Tag: Chris Mueller

Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers - Game Four

Risk Factors: New York Rangers edition


From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

New York Rangers

1. Depth at center, or lack thereof. Two key middle men from last year’s Stanley Cup Finalist are gone: Brad Richards (bought out, now in Chicago) and Brian Boyle (free agent, signed in Tampa Bay). A third, Derek Stepan, will miss the first 4-6 weeks with a fractured fibula. Even prior to the injury, New York’s center depth was going to be an issue; the Blueshirts had Stepan, ideally a No. 2 guy, masquerading as a top liner and Derick Brassard, who thrived as a No. 3 last year, playing as a No. 2.

So now what?

Head coach Alain Vigneault could be forced to open the season with Brassard, Dominic Moore and a trio of 22-year-olds — J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg — vying for minutes at center. (Veteran Matthew Lombardi, signed out of the Swiss league to provide depth down the middle, is sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury.)

Vigneault admitted he has a tall task at hand, especially trying to replace what Stepan brought to the table.

“When you think of Step, you think five-on-five, you think penalty kill, you think power play. Someone else is going to get those minutes,” Vigneault said, per the New York Daily news. “We’ll see who steps up.”

How the Rangers deal with their center situation will be a two-part act. The first part is surviving the length of time Stepan is out, and it’s fair to suggest he could miss all nine games in the month of October. It’ll be tough, but not impossible; the Rangers can band-aid the problem (heck, Marty St. Louis already offered to play there) and even if they do struggle, no biggie — the Blueshirts won just three of their first nine games last year, and rebounded fine.

The second act, though — a season-long lack of center depth — will be a problem. New York didn’t have a bonafide No. 1 last year but advanced to the Cup Final with a committee approach; problem is, that committee was exposed against the Kings, and now it’s thinned out.

More importantly, the Rangers still lack an elite center and don’t have anybody to match the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar. Just how crucial is having top-end talent atop your depth chart?

“If you want to be one of the elite teams,” Stars GM Jim Nill told the CP, “you have to have it.”

2. Can they still roll four?

Last year, much of New York’s success came from its ability to roll four forward lines — especially in the playoffs. From the New York Post:

“I think if you look at the teams that have had success and have won the Cup since the [2004-05] lockout, you see those teams have had depth and have been able to play their depth,” Vigneault said Saturday.

“From personal experience, I know when we [the Canucks] lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team — probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league,” the coach said, referring to the unit that generally featured Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. “We didn’t have four lines.

“From that experience, if you can play four lines and manage the minutes, I think you can play at a higher tempo and faster paced game.”

Depth up front really was the Rangers’ calling card last postseason. Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot were arguably the postseason’s best third line and in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, it was the fourth line of Boyle, Moore and Derek Dorsett that scored the series-winning goal while providing countless shifts of dynamic forechecking.

Cap issues and free agency hurt New York’s depth. Boyle, Pouliot and Dorsett are all gone and the Richards departure bumped Brassard into a different role. Without much money for replacements, the Rangers acquired the likes of Lombardi, Ryan Malone, Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak and Chris Mueller on the cheap; there’s experience in that group, but also a large number of question marks.

3. That blueline… is not fresh.

Perhaps nobody’s reputation took a bigger hit last spring that Dan Girardi, who opened the Stanley Cup Final with an egregious mistake — and things didn’t get much better from there. The knocks on Girardi by the end of the five-game ouster all sounded the same: he looked slow, fought the puck and lost too many physical battles, leaving many to wonder if 1) years of heavy minutes under John Tortorella wore him down, and 2) if the Rangers made a poor decision inking Girardi to a six-year extension in February.

So then they went out and got even older on D.

New York’s big free agent acquisition was Dan Boyle, signed from San Jose to replace the outgoing Anton Stralman. The irony was that Boyle, 38, was allowed to walk from San Jose following a playoff series against — guess who! — the Los Angeles Kings, in which Boyle looked a step slow and unable to contain the Kings forwards.

(For Boyle, replacing Stralman is no small task; the Swedish rearguard averaged nearly 20 minutes per game during the regular season, then finished fourth among all Rangers in playoff TOI.)

Overall, the Rangers’ blueline is not a young group. Boyle and Girardi are already on the wrong side of 30 and Kevin Klein gets there in December. Marc Staal, a pending UFA, turns 28 in January — meaning the young guns of the group are 25-year-old Ryan McDonagh and 23-year-old John Moore.

Now, McDonagh is a star in the making and likely the Rangers’ future captain; he’ll anchor the group for this season and beyond. But it’s the parts surrounding him which could be problematic — after the top-six of McDonagh, Boyle, Girardi, Klein, Moore, Staal, the Rangers’ reserve depth consists of a trio of journeyman NHLers in Steven Kampfer, Matt Hunwick and Mike Kostka.

Report: Rangers show interest in Malone

Ryan Malone

With his DUI and cocaine possession issues now sorted, Ryan Malone is looking to get his career back on track — and, according to the Minnesota Star-Tribune, he might have a suitor in the New York Rangers.

The Trib’s Mike Russo reports that the Rangers have spoken to Malone, who became an unrestricted free agent this summer following his buyout in Tampa Bay. The decision to amnesty Malone’s contract came a few months after he was arrested in late April for driving under the influence while carrying 1.3 grams of cocaine — last week, Malone plead no contest to the DUI charge and agreed to a pre-trial intervention program for the possession charge.

Also last week, Malone’s agent — Mike Liut — said a couple of teams have expressed interest in the six-time 20-goal scorer and former U.S. Olympian. That the Rangers are one of those teams shouldn’t come as a huge surprise; the club is pressed up against the salary cap and has been adding veteran skaters on the cheap all offseason, inking the likes of Lee Stempniak, Chris Mueller and Matthew Lombardi for less than $1 million each.

Malone, 34, could join New York on similar terms and be reunited with a number of his ex-running mates, including former Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Dominic Moore and Martin St. Louis.

Rangers win Kevin Hayes sweepstakes

Kevin Hayes

Kevin Hayes is on his way to the Big Apple.

On Tuesday, various outlets (see here and here and here and here) reported that Hayes — the former Boston College standout taken 24th overall by Chicago at the ’10 draft — has agreed to sign with the New York Rangers, ending a long, drawn-out saga in the process.

UPDATE: Rangers make the signing official.

Hayes had consistently balked at signing in Chicago despite the ‘Hawks drafting him out of high school four years ago, ahead of the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Charlie Coyle and Emerson Etem. Instead, he completed a stellar career at BC, then simply allowed time to run out on his draft rights — on Aug. 15, the deadline for the ‘Hawks to sign Hayes passed, making him an unrestricted free agent in the process.

And now he’ll be reunited with one of his former running mates in New York.

Budding Rangers power forward Chris Kreider, who finished 10th in Calder voting last year, spent two years as Hayes’ teammate at BC — the pair were linemates during Hayes’ freshman year and combined to help the Eagles capture the Frozen Four championship in 2012.

The move to New York also makes sense from an opportunity standpoint. Whereas Hayes would’ve had a hard time cracking Chicago’s loaded forward corps, he’ll now look to slot into a Rangers lineup that lost the services of Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett this offseason. While the Rangers did bring in a few veterans on the cheap (Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak, Matthew Lombardi, Chris Mueller), Hayes should be right in the thick of competition for playing time due to his combination of size — he goes 6-foot-4, 216 pounds — and potential scoring ability. He finished second in the country in points last year, notching 65 in 40 games.

Looking to make the leap: J.T. Miller

JT MIller

“J.T. has to figure it out and hopefully he will. When he does, we’re going to have a good player. If he doesn’t, he will be a good minor league player.

“He just hasn’t earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis. He needs to show more commitment on the ice and off. Until he does that, he hasn’t earned the right.”

That was Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault this past April in the wake of Miller’s sixth demotion to AHL Hartford. Miller, New York’s first-round pick (15th overall) at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, had a tough time winning over Vigneault last season (obviously) and showed signs of regression, scoring just three goals in 30 games in his second year with the Blueshirts.

Which brings us to the present — or, as Miller and the Rangers might refer to it, crunch time.

Heading into the final of his three-year, entry-level deal, Miller is at something of an organizational crossroads. Both he and the club want him established as a full-time NHLer, yet both seem to recognize there are only so many kicks at the can.

“I think we made it pretty clear to [Miller] when he left where he stands and the opportunity in front of him. You only get so many chances,” Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton told NHL.com. “I think J.T. is a pretty proud guy and a confident kid. I think he’s encouraged there’s a chance for him in the lineup. We’re all looking forward to how he comes back, but it’s all up to him.”

One positive for Miller is New York’s thinned-out depth up front, specifically at center. Brian Boyle and Brad Richards are no longer in the mix and that could provide Miller the opportunity to man the middle and utilize his playmaking skills — remember, the former OHL Plymouth standout was a good setup man for the U.S. gold medal-winning squad at the ’13 World Juniors, leading the team with seven assists in seven games.

(Miller, who’s played a bunch of left wing, could also benefit from Benoit Pouliot’s departure to Edmonton.)

One negative for Miller, though, is how New York addressed those departures. The Rangers built forward depth through a number of low-cost veteran signings — Lee Stempniak, Tanner Glass, Chris Mueller, Matthew Lombardi — which makes for crowded competition. What’s more, Miller must keep an eye on another pair of prospects that have made positive impressions on the organization: Jesper Fast and Danny Kristo, the latter of who inked a one-year extension with the Rangers on Tuesday.

The wildcard in all this? Vigneault. He forged a reputation in Vancouver as a coach that prefers experienced, veteran guys that make “high-percentage plays” rather than younger players still figuring things out. He’s also put players on blast before, notably Pouliot — AV actually used the “kicks at the can” line to roast him last November.

“I’ve had this conversation with Ben, I’ve had this conversation with a few players in my career. You only get so many kicks at the can here, you only get so many teams,” Vigneault told The Bergen Record. “Obviously a guy like Ben, a high pick, a high skill level, you see it now and then and you go, ‘Wow, why does the inconsistency or whatever is, not there on a more regular basis?”

While the “only get so many teams” thing doesn’t apply to Miller, the “high pick, high skill level” thing sure does. In light of that, it’ll be interesting to see if Miller responds the same way Pouliot did — after getting called out by Vigneault, the 27-year-old scored 32 points over the final 53 games of the year, potted another 10 in 25 playoff games and then scored a mega five-year, $20 million contract from Edmonton.

Report: Rangers re-sign prospect Kristo

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils

Fitting that on New York Rangers day, the Blueshirts have reportedly re-upped with one of their bright young talents.

Danny Kristo, the 56th overall pick at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has inked a one-year, $826,875 deal with New York, per CapGeek. The deal comes roughly one month after Kristo, an RFA, accepted his qualifying offer from the Rangers.

A former scoring standout at the University of North Dakota, Kristo fared well last year with AHL Hartford in his first full season of professional hockey (he’d previously appeared in nine AHL games for Montreal, who originally drafted him before trading him to New York for Christian Thomas.) Kristo scored 25 goals for the Wolf Pack in ’13-14 and spent the majority of the season as the club’s top-line right wing.

“We liked [Kristo] in college,” Rangers’ director of player personnel Gordie Clark told NHL.com. “It wasn’t working out for him in Montreal and he turned out to be our No. 1 right wing in Hartford in his first full season. He’s got speed, skill and knack of the puck somehow following him around.

“We’re hoping to improve our pool of prospects at the center position where we weren’t very deep as an organization in Hartford. We hope Danny can help us in that area.”

Kristo, 24, has a fairly decent shot at seeing some big-league minutes this year. The Rangers lost some depth up front this summer (Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle, Brad Richards) and have tried to replace it with veterans on the cheap (Lee Stempniak, Matthew Lombardi, Chris Mueller), so one would think there’s an opportunity there if the older guys don’t work out. That said, Kristo will also likely be battling another young prospect — Jesper Fast — for minutes on the wing. Fast, a 22-year-old Swede, appeared in 11 games for New York last season and three during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.