derekstepangoalofnightdec23

A new kind of Rangers team thriving

2 Comments

The New York Rangers current 4-game winning streak has them sitting in the 7th spot with 82 points going into tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers. Tonight they’ll have the opportunity to either gain on the 6th place Canadiens or pull further away from the 8th place Sabres (depending on the result of the Sabres/Habs game). Whether they are able to gain ground on the Habs or increase their lead on the Sabres, the most important thing is the recent streak has created a little separation between them and the 9th place Carolina Hurricanes.

This year’s version of the Rangers is marking a change from the past. In the years leading up to the salary cap – and even a few years after the implementation of the cap – the Rangers were the poster team for over-indulgence on players who were past their prime. Players from Wade Redden to Jaromir Jagr and from Chris Drury to Scott Gomez all knew there was the team on Broadway that would be willing to freely spend for a player whose best years were probably behind them. They were assembling a fantasy roster—unfortunately it was usually the fantasy roster that looked great if it were from two years ago.

The Rangers were the team that was quick to make a splash at the deadline. They’d throw caution (as well as prospects and draft picks) to the wind in hopes of finding that one last player who would be the savior. But over the last year or so, Glen Sather has been singing a different tune. He’s repeatedly stated to anyone who would listen that he was going to stick with the young guys. His plan was to keep the young players and prospects they’d acquired instead of trading them away for a 3-month quick fix. Judging by the organization’s unwillingness to sell the farm for Brad Richards at the deadline, it looks like it might be more than just the usual lip service.

The team now has young players like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky that every team in the league would love to build around. They have young blueliners like Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, and Michael Del Zotto who look like they could be a very good corps of defensemen. They have prospects like Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan who are coming into their own at the NHL level. Earlier this week, they were able to sign two of their most promising prospects in Ryan Bourque and Dylan McIlrath; who should go well with high-end offensive prospects Christian Thomas and Chris Kreider once they sign with the organization. Simply put, they have players all over the organization who should be productive guys on the roster for years to come.

Not only are the Rangers holding onto the young players, they’re starting to see a different type of player star on Broadway. It’s not the high-priced superstar who is unwilling to do what it takes to win. Now, there are guys like Ryan Callahan who have the sandpaper and heart needed to win. Callahan sees the difference as well:

“[re: Rangers 5-2 victory vs. Pittsburgh] It would have been pretty easy to get down on ourselves and hang our heads after letting up that goal on the power play, but to our credit we showed a lot of character to come back. All year we’ve been fighting in these one-goal games and dogfights in the third period, so we’re used to it and just go out there and do what we have to do.”

In the past, these are exactly the guys who would be sent with a draft pick for the 2nd line rental at the deadline. They are the guys who wouldn’t get a chance to play big roles on the team because they were sitting behind a guy who was brought in (to great fanfare) only to slow the development process of a player struggling to reach his potential. The salary cap has forced it, but New Yorkers are starting to see the benefits of good drafting. More importantly, they’re seeing the fruits of holding onto draft picks and prospects instead of trading them a short-term fix.

If the Rangers are going to be successful this season, it’s going to be these young players who lead the way. The intensity at the end of the regular season and the playoffs always increases about 17 levels – and for the first time in a long time, it looks like the Rangers have the type of players who can handle it. Better yet, they have the type of players who will thrive on it. Their current winning streak is the first time they’ve won four straight in over two years. They couldn’t have picked a better time.

(Update for tonight’s game vs. Florida: Marc Staal will miss his second consecutive game with his mysterious injury.)

The future looks bright in Toronto, but no sense rushing prospect Mitch Marner

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Head coach Mike Babcock (R) of the Toronto Maple Leafs talks with Mitchell Marner (L) after being selected fourth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

What remains for Mitch Marner to accomplish in junior hockey? What’s the point of another year in the Ontario Hockey League?

Selected fourth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marner has posted back-to-back 100-point seasons with the London Knights in the OHL.

Actually, that’s understating his production. In his draft year, he scored 44 goals and 126 points in 63 regular season games. The following season, he played in six fewer games, with 39 goals and 116 points. He won a Memorial Cup in London this year and was the OHL’s playoff MVP.

That’s quite a list of accomplishments. However, it’s possible that following Maple Leafs training camp, the highly touted forward prospect could be sent back to junior. After turning 19 years old in May, he’s not yet eligible to play a season in the American Hockey League. So the options for him next season include making the NHL, getting sent back to junior or potentially playing in Europe. According to the Toronto Star, Marner doesn’t seem into the latter option.

Skill isn’t an issue.

The more pressing concerns facing Marner are size and strength. He’s listed at five-foot-eleven-inches tall and, as per the Leafs, 160 pounds. There were reports this summer Marner tipped the scales at 163 pounds.

The Maple Leafs continue through their rebuild.

Retaining the No. 1 overall pick that turned into Auston Matthews (he’s Under Pressure) is a boon for the task the Maple Leafs are currently undertaking. They also have forward William Nylander, who had six goals and 13 points in 22 games with the big club last season.

Head coach Mike Babcock told TSN that Marner has a “good chance” of making the Maple Leafs roster this upcoming season. The big focus, the coach continued, isn’t so much about putting on weight, but getting stronger.

“I want to make sure I feel comfortable enough to go out against men and play hard, and make sure I can go out there and do the things that I like to do,” Marner said earlier this summer.

The speed of today’s game has allowed for smaller players — Johnny Gaudreau, Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi to name a few — to excel. This is something Marner himself has pointed out.

“The NHL’s changed. It’s not about height. It’s not about cross-checking as hard as you can. It’s not about hooking. A lot of those will get you a penalty nowadays,” Marner told Sportsnet.

“It’s about the speed game now; it’s about thinking. If you have the brain to play in the NHL, you can play. If you can dodge hits, you can play. It’s up to you to put the work in.”

It’s understandable for Maple Leafs fans to want to see Marner in the NHL as soon as possible.

With the talent the Maple Leafs have been adding to their system, the future looks bright. With that in mind, it doesn’t make sense to rush a player of Marner’s talent into the NHL if his body isn’t physically ready for the demands.

Canada’s world junior team, which looks to reclaim gold on home ice, would certainly welcome the news.

Bruins sign Dominic Moore to one-year, $900K deal

Dominic Moore
Getty Images
4 Comments

Dominic Moore preached patience when it came to navigating potential opportunities and destinations as a veteran NHL free agent.

After being on the market for almost two full months, Moore is now under contract.

On Tuesday, the Boston Bruins announced that they had signed the 36-year-old center to a one-year, one-way deal worth $900,000.

Moore has never been known for his offensive abilities. His career-high in points was 41, back in 2008-09 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But he can add veteran depth up the middle for the Bruins.

He spent the last three seasons with the New York Rangers, scoring six goals and 15 points in 80 games last season. He also won more than 55 per cent of his faceoffs, and averaged 2:09 of ice time on the penalty kill.

Veteran center Stoll to attend Blue Jackets training camp on a PTO

Jarret Stoll
AP Photo
1 Comment

The Columbus Blue Jackets will have veteran center Jarret Stoll at training camp on a professional tryout, the club announced Tuesday.

Stoll, 34, is approaching 900 career regular season games played in the NHL. He split last season between the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild, with a total of four goals and nine points recorded in 2015-16.

He was waived by the Rangers in December and claimed the following day by the Wild, as that club looked to add depth up the middle heading into the second half of the season.

Stoll’s most productive days, offensively, are well behind him. But he is still capable in the faceoff circle, winning almost 57 per cent of his draws in his 51 games with Minnesota.

The Blue Jackets have made a couple of moves this summer in addressing the center position.

At the beginning of this month, the Blue Jackets dipped into the secondary free agent market to land Sam Gagner — a right-shot center — on a one-year contract.

They also drafted Pierre-Luc Dubois at third overall.

Dubois believes he can play up the middle as a true first-line center, which, as per the discussion for months now, is a position the club needed to focus on after dealing Ryan Johansen last season.

Related:

After plenty of ‘disappointment’ last season, Torts hopes to lead Jackets back to the playoffs

For Frederik Andersen, the spotlight’s on

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 21:  Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs speaks with the media during a press availability on June 21, 2016 at the Encore Ballroom in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 2016 NHL Award Ceremony will by held on June 22 at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

James Reimer, Jonathan Bernier, Ben Scrivens and Jonas Gustavsson.

Over the last half decade, those four were tasked with the responsibility of being Toronto’s No. 1 goalie. Reimer was the lead dog, with 153 starts over five years, followed by Bernier (140 over three), Gustavsson (96 over three) and Scrivens (28 over two).

As the figures suggest, those four had plenty in common. They each spent multiple years in Toronto, and had a shot at the No. 1 gig.

Now they have something else in common, too.

None of ’em play in Toronto anymore.

It’s been a revolving door — one pushed by fans and media, some would argue — and the Leafs tried to halt it this summer, striking a bold move to finally solidify their goaltending position.

Frederik Andersen, the lanky Dane that rose to prominence in Anaheim, was acquired for a pair of high picks, then quickly signed to a lucrative five-year, $25 million deal.

That trade was profound, and so was the payday. The contract nearly quintupled what Andersen made on his previous pact, and made him one of the highest-paid players on the active roster.

The Leafs insisted it was money well spent.

“Whenever you have the opportunity to acquire a goaltender who has proven to have success in the playoffs, is at the prime age, has the reputation on and off the ice that he has, and the players love playing in front of him — I don’t know how you cannot try to acquire a goaltender like this,” GM Lou Lamoriello said upon acquiring Andersen. “We’ve acquired a 6-foot-4 goaltender who has athleticism.

“Right now we’re extremely comfortable with our goaltending.”

And it’s true — Andersen has all the attributes of a quality No. 1. He’s shouldered a heavy workload before, making 53 starts during the ’14-15 campaign, followed by another 16 in the playoffs as Anaheim advanced to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.

He’s also in the “sweet spot” as far as development goes. Andersen had plenty of seasoning in Europe and the American League before making his NHL debut at 24.

Now he’s a veteran of three full campaigns, with 125 regular season and nearly 30 playoff games on his resume.

And he only turns 27 this October.

Those are the positives.

How about some negatives?

For starters, he’s going from a pretty good team (the Ducks finished sixth in the NHL last year) to a pretty bad one (the Leafs, as you might’ve heard, finished dead last). He’s also going from a relatively laid back market to one of the most frenzied in the league.

Canadian cities can be tough on goalies, something that Reimer, Bernier, Gustavsson and Scrivens all experienced to some degree during their times in Toronto.

It happens elsewhere, too.

“It takes a certain temperament to play in Canada,” former NHL goalie and current TSN analyst Jamie McLennan told the National Post. “Roberto Luongo was a star in Florida, goes to Vancouver and stars there and then the fans turn on him because he doesn’t deliver a Cup and then leaves and it’s like, ‘Oh geez, we lost a really good goalie.'”

So, how will Andersen adjust to the spotlight? The Leafs did well to take some pressure off by inking veteran Jhonas Enroth to be the backup, but Enroth is exactly that — a backup.

Toronto fans will see how Andersen deals with increased attention this September, as he projects to be Team Europe’s No. 1 for the World Cup of Hockey — which, of course, will be played in Andersen’s new home rink, the ACC.

It’ll be like a dress rehearsal prior to the live show.

But for Andersen, the stakes might feel a little bit higher.