The Rangers' missing piece

January, 18, 2012
1/18/12
12:17
PM ET
The number-crunching minds of Hockey Prospectus produced an article Wednesday (Insider) that seems to indicate that New York Rangers owner James Dolan may want to pump his brakes before he starts claiming the Cup is within the Blueshirts' grasp.

Author Rob Vollman produced a list of four teams whose success seems unsustainable given their past production levels. The team at the top of the list? Your New York Rangers.

Vollman cites higher-than-usual shooting percentages from several Rangers snipers -- including Brad Richards -- a statistic that tends to regress toward a player's career average over the course of a season. Additionally, the author notes puck-possession problems and the over-the-moon seasons of Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron, which are likely to come back to Earth during the second half.

Defensively, the Rangers are being boosted by Henrik Lundqvist's absurd .937 save percentage -- 14 points higher than his already impressive career high. He's also stopped almost 91 percent of shots while down a man. Unless he's this season's Tim Thomas, the Rangers will have a tougher second half when he and backup Martin Biron, who is also setting a career high, begin to regress from .935 to last season's more typical .922.


Vollman still projects a 104-point season for coach John Tortorella's team, which would certainly keep the Blueshirts in the conversation for the East's top seed. Still, it raises an interesting question about what the Rangers might be missing that could push them over the top.

According to CapGeek, the Rangers should have just under $5.5 million in cap space come the trade deadline. If GM Glen Sather were to make a move, how would that space best be spent? A few possibilities based on Vollman's article:

Defense

The Rangers' black-and-blue line has been battered since Day 1 this season. Michael Sauer remains out with a concussion. Steve Eminger (shoulder) is just now getting back onto the ice. Jeff Woywitka (foot) is still sporting a non-contact jersey in practice. And if Sidney Crosby has taught us anything, it's that a relapse by the post-concussed Marc Staal wouldn't be a total shock. The Canucks may have boasted the deepest D corps of any team in the NHL last season, and their run to the Cup was crushed by injuries to their back line. Adding an affordable high-end veteran (Tim Gleason, who is approaching free agency with last-place Carolina) or an affordable youngster in the doghouse who is signed beyond this season (Jeff Schultz in D.C.) could be a good investment.

Scoring

New York is third in the NHL in scoring differential but is averaging just 2.8 goals per game. What's that mean? Well, it means that Vollman may be on to something when he suggests that Lundqvist and Biron are the difference between a very good team and an elite Cup contender. To that end, the Rangers may want to add a little bit of cushioning to their scoring margin if the netminders shed their Superman capes in the second half. According to ESPN's Rumor Central, Buffalo could be looking for a shake-up, and (this is just speculation now) may be inclined to ditch underperforming forward Brad Boyes for cheap. In the three seasons prior to this one, Boyes has averaged 55-plus points. He's seen his ice time seriously shrink in Buffalo and could be one of those players who benefits from a change in scenery.

Again, a caution that those names are just based on circumstances that make me think they could be dealt and could help the Blueshirts. It's by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, what are your thoughts on late-season additions you'd like to see?

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