Are the Rangers a Playoff Team?

The one question every Rangers fan has pondered since the moment Olli Jokinen’s feeble shootout attempt on April 11, 2010 against the Flyers in a do-or-die game went awry is this: are the Rangers good enough to be a playoff team in 2010 – 2011? We watched the Flyers, who qualified for the postseason as a result of their win in the season’s 82nd game, roll all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. We wondered how we would have done in the playoffs had we been the winner of that play-in game. The goal for this team is to make the playoffs; the question is has this team improved enough to be a playoff team in 2011.

Naturally last year’s squad was just one win away from making it. The club didn’t necessarily have to make any big changes over the summer. It’s possible the Rangers could have made up the one-win difference simply with the return to norm of a couple of veteran players and/or the improvement of some young players. Slats still made a few additions to the roster. Let’s see if the Rangers faithful can be comfortable that those changes were enough to lead the team to the postseason.

The Rangers made adding a proven back-up net minder a priority and got one of the more sought after options in Martin Biron. Biron has been a starter previously in stops with Buffalo and Philadelphia. He has over 400 career starts on his resume to go with 208 wins against 176 regulation losses. His career GAA is 2.63 while his save % is .910.

Last year, the goalies other than The King, recorded a record of 3 – 6 with a GAA of 3.01 and a save % of .899. It stands to reason that if Biron performs to his career norm, the Rangers will be at least one win better than they were last year solely based on this improvement.

Of course another effect to adding Biron is the club will have to rely less on Lundqvist. With more rest it’s possible Lundqvist is sharper and wins more games later in the season. Lundqvist made 73 appearances last season but if Biron is both healthy and effective, it’s likely The King will only have to start between 60 and 65 contests next season.

While clearly the upgrade in net may be enough in and of itself to propel the club to the postseason, the Rangers also made a couple of moves to improve their offense. Let’s break down the offseason additions and subtractions to the Rangers roster. First the losses:

Player GP G A Pts PPG
Olli Jokinen 26 4 11 15 0.58
Enver Lisin 57 6 8 14 0.25
PA Parenteau 22 3 5 8 0.36
Aaron Voros 41 3 4 7 0.17
Wade Redden 75 2 12 14 0.19
Jody Shelley 21 2 4 6 0.29

As far as production goes, there isn’t a significant point-producer in the bunch. Jokinen was brought in to add scoring but aside from his shootout blunder provided just .58 PPG. No one on this list is irreplaceable. In fact, the biggest loss may have been that of Jody Shelley. He was a vital clubhouse presence and chipped in effectively from the 4th line. He got a 3 year offer from Philadelphia which is quite a commitment for a 34 year-old enforcer.

Now let’s get a quick look at the Blue Shirts adds.

Player GP G A Pts PPG
Alexander Frolov 81 19 32 51 0.63
Todd White 65 7 19 26 0.40
Steve Eminger 63 4 12 16 0.25
Ruslan Fedetenko 80 11 19 30 0.38
Derek Boogaard 57 0 4 4 0.07
Tim Kennedy 78 10 16 26 0.33

Frolov is the key addition from an offensive perspective. He signed a 1 year contract for $3 million. Last year was a downer for the talented Russian; he scored just 51 points. However, he has recorded seasons of 35 and 32 goals in 2006-2007 and 2008-2009 respectively. In fact I did a little look-see at Frolov’s numbers and found his scoring is closely tied to his PPTOI (power play time on ice). Here’s a breakdown.

Season GP Pts PPG PP Pts ATOI PPATOI Pts/Min PP Pts/PP Min
06-'07 82 71 0.87 28 19.93 4.47 0.043 0.076
07-'08 71 67 0.94 18 18.78 3.62 0.050 0.070
08-'09 77 59 0.77 25 19.92 3.38 0.038 0.096
09-'10 81 51 0.63 13 18.43 2.28 0.034 0.070

One consistency I saw here was with Frolov’s production on the PP. He has averaged at least .07 points per minute of PP time. The outlier was his 2008-2009 season when he was close to .1 points per minute. This chart leads me to believe that Frolov will produce on the PP but what about at even strength? Here’s a chart of Frolov’s even strength work.

Season GP Pts PPG ES Points ES ATOI ES Pts/ES Min
06-'07 82 71 0.87 41 13.92 0.036
07-'08 71 67 0.94 49 14.95 0.046
08-'09 77 59 0.77 32 14.08 0.030
09-'10 81 51 0.63 38 14.78 0.032

Frolov has been a little less consistent with his production at even strength. The question is how much of that may be a result of his playing with inferior linemates. Last season Frolov was planted firmly in coach Terry Murray’s dog house. Frolov spent much of his ES time on the 3rd line. That’s not necessarily a place to produce a lot of offense.

When plugging in his lowest point per minute numbers (.03 ES points per minute, .07 PP points per minute) and extrapolate that out over a higher number of PPATOI (4.5 minutes) and normal ESATOI (14 minutes) then Frolov should be good for roughly 60 points; 26 goals and 34 assists. I’d take that all day long.

I believe just solely by virtue of these two additions the Rangers are a playoff team. All the club needs is normalcy from these additions and the same effort from the returning players to meet this goal.

Of course the Rangers should also see some of their young players progress too. Michael Del Zotto showed he can QB the PP and finished his rookie campaign with 37 points (9 goals, 28 assists). MDZ played the entire season as a 19 year-old but still finished 2nd on the squad with 22 PP points.

Naturally it wasn’t all rosy for the rookie; he had his troubles playing defense. He’s had the rep of being a below average player in his own zone since junior but the Rangers expect him to get better in that area. If he does then he should see more than the 18:58 of ice time he averaged last season. An increase in ice time could also lead to an increase in points.

MDZ isn’t the only 2nd year defenseman the Rangers are looking to for improvement. Matt Gilroy was expected to provide an offensive boost to the lineup after a Hobey Baker winning season in his senior year of college. Instead he finished with just 15 points in 69 games. He also failed to impress with his inability to play physical defense. Gilroy is stronger this year and may be ready to turn the page on a disappointing rookie campaign.

The Rangers also imported the Norwegian hobbit, Mats Zucarello-Aasen (MZA) from the SEL. MZA impressed at the Olympic games this past winter. He performed well on the smaller ice surface which led to him being a very attractive UFA. The Rangers won the bidding by virtue of their lack of scoring in the big league lineup. MZA didn’t make the club out of camp but will surely be an early call-up if the need for skill arises.

I also suspect Brandon Dubinsky is due for another increase in goal scoring. Dubi hit the 20 goal mark for the first time in his 3 year career last year and did it in 69 contests. Last year Dubi finished with an average of just 2:07 of PP ice time. I would guess if slotted in the top 6 and given closer to 3 minutes per game of PP ice time, Dubi could increase his goal scoring to perhaps 25 or more this year.

Let’s also remember that the Rangers have one of the league’s best goalies in Henrik Lundqvist. If he’s healthy the Rangers should be in the playoff mix regardless of what goes on around him. He’s led the club to the postseason in 4 of his 5 previous seasons not always with a lot of talent around him. The Blue Shirts are one of the lucky few teams that can count on having a legit franchise net minder.

If you ask me today if the Rangers have a legitimate shot to win a Stanley Cup the answer is of course no. If you ask me whether this team should make the playoffs I will say yes. Between the talent returning, a couple key offseason moves and the fact I can see a couple teams that made last years dance falling out this year, the Rangers should slot into one of the last playoff spots in the East. After that there are no guarantees.

Ranger notes: The Rangers placed Todd White and Tim Kennedy on waivers just to create roster flexibility should a player the Rangers wanted was waived. That didn’t happen so both players should be on the ice Saturday in the season opener against Buffalo.

By placing them on waivers and no one claiming either player, the Blue Shirts can now safely send either player to Hartford with no risk of losing them for the next 30 days. After that if they wish to demote either they will have to place them on waivers again.

I am somewhat surprised no one made a claim on Kennedy. The Rangers were one of a few teams that showed interest in the winger after the Sabres bought him out of his arbitration awarded contract. I imagine those other teams have already filled their roster with other free agents or kids.

The Rangers also placed Forwards Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal on IR. Drury is expected to miss the first several games due to a broken index finger. I imagine White will be sent down as soon as Drury is ready to come back barring another injury elsewhere.

Prospal is more difficult to gauge. His injury may keep him out a while; in fact it could keep him out all year. He’s supposed to rest the knee completely for 2 weeks before looking again at it. As one of the players counted on for offense, the loss of Prospal would hurt though it does give White or someone else a chance to shine in the interim.

In good news for Rangers faithful, Derek Stepan made the big club and is slated to skate with Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedetenko on the 3rd line. Stepan impressed in pre-season with 3 goals and 5 points in 5 games. He also scored a nifty shootout goal in a win over the Senators last week. I anticipate the Rangers will give him a 20 game trial before deciding what to do with him. If he plays well then he stays, if he struggles then he may go to Hartford.

Comments

George Prax's picture

I think the Rangers are definitely a better team this year than they were last year. The distractions are all but gone, the defense is young but ready to break out, and they finally have some good offensive weapons.

Problem is, the rest of the east is better (or just as good) as well. Rangers are going to be in the dog fight along with the rest of the teams from 6th to 13th.