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Rangers Mailbag: Trading for a defenseman, the Kreider injury, and is this team for real?

Bobby Bevilacqua

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Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

This is the first Mailbag of the 2016-17 season, a series of articles I do where I ask my readers to submit questions and I answer them to the best of my ability.

This series is all about you, so I urge you to ask any questions you have, especially about the Rangers, to help this series become full of content.

Thanks to everyone that participated, and be sure to keep your eyes out for my next edition of the Mailbag article. I’m hoping to do this every two or three weeks.

On to the questions!

Do you feel like the Rangers need to add a solid defenseman in order to make a legit Cup run? – Jason Fristensky

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Marc Staal defends against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 19. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

This is a question that has come up often over the last few years, and especially during this offseason. Almost every year I would answer with a resounding yes. But this year, my answer varies depending on your definition of “solid defenseman.”

Two years ago, we saw the Rangers trade for dynamic offensive defenseman Keith Yandle. He was very effective for them, but ultimately was not a difference maker when it came to trying to win a Cup. Most of that has to do with how Alain Vigneault uses defensemen, and how he tends to lean on his shutdown guys.

I am also impressed with how the defense has played to this point. At first, I was expecting this season to look something like how the Rangers played during last season’s winter months, which was a disaster on the backend. But a full season has had a positive effect on Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, as well as for keeping guys like Ryan McDonagh fresh. Nick Holden has improved over the last few weeks and Brady Skjei has been miles better than anticipated, which certainly helps.

But over the past few weeks, there have been some signs of last season leaking into the team’s play. There’s been a lot of games where the Rangers are outchanced, the defense looks mediocre and they’re winning because of high shooting percentages and reliance on the goaltender. But still, it doesn’t look as dire as last season.

So if by a “solid defenseman” you mean a guy like Kevin Shattenkirk, then I would say no. But if you mean a strong, two-way defenseman that can eat up minutes and be relied on in multiple situations, then I would say yes. Kevin Klein has been really bad to start the season, and we don’t know if Girardi and Staal will be worn down by season’s end. So adding a defenseman like that is important to ensuring this team is good enough and deep enough to win a Cup.

Do you think the Rangers can continue this offensive explosion and is the offense masking the same defensive core that struggled last year? – Brandon Porter

A large part of the Rangers’ success has come from depth and scoring from all four lines. Will they continue to keep up this scoring or will we see a drop off? – Jonathan Tilden

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Michael Grabner and the Rangers’ depth has been a big factor in the team’s success this season. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

I put these two questions together because they address a similar topic. So far, the Rangers have an incredible 72 goals in just 17 games. The next closest team (Philadelphia) is 15 goals behind. The Rangers’ plus-34 goal differential is the best in the league, and the Canadiens (plus-18) are the next highest in that category. In fact, the Rangers goal differential is higher than Buffalo and Colorado’s total goals scored!

I highly doubt that the Rangers will continue to score 4.24 goals per game over an 82 game season, which is on pace for a 348 goal season. But I really do think we could see this team finish with a goals per game around 3.5 to finish the season. That would put them around 290 for the season, which isn’t impossible. The Capitals scored 313 in 2009-10 (3.8 GPG) and the Penguins scored 273 in 2011-12 (3.3 GPG).

We will see a scoring drop-off at some point, because every successful team tends to go through a dry spell. But I do think we’ll see the Rangers continue to average A LOT of goal per game this season.

And for the second part of this question, yes, the offense is definitely masking the defense core from last season. Ultimately, the defense is the same group of guys from last season and while they may have improved, the same underlying issues are still there.

However, it seems like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have improved enough to the point where they won’t be a huge liability like last season. With Ryan McDonagh playing better and the play of Brady Skjei have made the defense better. And because the team is scoring a ton of goals, and the forwards are backchecking much more effectively, the offense is masking some of the same isssues. That’ll be important to keep an eye out for around the middle of the season.

Who do you think benefitted the most from the long offseason? – Greg Giaconelli

I think Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal benefitted the most. Ryan McDonagh has had some injury issues over the last few seasons, but the long break has allowed him to recuperate and he’s definitely reaping the benefits. Dan Girardi needed a break after the cracked kneecap and other injuries last year, as well as the banged up Marc Staal, and they both look improved. Especially Marc Staal.

Is there more to the Kreider injury saga than we already know? – Gary Leggiere

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Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Well the good news is that he was medically cleared to re-join the Rangers for practice today after missing the last two games. He went back to New York for extensive tests regarding cervical and spinal issues according to the New York Post. That’s scary enough, but it’s great to see him back at practice.

So it seems that both Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich have back issues. Kreider skated today but Buchnevich did not. I’m hoping that it’s not chronic for either player, but back issues can be very troublesome.

What has had a bigger impact around the league this season: high priced vets or low priced young players? – John DeLuca

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Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Without a doubt it’s the young players. The league is full of young players and rookies who are dominating the league and providing their teams with a big boost. Patrik Laine, 18, leads the league with 12 goals and leads rookies with 17 points. Nikita Kucherov, 23, is tied with Mark Scheifele, also 23, for the league lead in points. Mitch Marner, 19, William Nylander, 20, and Auston Matthews, 19, all have at least 12 points as the Maple Leafs start integrating all of their prospects into the lineup. And Connor McDavid is set to be the face of the NHL for years to come.

When looking at the Rangers, the youngsters and rookies are the big reason for the team’s success. Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich have both been extremely effective to start the season, Brady Skjei’s 10 assists lead all NHL rookies, and JT Miller and Kevin Hayes are the two leading scorers on the team.

The league is heading in a different direction, one that emphasizes speed, skill, and even youth. The Rangers are helping to usher in a new era of hockey with their four true skill lines and extremely young lineup (I’ll elaborate on this in a future article). The league is evolving and it’s on the backs of the young future stars.

What are your overall thoughts on the decision to put a new NHL team in Las Vegas? Do you think there were better options that executives missed out on? – Matthew Lapolla

At first, I was a bit skeptical of putting a team in Vegas. I still am. The population of Las Vegas was 603,488 at the 2013 US Census, with a metropolitan area population of over two million. Hockey in the desert hasn’t worked out too well with the Arizona Coyotes, but it’s not fair to write off Vegas hockey because of that.

Las Vegas has been longing for a professional sports franchise forever, so the excitement is definitely there. They hit their plateau of 15,000 season tickets sold and the constant flow of tourists mean that there should be a lot of people who will go to a game on any given night, whether it’s because they like hockey or for novelty. I know that if I went to Vegas for a trip and the team was playing, I’d absolutely go to a game.

There is some concern though. While they did sell 15,000 season tickets, it took them a while to hit that mark, which is surprising for a city that hasn’t had a pro sports team in there. You would think the excitement would be more prevalent. To put it into perspective, when the Winnipeg Jets relocated they hit their goal of selling 13,000 season tickets in 17 minutes.

Also, if tourists are the people buying most tickets, will you have that same loyal fan base that teams in established cities have? It remains to be seen, but I think there’s enough people and excitement there to give the team enough dedicated fans. But I do think that if it was a football team, there would be a lot more excitement surrounding the new team. That remains to be seen.

But I don’t think there was a better option for a new team at this time. Quebec definitely has the advantage when it comes to a passionate hockey city as well as potential ticket sales, but the Canadian dollar is very weak right now. Plus, Quebec already had one hockey team fail and have to relocate, so that’s a bit troubling.

One city I think needs to be explored for future expansion is Seattle. That city loves sports and is extremely passionate about their teams. The Seattle Sounders averaged 44,247 people per game, which is amazing considering that it’s the MLS. Not a knock against the league, but it shows that the city is willing to love a team that’s not football or basketball. But at the moment, Vegas is a good choice in my opinion.

Is this team for real? – Keith Schwartz

It’s hard to answer this question after just 17 games, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes, this team is for real. The main thing that convinces me that this team could make a serious run for the Cup is their depth. When your fourth line has a mix of Michael Grabner, Pavel Buchnevich, Jesper Fast, Brandon Pirri and Oscar Lindberg, you know that you’re in a good situation. This is really one of the first NHL teams that has four lines that can substitute for each other, and that’s a beautiful thing.

When you combine that with an improved, yet still shaky, defense, the 18 skaters on any given night is good enough to beat anyone. And when you have a healthy Henrik Lundqvist in net, anything is possible.

I’m a bit surprised that I am saying this given how last season went, but I really do think that the Rangers can be a team that challenges for the Stanley Cup this season.

 

 

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Posted on November 17, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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