Tag: Shawn Thornton

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.

Risk Factors: Boston Bruins edition

Zdeno Chara

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.

Boston Bruins

1. Zdeno Chara…he’s not so young anymore. In fact, only 12 defensemen were older than the 37-year-old last season, and not one of them came close to averaging the 24:39 of ice time the big Bruin did.

To be sure, nobody’s suggesting that Chara has become an average defender. Team president Cam Neely went so far in May to say, “Zdeno is still, in my opinion, the best defender in the game.”

But even Chara recognizes he has to work to keep up with today’s young speedsters — this after his performance in last season’s playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens drew criticism. (Wrote the Boston Globe after Game 7: “When Chara was on the ice in the first, he looked a little shaky, stumbling around uncharacteristically during one penalty kill shift. He was thrown off balance and so were the Black and Gold.”)

No wonder GM Peter Chiarelli was loath to trade veteran blue-liner Johnny Boychuk, choosing instead to give RFAs Torey Krug and Reilly Smith the hard sell on taking less for the good of the team. Trading Boychuk would mean even more minutes for youngsters Krug and Dougie Hamilton, and nobody can be sure how that would turn out. Those two need to show improvement regardless.

To deny that any decline in Chara’s abilities would negatively impact the Bruins’ chances at winning the Stanely Cup would be to deny his importance to the team.

And to deny that age negatively impacts a player’s abilities would be to deny reality.

2. Who replaces Jarome Iginla on the top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic? We only ask because Iginla scored 30 goals last season. And that’s a lot of goals to replace.

Iginla, of course, was brought in last summer to replace Nathan Horton, who’d left for Columbus. But nobody’s been brought in to replace Iginla, who left for Colorado. So the Bruins are stuck hoping for more from a player that came to them in the Tyler Seguin trade — one who didn’t show all that much in his first year with the club.

“We lost Jarome, but I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year,” coach Claude Julien told NHL.com. “I think we started seeing that at the end of the year and he could be a replacement for Jarome.”

Eriksson has proven he can score goals in the NHL. He had 36 of them for Dallas in 2008-09; four times he’s scored 26 or more in a season. And he’s eager to prove he can still do it.

“I think I can bring a little more,” said Eriksson.

Except he’ll need to bring a little more than “a little more” if he hopes to replace Iginla’s 30 goals. Twenty goals more, to be exact.

3. The new-look bottom six…what if it doesn’t look so good?

When Boston defeated Vancouver in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins didn’t have a single forward that played fewer than 11 minutes.

“From personal experience,” said former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, “I know when we lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team. Probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league.”

It’s not clear if the Bruins will still be able to roll four lines so successfully in 2014-15. They certainly didn’t in the Game 7 loss to Montreal, when Shawn Thornton played just 3:28 and three other forwards — Matt Fraser, Gregory Campbell, and Daniel Paille — each failed to break the 11-minute mark.

Two different games and two different scenarios, sure. But Boston’s bottom six still stands to be quite different this season. The popular Thornton is gone. Eriksson, as mentioned, may move up from the third line to the top line. There are open spots available for the taking.

“The competition, with it comes uncertainty and we’d all like things to be certain, but also the cream will rise to the top and I’m looking forward to it,” Chiarelli said.

“We’ve got some invites, we’ve got some young players pushing, I look forward to it.”

In deciding to let Thornton go, Chiarelli hinted that he wanted a faster and more skilled fourth line. That seemed to bode well for a player like Ryan Spooner, who’s scored at a point-per-game pace in the AHL. However, he’ll have to be reliable defensively if he wants ice time from Julien.

“You can give us some great opportunities up front and score goals,” Julien said recently, in remarks that were believed to be directed at Spooner. “But if you give up more chances against than you create then you’re not helping the team. In the long run, you don’t win championships that way.”

A championship remains the goal for the Bruins.

“I still think we’re in our window,” Neely said.

But the mere fact he had to say it, well — considering all of the above — isn’t that reason to wonder if they really are?

Luongo’s ‘mind is at ease’ in Florida

Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo’s tenure with the Vancouver Canucks was a roller coaster. He won the Jennings Trophy, earned a couple Vezina Trophy nominations and came tantalizingly close to winning the Stanley Cup. He fell short though and in his final years in Vancouver, he was in the middle of a goaltender controversy between Cory Schneider and him, which led to persistent trade rumors.

All that’s in the past now as Vancouver shipped him in March to Florida, where he spent five seasons before his stint with Vancouver began. Luongo has high hopes for the Panthers, but beyond that he also sees the appeal of being in a less intensive hockey market.

“For sure my mind is at ease and I can focus on one task, and that’s stopping pucks,” Luongo told the Sun Sentinel. “There was a lot of that stuff going on in prior years and I was still able to do that. It’s nice to just not have that worry sometimes when you’re away from the rink or about your future.”

In addition to getting a full season out of Luongo, the Panthers are hoping that veteran additions like Willie Mitchell, Shawn Thornton, Jussi Jokinen, and Dave Bolland will compliment their young core and help lead them back into the playoffs after they finished with a 29-45-8 record in 2013-14.

P.K. Subban: ‘I’m not trying to change the game of hockey’

P.K. Subban

P.K. Subban has emerged as one of the most electrifying players in the National Hockey League, playing the game at a frenetic and entertaining pace, bordering on reckless at times, one could definitely argue.

It seems like a fact of life that with star quality — on and off the ice — comes controversy. He’s a polarizing figure in the game. A difference of opinion on a player or a team isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

However, the racism directed at him on social media during the playoffs, has no place in the game or in life.

It’s next to impossible to deny his talent, considering at 25 years of age, he’s coming off a career season with the Habs, a team that upset the Boston Bruins in an emotionally charged seven-game series in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Subban played an integral role. He scored four times in the series, and averaged a point per game. He managed to frustrate his opponents — just ask Shawn Thornton.

And when despicable morons attacked him through social media with racial slurs because of the color of his skin, Subban handled it with the utmost class.

This summer, with his stock still on the rise following a breakout 2013-14 campaign that also saw him named to Canada’s gold-medal winning Olympic hockey team, Subban signed an eight-year, $72 million contract.

That was after an arbitration hearing, but before the presiding judge could make a ruling. And, with Brian Gionta now a member of the Buffalo Sabres, Subban could be in the running to become the Habs’ new captain.

While the 2013 Norris Trophy winner has become a star in the NHL — the league could use a few more players like him — he still strives to be himself.

“I’m not trying to change the game of hockey, I’m trying to be who I am, but the difference is when you’re an impactful player it does change things,” Subban told NHL.com.

“It does because there is a following in the NHL. Do I bring qualities that maybe the NHL hasn’t had before? Maybe. And people might find that appealing. That’s OK. But more than anything, I respect the NHL. I respect the game, the players in the game.

“That’s why I’m able to carry myself the way I do, because I have a respect for the game that the players before me, the legends before me, the superstars before me will all appreciate.”

PHT Morning Skate: Bruins prospect Pastrnak impresses Bergeron

David Pastrnak

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Patrice Bergeron is impressed with what he’s seen so far from 2014 first-round pick David Pastrnak. (CSN New England)

Is having Zac Rinaldo, who signed a two-year extension yesterday, on the Flyers’ fourth line a negative for the team compared to some of their other options? Broad Street Hockey)

Here’s an in-depth look at how the San Jose Sharks did in the neutral zone last season and which players stood out in that regard. (Fear The Fin)

Boston Bruins fans got a glimpse of Shawn Thornton in a Panthers’ jersey as he practiced with his former teammates. (Boston.com)

Scott Hannan isn’t likely to play a big role with the Sharks in 2014-15, but he does provide the team with some insurance. (CSN Bay Area)

Mark Giordano will participate in the Calgary Italian Open to support the charities Team Giordano Points to the Future and the Calgary Italian Canadian Foundation. (Flames.nhl.com)