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Saturday, September 19, 2009

OGA SPR: The New York Rangers - by Big Tex

The 2008-09 season saw the New York Rangers go from leading the Eastern Conference to battling for a playoff spot. While they did make the playoffs, a disappointing first-round collapse against Washington led to significant changes over the summer. How do the Rangers look heading into the 2009-10 campaign? On Goal Analysis breaks it down:

Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): Called Chasing Stanley as of Game 10/24 October 2008. A strong (7-2-1) start made the New York Rangers the first team called IN the Stanley Cup Playoffs by OGA last season. They continued to distance themselves from the PQC over the next furlong, and found themselves +4.0 against the Curve at Game 20. Through Games 21-40, the Blueshirts dropped to +2.5 vs. the PQC, before rebounding in the next furlong to push back up to +3.0 at Game 50. At that point, the wheels seemed to come off, as New York dropped down to even with the PQC at Game 60. The sudden nosedive cost Head Coach Tom Renney his job following Game 61, and many around the league wondered whether or not the Rangers could right the ship in time to clinch a playoff berth. Over the next furlong, the Rangers played right along the PQC as they adjusted to new Coach John Tortorella. In the homestretch (Games 71-82), however, the players began to embrace Torts’ style of play, as evidenced by their 7-4-1 run to close out the regular season in 7th place in the Eastern Conference, good for a playoff berth (just as OGA called it, way back in October).

Post Lockout Average versus the PQC: In the four seasons since the Lockout, the Broadway Blueshirts average 4.83 vs. the Playoff Qualifying Curve. 2005-06 (the first season back from the Lockout) proved to be New York’s finest, as they finished at 5.0 vs. the PQC. The next two seasons, they finished at 4.7 and 4.85, respectively, before splitting the difference in 2008-09 at 4.75 vs. the PQC. Such consistency is quite interesting to note, as most teams trend either up or down over a similar span. OGA has called the Rangers Chasing Stanley in three of the last four seasons (on 15 November 05, 17 November 07 and 24 October 08). The 2006-07 season saw OGA call New York at Tee Time on 20 February 07, only to see the Boys in Blue go on a 8-2-2 tear down the homestretch and slide into the playoffs (in the 6th seed, no less). Thus, the 06-07 Rangers became one of OGA’s rare Shot(s) off the Post – an erroneous call. With several of last season’s also-rans taking steps (and in some cases, enormous strides) to push for a playoff spot in 09-10, will New York extend their streak of playoff appearances to five, or will the lights dim on Broadway in early April?

How does New York look heading into the 2009-10 season?

Team Play: ISSUE – It’s all about the “G”, baby. Last season, the Rangers’ biggest challenge was finding the back of the net. With just four 20+ goal scorers, led by Markus Naslund with 24 (Nik Antropov (28) doesn’t count, as he scored 21 of his goals in a Maple Leafs’ sweater), New York was one of only two playoff teams with a negative goal differential in the regular season (Columbus being the other). In fact, the Blueshirts’ 210 goals in 08-09 tied them with the Lightning for 25th in the NHL.

Two of the Rangers’ four “snipers” – Nikolai Zherdev and Markus Naslund – won’t be back. In an effort to not just fill those holes in the lineup, but also to increase scoring, GM Glen Sather rolled the dice over the summer. On 1 July, he signed oft-injured sharpshooter Marian Gaborik. Should Gaby’s groin/hip/whatever hold up (he has yet to play in a preseason game due to a ‘tender groin’), he should be just what the doctor ordered: Gaborik has averaged better than a point per game in each of the last four seasons. On the downside, he’s only played more than 65 games once in those four seasons.

The day before signing Gaborik, Sather pulled the trigger on a significant trade, sending underachieving pivot Scott Gomez to Montreal for winger Christopher Higgins, a proven 20+ man. On 9 July, Slats signed another 20+ club member, Ales Kotalik. Less than a week later, the Rangers dealt centerman Lauri Korpikoski to Phoenix for speedy winger Enver Lisin, who has been one of the Blueshirts’ best skaters in September, and should join the 20+ club in 09-10. More recently, New York added veteran forward Vinny Prospal, boosting the number of proven or potential 20+ goal scorers on the roster to eight – nine if you count holdout center Brandon Dubinsky. Thus, the New York Rangers enter the 09-10 season with significantly increased firepower for new Coach John Tortorella’s up-tempo “Safe is Death” system. The economy may still be in the toilet, but things are looking up on Broadway.

Fantasy Value: As mentioned above, the Rangers have plenty of bullets for their gun. The key for fantasy GM’s is deciding which one(s) will give the most bang for their (fantasy) buck. Marian Gaborik (17GP, 13-10-23, +3), of course, is a high-risk, high-reward pick, and the only justifiable 1st rounder on the roster. Beyond Gaby, the Blueshirt forwards are good picks in leagues with fairly deep rosters. Expect team Captain Chris Drury’s (81GP, 22-34-56, -8) numbers to improve this season. Rookie center Artem Anisimov (80GP, 37-44-81, +12 with (AHL) Hartford) could be a pleasant surprise, particularly if the Dubinsky holdout boosts Anisimov to the top line. Another youngster, the big (6’4”, 220) and talented 19-year-old Evgeny Grachev (60GP, 40-40-80 with (OHL) Brampton Battalion), could be another great pick, though whether or not he’ll be with the big club in October remains to be seen.

On defense, believe it or not, Michal Rozsival (76GP, 8-22-30, -7) or (gulp) Wade Redden (81GP, 3-23-26, -5) might not be bad late-round pickups, as Torts’ system stresses blueliner involvement in the offense. Late-blooming rookie Matt Gilroy (45GP, 8-29-37 at Boston University) has been most impressive so far this month, and should be playing on Broadway (and probably working the point on the PP) this fall.

In goal, “King” Henrik Lundqvist (38-25-7, 2.43 GAA, .916 Sv%, 3 SO) still reigns. While his GAA may inch up slightly this season (due to Torts’ “offense first” system), he’s still going to put up All-Star numbers. Lundqvist is a keeper in any league.

Schedule Analysis: ISSUE – What issue? The Rangers have one of the easiest schedules in the NHL, featuring just 13 back-to-back sets (no team has less than 11) and only one road trip longer than 3 games (25 March – 6 April, @NJD, TOR, NYI, TBL, FLA and BUF).

Sunday, Bloody Sunday – OGA looks at the post-Heatley Ottawa Senators.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.

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