The road to John Tortorella’s doghouse is paved with brutal sound bytes.
“I’ve said all along that I think Chris [Kreider] has a lot to learn about the game and a lot to learn about being a pro, so this isn’t a shock to me,” the Rangers coach said when the rookie was returned to the AHL Connecticut Whale this March. Tortorella’s comments, while harsh, surprised few after he had called Kreider “God awful” during his debut in last year’s playoffs.
Tortorella is a coach notorious for his vocal displeasure with certain players (and media members). He has a reputation of being particularly hard on rookies, going back to his early days in Tampa Bay.
Should this tendency worry Rangers fans, though? Increasingly, as advanced statistics gain traction in pro sports, coaches who punish rookies to reward the old guard look to be on the wrong side of history. Think of Nashville coach Barry Trotz, Tortorella’s closest analogue in the Western Conference, who has — rightly or wrongly — earned a reputation of ruining offensive prospects by putting them in his doghouse.
Turns out in the case of Kreider, however, the advanced statistics agree with Tortorella — and emphatically so.
The pressure for the Rangers to add to their forward depth eased somewhat with news that Ryan Callahan’s shoulder injury was not as serious as originally feared. Instead of a full dislocation, Callahan suffered a partial subluxation and will miss between 10 – 14 days as opposed to possibly six weeks or longer. But because the Rangers were in search for more help at forward prior to Cally’s injury and tried to sign Jason Arnott as a result, it’s likely they will continue to scour the market looking for the right fit.
With Arnott officially eliminated by Glen Sather and the Rangers, other players linked recently to the club are: Daymond Langkow, Petr Sykora and Brian Rolston. One player still available as a free agent but unlikely to play this season is Dominic Moore. Moore’s wife recently passed away from liver cancer and hockey is surely the last thing on Moore’s mind at this difficult time.
Before we get into the advanced stats, my preferred method of player comparison, let’s take a look at the players through a different prism; my fans eye.
Recently Neil Greenberg of ESPN.com released his Top 25 Under 25 list, ranking the best players under the age of 25. Shockingly he didn’t include Rangers D Ryan McDonagh, which appears on the surface to be an egregious omission. Ranger fans, I among them, believe McDonagh is already one of the best defensive defensemen in the league regardless of age. Why he isn’t listed on Greenberg’s list is, on the surface at least, a mystery.
Evidently, we are not alone in our disbelief. In a follow up piece, Craig Custance polled random NHL executives who had looked at Greenberg’s compilation. One was quoted as saying, “McDonagh for me would be well up there. Just his maturity alone,” he said. “I didn’t hear Michael Del Zotto either.”
Del Zotto aside let’s look at how McDonagh compares to the defenseman Greenberg included on his list. First, let’s be sure we understand the criteria utilized by Greenberg.
The New York Ranger front office proved that despite the lockout they are still hard at work adding depth to the organization. The club recently signed Matt Gilroy to an AHL deal with the Whale leading New York Post scribe Larry Brooks to speculate that the Rangers will add the defenseman to the NHL roster once the lockout officially concludes. The move might be met with disinterest or even befuddlement by Ranger fans who remember the former Hobey Baker’s first tenure in New York as a disappointment but at least one person with the club wanted Gilroy back last season.
In an interview with Rick Carpiniello of Rangers Report conducted in June of 2011 and linked again on this site, Tortorella vocalized his “interest” in seeing Gilroy return to the team. Torts cited Gilroy’s improved play during the last quarter of the 2011 regular season and the playoffs in support of his interest. Considering how demanding Torts is of his players any endorsement he gives means something.
Understandably fans might be skeptical of Gilroy given his relatively lackluster performance overall in his two seasons on Manhattan. When Gilroy first signed with the team he was a highly sought after undrafted free agent and entered the league with expectations attached that were probably too optimistic. Remember though that Gilroy had flip-flopped from forward to defense while at Boston University and had zero professional experience upon joining the Rangers. Perhaps the expectations heaped upon Gilroy upon his arrival in the league were just unrealistic.
Advanced Stats: Analyzing Del Zott’s VUKOTA projection
In our previous post we introduced ESPN.com’s Summer Skate preview of the 2012-2013 New York Rangers. Using Hockey Prospectus’ VUKOTA projection system, Timo Seppa discusses how VUKOTA projects the 2012-2013 season for one player whose performance is predicted to be on the rise and one expected to decline. Marc Staal is destined to rebound from an injury-plagued campaign and post an improved GVT according to VUKOTA. On the flip side, VUKOTA predicts Michael Del Zotto to fail to perform up to last year’s standard. Let’s review the case against a repeat performance from Del Zotto.
Last season Del Zotto began to put it all together after an up-and-down start to his brief career. The talented former first-round draft choice in 2008 broke into the league with a bang in 2009-2010 recording 37 points in 80 games as a 19 year-old rookie and posting a very solid GVT rating of 6.4. A vast majority of that GVT came courtesy of his offense where he was a 6.0 GVT.
Advanced Stats: Analyzing the Vukota projection for Marc Staal
Prior to the beginning of each of the last few seasons ESPN in conjunction with the folks over at Hockey Prospectus publish their “Summer Skate” series. Using Hockey Prospectus’ Vukota projection system, the articles look at one player from each team who is projected to improve upon his GVT rating from the year before and one who is expected to fail to produce up to last season’s performance. Meanwhile, Craig Custance of ESPN identifies one prospect he believes could make a splash for his team.
Timo Seppa drew the Atlantic Division this year (here’s the post on ESPN.com) and his “trending up” choice for the Rangers is defenseman Marc Staal. Michael Del Zotto meanwhile is pegged to turn in a down season relative to his performance of a year ago. Custance concludes the piece writing about the Rangers 2011 1st round pick, JT Miller as a “player to watch.”
In a deal nearly everyone sees as a clear win for New York, the Rangers at last were able to acquire winger Rick Nash from Columbus. To be fair to Columbus GM Scott Howson, the package he received in exchange for Nash was probably the best he could do given the situation. Even though he likely could have made the same deal at the trade deadline he was under no pressure to do so. There was always a chance that by waiting until summer to move Nash the market would improve. It isn’t as if not trading him in February cost the Blue Jackets a playoff berth or anything.
Nash is the player whom Sather long ago targeted to add the scoring punch needed for the Blue Shirts to take the next step in the playoffs. His offensive ability can’t be questioned though critics point out he was never able to put the Jackets on his back, so to speak, and carry them into the playoffs single-handedly. In truth I don’t believe there are many non-goaltenders that have the ability to turn a mediocre club into a playoff squad on their own.
The one legitimate question that has been raised is how has Nash’s performance been affected by the lack of a quality team around him in Columbus. Proponents of the deal from the Rangers perspective are of the belief that with better talent to play with in New York Nash will produce bigger numbers. Others feel that three straight seasons posting fewer goals than the previous year is indicative that Nash’s offensive production has peaked and Ranger fans should temper their expectations.
For Ranger fans looking for excitement this offseason it’s been a relative bore through the first three weeks of the summer. No big trade for Nash, Yandle or Ryan; no splashy free agent signings. In fact, another high-profile Ranger target, Shea Weber, passed on the Blue Shirts reportedly in favor of signing a huge offer sheet with the rival Flyers. While that hurts in and of itself, Weber’s rejection might also increase pressure on Slats to make a big move to add a scorer sooner rather than later.
Regardless of what may or may not happen in the weeks to come as it pertains to Nash, Ryan, etc., Slats has not sat on his hands this summer. He hasn’t made any headline moves but has made several additions to improve depth in the organization. Perhaps the most important of those depth additions was the recent signing of UFA center Jeff Halpern.
At this point it’s anyone’s guess whether the long anticipated trade of Rick Nash will ever actually go down. This story has dragged on since February and it appears as if we are still no closer to a resolution. While countless rumored return packages have been proposed in the media, then dissected and criticized by the fans, until a trade is finally consummated or Scott Howson reveals publicly exactly what players he wants in return for his franchise player (which would be a violation of the league’s tampering rules) no one knows for sure how high a price Columbus is demanding.
However some close to the situation, including Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, would seem to have a better idea than most. Portzline made an appearance on WFAN on July 7th (as noted here on SNYRangersblog) and indicated a deal could get done for Nash if the Rangers offered Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan and a first-round pick. Since a trade has not been made it would seem the Rangers are unwilling to move Stepan. That belief is supported by Larry Brooks who wrote as much in the NY Post (again noted on this site) last month.
Rangers GM Glen Sather continued bargain hunting for affordable forward depth with the signing of UFA LW Taylor Pyatt to a two-year deal Tuesday. The AAV of Pyatt’s deal is $1.55 million. In essence Sather utilized the money saved by allowing Brandon Prust to leave by allocating it to two players, Asham and now Pyatt. The stated plan this summer was to improve the depth on the roster and getting two useful players for the price of one is a good way to do just that. Just how useful Pyatt will be remains to be seen but we can at least get an idea based on past performance.
Here’s how Pyatt has fared in the advanced metrics I like to use to analyze a player’s effectiveness in helping his club possess the puck and tilt the ice in their favor.