Over at ESPN, Craig Custance continued his preview series of playoff-bound teams with an interesting piece on the New York Rangers — specifically, the analysis of defenseman Marc Staal.
From ESPN (Insider):
Depth on defense is a bit of a concern for the Rangers, and there’s a big difference if Staal is playing like a bottom-pair defenseman rather than a guy capable of playing on the top pair. “He’s gone, for me, from a Norris trophy candidate to a guy playing in the five- or six-hole, and he looks like it,” one coach said. “If he can get anywhere near that level, it’d change things … but I haven’t seen signs he’s getting better.”
Our scout isn’t quite as concerned. “He’s not great but certainly plays well within reason. He’s better than most at operating at 80 percent,” he said. “I think he’ll be able to take his game to a very good level. I’m not so much worried about him as I would be injuries [on defense] in general.”
By the numbers, Staal’s a fourth defenseman rather than a fifth/sixth — he’s fourth amongst all Rangers blueliners in time on ice per game (19:44), shifts per game (23.5) and shorthanded minutes per game (1:37).
Regardless, it’s a far cry from his role of last season, when he averaged over 25 minutes a game in the regular season before getting bumped to 28:01 per night in a five-game playoff loss to the Capitals.
As for this year, Staal missed the first 36 games dealing with the effects of a concussion suffered last February. While he has seen more ice time recently — there were three games in March where Staal played over 24 minutes — one wonders if he’s still out of sorts after missing what amounted to half the regular season.
One final note: Come playoff time, it’ll be interesting to see if Tortorella ever goes back to last year’s dynamic shutdown pairing of Staal and Dan Girardi. The two were often used to neutralize the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby but, with Girardi averaging over 26 minutes and night and now flourishing with partner Ryan McDonagh, it would be hard for Staal to get back in that mix.
For the second time in his career, Ryan Kesler is wearing an “A.”
On Thursday, the Anaheim Ducks announced that Kesler would serve as one of the club’s alternate captains this season, taking over for Francois Beauchemin, who signed in Colorado this summer.
With the move, Kesler joins Anaheim’s existing leadership group of captain Ryan Getzlaf, and alternate Corey Perry.
“It’s an honor,” Kesler said, per the Ducks. “It’s special. I’m going to wear it with pride and lead by example.”
As mentioned earlier, Kesler has some experience as an alternate — he wore an “A” in Vancouver from 2008-13, but had it removed prior to the start of the ’13-14 campaign.
It’s not surprising Anaheim went in this direction. GM Bob Murray made a huge investment in Kesler this summer by inking the 31-year-old to a six-year, $41.25M extension.
Could Raphael Diaz be on his way back to Switzerland?
We’ll know in a month.
Diaz, who lost out on the Rangers’ final blueline spot in training camp, has reported to the club’s AHL affiliate in Hartford but doesn’t seem pleased with his current situation, per the Post:
The 29-year-old Diaz, who cleared waivers last Saturday after the Blueshirts opted to keep rookie Dylan McIlrath as the club’s seventh on the blue line, is interested in the European option if he is not in the NHL.
The Blueshirts have told Diaz they will revisit the situation at the end of October, but have not promised to release him or assign him to a European team at that point.
If Diaz, a Swiss native who represented Switzerland in the 2014 Olympics, does play in Europe during the season, he would have to go through waivers in order to return to the NHL.
Diaz’s agent, Ritch Winter, told the Post that Diaz signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Rangers “to play with the Rangers.”
And it’s understandable if Diaz — a journeyman offensive defenseman — isn’t happy with this situation.
While some believe McIlrath earned his roster spot on merit, some think it’s because of his contract status. McIlrath, who’s only 23 and a former first-round pick, would’ve needed to clear waivers to go back to Hartford, and it’s believed he would’ve been claimed by another club.