Thursday, January 26, 2012

Report Card: Grading The Rangers

Tonight, the second fantasy draft takes place in Ottawa with a unique All-Star gathering broadcasted on TSN, which NBC Sports Network will pick up. Last year's was quite a success with Phil Kessel getting plenty of ribbing for being picked last. Who will have that dubious distinction? Dan Girardi?

While the fun commences up north in preparation for All-Star weekend, the league has reached its break. There are a few surprises with the Rangers atop the East while the Blues are right behind the Red Wings in a wild four team race in the Central. Speaking of revelations, the Sens are tied with the Pens for fifth three points behind the Flyers while the archrival Leafs are in a three-way tie for the final two spots with the Devils and Panthers. You can bet Kessel won't last long tonight even if Daniel Alfredsson is captain of one team and Zdeno Chara in charge of the other.

For the Battle clubs, it's a chance to get some much needed time off and relax. Unless you're Henrik Lundqvist, who has carried the Blueshirts with the best play of his career. Other Rangers going are leading sniper Marian Gaborik, Girardi and rookie Carl Hagelin. John Tavares will represent the Islanders sizzling hot. Why did I give up on him again? :P Remarkably, the Devils have no one at the festivities with hot shot rookies Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson nursing injuries while Patrik Elias was snubbed. Perhaps that's what Lou Lamoriello prefers as Hasan noted yesterday. The Sabres boast two with deserving Jason Pominville and freshman Luke Adam both in Kanata, Ontario.

The excitement gets underway in an hour. We'll reveal the rosters tomorrow and then have our very own Fantasy All-Star Draft. It should be a doozy. In the mean time, the break gives us a chance to look at all four teams. How have each fared? While one has exceeded expectations, another has underachieved. The other two are probably where they should be. Let's start with the best and work our way down.

NEW YORK RANGERS (47 GP, 31-12-4, 66 Points, 1st East)


GF: 132
GA: 96

If ever a stat typified a roster, it's the league low 96 goals the Blueshirts have allowed. Lundqvist has been a beast, ranking third in GAA (1.87), and save percentage (.937) while his fifth shutout the other night tied him for second behind Vezina darkhorse Jon Quick (6). King Henrik is far from alone with Girardi leading the D with 119 blocked shots while sophomore Ryan McDonagh has 115. Danny G also is second in hits (138) behind captain Ryan Callahan (171) with warrior Brian Boyle (130) third.

Offense has come from Gaborik (25 goals, 39 points) even though he's cooled considerably while Brad Richards is tied with Captain Cally with six game-winners. Derek Stepan has been solid with 31 points including a team best 21 helpers but hasn't lit the lamp in seven. Perhaps the break can help him and ice cold Artem Anisimov (pointless over last 15) recharge. Callahan has been the most consistent, demonstrating why he was a no-brainer for the 'C.' Brandon Dubinsky has finally emerged but his five goals in 44 games are brutal. Surely, he has to produce more the rest of the way for this team to have any chance.

Mike Del Zotto has had a nice bounce back year pacing the blueline with 24 points and a club best plus-22. However, his play has suffered lately, probably due to the increased responsibily. Even with Marc Staal back, John Tortorella is relying heavily on MDZ and McD- third-year and second-year players. The defense has shown some leaks without Mike Sauer, who is our most physical guy since Jeff Beukeboom. Steve Eminger and Jeff Woywitka are getting close but Slats may want to explore a trade to sure up the back end.
If not for the contributions of Hagelin, soldier Brandon PrustJohn Mitchell, Anton Stralman and the much overlooked Ruslan Fedotenko, who knows where this team would be? It doesn't boast much talent. Of course, you can't overlook Marty Biron, whose nine wins, 1.87 GAA, .930 save percentage and two shutouts have allowed Lundqvist to stay fresh. It's why he's only won 22 of our 31 games. If ever he does get snubbed for the Vezina, it'll be due to more victories from Quick and Jimmy Howard.

Tortorella has squeezed every ounce out of this team that gets by on grit and determination. Their willingness to get dirty is why they're where they are. Can they maintain this pace? I doubt it. Unless Richards and Gaborik heat up again and other players pick it up, it's hard to grind your way through an 82-game schedule. While the Rangers continue to be one of the best ranked teams on the penalty kill, which makes them tougher to play along with Henke, their power play continues to be a sore spot. Sure. Boston won despite it. However, they boasted a much more complete roster. At the beginning of the season, I picked our team to finish fifth. But I also had Buffalo winning the Northeast. Oops. I had the Blueshirts ousting the Bruins and Pens. If the season ended today, I can't see that happening.

Adding another scorer would go a long way to legitimizing their postseason aspirations. Especially the idiot owner. When you win as consistently as they have, it raises the bar. So, I'm judging this team on my Conference Final prediction. Anything less would be a bitter disappointment. With the East stronger than it's been in years, it could come down to the match-up. Winning the division and gaining home ice could really help even if it's no given.

Suggestions: I'd like to see the Rangers add a hardnosed D like Tim Gleason, who's won before. I don't think the price would be astronomical. With his $3.5 million coming off the cap at the end of the year, Gleason would be a rental. Unless Carolina believes it can still win the Southeast (only 10 points separate them from the top), they might sell. A second or third round pick should be sufficient. I doubt they'd get a prospect/pick. The Blueshirts may take a run at Shane Doan if the Yotes fall out but perhaps a guy like Ray Whitney would come cheaper. He's a better guy for the power play and boasts skill. Not that Doan's big body couldn't help in front. It's all about the cost. Both would be rentals. If Brenden Morrow becomes available, I'd put in a call to Joe Nieuwendyk. The Dallas captain has another year left at $4.1 million. So, Slats would have to get creative.

It all depends on if management believes the team can win now. They're probably another year off. No way would I sacrifice top prospects such as Chris Kreider, Christian Thomas, J.T. Miller and Dylan McIlrath. Like at the end of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade with the holy grail, the Rangers must choose wisely.

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