Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rumor: Rangers Negotiating New Deal With Chad Johnson

Chad Johnson told Howlings on Thursday that the Rangers are working on a contract to keep him in the organization for next season.  Johnson showed very well for himself during the 2009-10 season when he played very well for the AHL club and was solid in limited duty for the Rangers.  That level dropped last season and has led to speculation about his future with the organization.  The combination of slip in his play and presence of Cameron Talbot, Jason Missiaen and potentially prospect Scott Stajcer next season has led to wonders about whether he would be back.  The Rangers qualified Johnson last month to retain the restricted free agents rights and so a contract is not unexpected, but still leaves questions about whether he will actually be here come the start of the year.  In two seasons with the Wolfpack/Whale Johnson has compiled a 40-37-5 record.

h/t Kevin at NYRBlog

How Safe Is Mats Zuccarello's Spot On Rangers Roster? What Role Will He Play?

Al Bello/Getty Images
During his rookie campaign Mats Zuccarello showed flashes of the ways he could be successful in helping the New York Rangers.  The combination of his hands, vision and creativity give him a chance to be very successful at the NHL level despite the small stature that cause questions about his ultimate viability in the league.  The fact that the discussion about Zuccarello usually revolves around how he will fizzle out of the league or he will be the next Martin St. Louis is unfair to the young Norwegian.  The question right now however is how safe is his roster spot for the upcoming season given the Rangers roster changes?  What role can he find on the team depending on how the roster shakes out?

Zuccarello was up and down between the NHL and AHL to close last season.  From that late season roster Vinny Prospal and Chris Drury are gone, but into the lineup come Brad Richards, Mike Rupp and a healthy Ryan Callahan.  This is not talking about swapping player for player, but the sheer numbers game that could swallow Zuccarello if he doesn’t have a great camp this year.  Once the Rangers sign Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky to their new contracts they will have 14 forwards, including Zuccarello, under contract at the NHL level.  Obviously Zuccarello is a better bet for the Rangers to back than Erik Christensen, so that would bring the roster back to 13, but then who is the healthy scratch most nights? Avery?  Wolski?  Where would Zuccarello even play?

In terms of Zuccarello’s role, he is a highly skilled offensive player, and as such he needs to play with other skilled players and in offensive situations.  This was evidenced by the difference in the amount of effectiveness Zuccarello had on the power play as opposed to at even strength.  The power play creates more space for Zuccarello to work and use his offensive gifts, which resulted in nine of his 17 assists last year.

There have been suggestions of giving him a chance on the left wing with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards and while on talent it could fit, Zuccarello appeared to be much more confidence and effective on the right wing than the left.  The jump to the top line would also be a huge challenge for Zuccarello as he would go from facing second and third pair defenders to being up against every team’s best pair.  Gaborik and Richards would certainly open space for him, but the combination of factors makes it unlikely to work.  The best role for him would be back with Derek Stepan as the pair was amongst the best combinations either found last season.  The problem here comes down to numbers and how the Rangers decide to combine their players.  If Stepan is the third line center then this would be a very good place for Zuccarello to be.

However, seeing as how the Rangers just paid Brian Boyle $1.7 million for the next three seasons it is tough to imagine that they see him, or his line, as their fourth line for the upcoming year.  If that was to mean Zuccarello would be on the fourth line regularly with limited ice time he might be better off in the minors playing significant time until a more offensive spot opens via injury.

With a year under his belt playing the North American style and understanding what is expected of him in this organization, expect Zuccarello to come in and have a very good training camp to both force his way on the roster and have the coaching staff find a role for him.  His finishing will be one of the things that he has to work on most in order to make that kind of impression because while having a nose for the puck and creating chances, his lack of finishing on prime chances was not a way to make the impression necessary.