summer studying some of the best point men in the league in Nicklas Lidstrom and Dan Boyle is an exciting prospect for his future, especially for those who have questioned his desire or work ethic.  The only issue that could come out of that negatively is that Del Zotto continues his pattern of attempting to do too much on the ice.  In that sense he could learn a lot from watching and studying the guys within the Rangers organization.  None of them have the offensive skills of a Lidstrom or Boyle, but before Del Zotto tries to imitate some of the best to ever play the position he needs to learn to play the simple game.  If Del Zotto can take the step of just taking what the opposition is giving him whether it be handling the puck, making the simple outlet pass or shooting when he has the lane, then he will make significant progress in his development and his natural talent will take over from there.

Monday, May 30, 2011

2011 NHL Draft Prospects: Sven Bartschi

The 2011 draft now less than one month away, and the Rangers scouting and front office staff is looking through many prospects to see who they want to select with the 15th overall selection.  With the current state of the Rangers defense both at the NHL and prospect level one would expect that New York will look for offense in the first round of the draft hoping to find an impact scorer.  There are a number of offensive prospects that could be available at 15.  We have already looked at Mark Scheifele, Mark McNeill, Zack Phillips, and Joel Armia and their potential fits for the Rangers.
We kick off this week with a look at a supreme talent that is unlikely to be there when the Rangers pick at 15 in the form of Sven Bartschi from the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.   Bartschi, much like fellow Swiss forward Nino Niederreiter did last season in Portland, established himself as an offensive force with his 34 goal, 51 assist output in 66 games this year.  He kept up his efforts during the playoffs with 10 goals and 16 assists in 20 playoff games.
The young left winger is slightly undersized at 5’10” and weighing 180 pounds, but that does not stop him from going to the dirty areas of the ice.  The best attribute for Bartschi is his hands which using for his tremendous shot and he pairs with excellent vision and a very good hockey IQ to be a force on the ice.
Kirk Luedeke of Bruins Draft Watch’s:
Swiss forward and 34-goal scorer has a wicked shot (rapid release and powerful, accurate drive) and elite offensive instincts. He formed a highly effective trio with fellow draft candidate Rattie and Cunningham when the latter came over from Vancouver at mid-season. Not an explosive speedster, but knows how to get from point A to B. Played a more effective game in junior this season than he did at the WJC. Solid kid and easygoing personality, but could stand to pick up the work ethic at times. Highly skilled winger will likely be a top-15 pick, but he's a finesse guy who could stand to take the puck to the net more than he does. Bartschi is deadly with that drive of his, but it's tough to score from the outside consistently at the NHL level, no matter how much pop you have on your stick.
The Scouting Report (Ranked 12, midseason):
Bartschi has really come out of nowhere this season, but has quickly made a name for himself playing in the latest North American hotbed for Swiss prospects. Does a good job of going to the net and playing hard despite being undersized. Has a good touch around the net and has found a lot of chemistry with linemate Ty Rattie this season. Defensive zone play needs some improvement as Bartschi needs to be more aware of his responsibilities in zone.
Bartschi would be a gift for the Rangers if he was to fall to New York at 15, but I would look for the dynamic winger to be gone in the at the latest to Calgary with pick 13, and potentially sneaking into the latter end of the top 10 based not only on his season, but his playoff performance.

Rumor: Stephen Weiss "Plan B" If Rangers Fail On Richards

Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
It is clear that New York Rangers GM Glen Sather has Brad Richards atop his offseason wish list, but with every plan there must be a backup in case the plan falls through.  According to Larry Brooks at the New York Post that fallback option could include 28-year-old center Stephen Weiss of the Florida Panthers.

Speaking of which: after watching Nathan Horton's breakout playoffs, who doesn't wonder who Stephen Weiss might play for if freed from the shackles of Sunrise, where the sun always sets on the hockey team?
Slats, perhaps, if Brad Richards can't be signed? 
The idea of trading for Weiss is one that I looked at back in February before the trade deadline and the point about Horton’s breakout during the Stanley Cup playoffs this year is an interesting addition to the case for Weiss.  Weiss is a slightly different case than Horton given him being older at the time of the move, but there is something to be said for playing with better talent around him and in more meaningful games.
Weiss is a quality NHL player who scored 21 goals and added 28 assists in 76 games this past season with the Panthers and their talent deficient lineup.  Weiss has experience as a top line player and facing the best competition of the opposition each night, along with having a very reasonable contract set to pay him $3.1 million per for the next two seasons.  His best attributes on the ice are his speed, vision and passing ability, but he is also able to score. It is tough to full gauge whether that is a result of the lack of overall talent in Florida or speaks to where Weiss actually is. 
Beyond his offensive capabilities, Weiss is excellent on faceoffs, wining 53.9% of his draws, which would be a considerable upgrade for the Blueshirts.  There are questions about whether Weiss is truly a number one type center on a contending team or better suited for a supporting role.  There is also his no-movement clause that could allow him to block any move and he has said in the past that he wants to be part of the solution there.
With the lack of talent on the Florida roster and the cheap contract for what Weiss brings them it means the price tag to acquire him could be high. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Could Rising Salary Cap Actually Keep Drury or Wolski As Rangers Next Season?

With the news the National Hockey League salary cap could rise to as high as $63.5 million next season, much of the focus has been on what teams could do with the extra money.  For the New York Rangers it makes the chase for Brad Richards much easier to complete while resigning the key restricted free agents (Callahan, Dubinsky, Anisimov, Sauer, Boyle) that the team must do as well this summer.  One aspect that has not been talked about much is whether the extra $4.1 million, if the cap goes to the max number of $63.5, could mean that some of the Rangers who have been rumored to be buyout candidates might get another year on the roster.

The main candidates that have been discussed in buyout talks have been captain Chris Drury and winger Wojtek Wolski with some speculation regarding Sean Avery as well.  Part of the reason for the buyouts was to clear room to go after Richards this summer, but with that added money the pressure to find the money for next year would be greatly reduced.

There is no question that Drury is still massively overpaid at $7.05 million against the cap next season. Working in Drury’s favor is the apparent good standing he has with the coaching staff and players within the room.  He can have value to the team as a fourth line center, faceoff man and penalty killer, but the salary itself is a killer.  In terms of the cap though the question becomes with the cap likely to go down in future years as there is a new CBA do you wait out the last year of Drury, paying the extra $3.33 million against the cap in order to save the 1.67 million off the cap in the 2012-13 season.  There is also some question whether the Rangers would truly want to buyout their current captain.

What works for Wolski in this scenario is the weak nature of the unrestricted free agent market in terms of forwards.  There are few forwards out there who have the skill to be real impact players for the $3.8 million that Wolski will make next season.  Working against Wolski is his inconsistency and inability to maximize his tremendous physical tools over the past few seasons.

The decisions on Drury or Wolski do not come in a vacuum.  Factors involved will include: projected cost of signing the five key restricted free agents listed; projected cost of signing Richards; what if any other needs the Rangers seek to fill through free agency. 

If the $4.1 million increase goes through, then it is conceivable that the Rangers could keep their key RFA’s, sign Richards and keep Drury or Wolski on the roster at their salary, but it would leave little to no other money.  The $3.33 million that would be saved in the Drury or Wolski buyout against the 2011-12 cap could be used to add more offensive scoring or even an offensive defender this summer.  While everyone is thinking about how to spend the potential new money from a cap increase, there is also the potential it means some players stick around longer than expected.