By Doodie Machetto
Hello, my fellow Boneheads! What a great run, despite the tremendously disappointing finish. Those of you who are regulars and/or have been readers for a long time will know that if I love anything, it’s hearing the sound of my own voice (or reading my own words, in this case). I can hear the groans already: yes, it’s guest blogger time. And even worse for many of you, I am writing one. Bearing that in mind, I’m happy to present you with my player report cards. Just so you understand the basis of my grades, each player has received two; one for the regular season and one for the playoffs. Also, the grades were based upon expectations of the player, such as value in relation to cap hit, the team’s expected role of the player, and my own personal expectations.
Henrik Lundqvist (B+/A+) – After a very shaky start to the season, which actually had some professional pundits questioning whether Lundqvist was ever going to be the same goaltender due to the reduction in pad size, Lundqvist rebounded with a terrific second half of the season. His playoffs were otherworldly, to the point that if the Rangers had managed to extend the series to seven games, he would have been a lock to win the Conn Smythe regardless of the game’s outcome. He certainly answered a lot of questions regarding his ability to raise his game in the playoffs. If I had to have a complaint, is it me or does it seem like every breakaway ends up in the back of our net?
Cam Talbot (A+/C) – Where did this guy come from? Instantly provided relief for Lundqvist after the beleaguered Martin Biron was forced into retirement singlehandedly by Tomas Hertl. He was so good while Lundqvist was struggling that some idiots were even suggesting there was a goaltending controversy. His two playoff appearances in relief of Lundqvist did not match his regular season play, especially that rotten period and a half against Montreal.
Martin Biron (F) – I just wanted to briefly mention Biron to say what a class act he was in handling his being waived and retiring. Signing the stick from the Sharks game and giving it to Tomas Hertl is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
Ryan McDonagh (A+/A-) – What else can be said about McMonster? We watched him blossom into one of the top 10 best defensemen in the league. Remember when that idiot reporter said he was a maybe for the American Olympic Team? He had a very slow start to the playoffs, which may have been injury-related, but starting with Game 5 in Pittsburgh, he rebounded into top form, not only defensively, but also leading our team in scoring from that point on, by a wide margin. In the Final, his partner repeatedly let him down, and he flew the zone too quickly in Game 1, but otherwise was our best skater in the series. By the time that contract is up it will be the biggest bargain in the league.
Dan Girardi (B+/D) – Was his usual consistent presence defensively, allowing McDonagh to join the rush more often and expand his offensive game. He still snow angels too much, though. Had a pretty nondescript playoffs until the Final, which was just a total nightmare for him. Hopefully he rebounds or that new contract will be an anchor.
Marc Staal (C+/B) – First the bad news. Staal will never be the player he was drafted to be, and it appeared he would develop into. I don’t know if it was the concussion, the eye injury, both, or neither, but he just isn’t going to be that top pairing level defenseman that he appeared on track to becoming. He did, however, prove to be an effective second pairing defenseman. Some early struggles in the regular season were ironed out and he entered the playoffs in great form. Through the first 11 games, he was a beast, but oddly enough, as the rest of the team took off starting in Game 5 against Pittsburgh, Staal started to decline and by the time the playoffs were over, he was being regularly outplayed by his partner, Anton Stralman.
Anton Stralman (B+/A+) – Stralman has greatly changed his game over the past couple of seasons, going from a mediocre puck mover to a legitimate defensive defenseman. In the playoffs, he was our most consistently good defenseman, and he even added big hits to his repertoire. Unfortunately, he’s probably played himself off the team via larger UFA contract. IF they can bring him back at the term and price suggested by Larry Brooks (4X4), I’d be pretty happy.
John Moore (C-/F) – I still have not seen anything from Moore that even resembles the promise he showed in the 2013 season after being acquired in the Gaborik trade. His performance in the playoffs was poor, especially as they went deeper, culminating in his abject failure in the Final.
Kevin Klein (C+/B+) – Struggled a bit early after being acquired, but rounded into better defensive form the longer he was with the team. He also has a good read of when to join the play within the offensive zone, but has absolutely no finishing skills.
Raphael Diaz (A-/D-) – Was a breath of fresh air when he finally got his chance to play, helping provide a different look for a power play that desperately needed a spark. Played well enough during McDonagh’s absence to raise questions as to whether it should have been him playing over Moore. When given the opportunity to do so in the playoffs, he was overwhelmed, particularly in Game 1 of the Final.
Rick Nash (B-/D-) – Led the team in regular-season goal scoring, but did not score nearly enough in doing so. Rounded out his defensive game and became an effective penalty killer. Just did not engage at all in the scoring areas. His improved defensive play is the only reason his playoffs weren’t an F. AV’s No. 1 assignment this summer is to figure out how to get Nash scoring again or his contract will be an albatross.
Derek Stepan (B/B) – A slow start to the season was turned around later in the year. Had as many brilliant moments in the playoffs as he did invisible nights. Showed tremendous heart in playing through the broken jaw, although he was clearly drained by the time the Final was over. Overall, it was definitely a decline from his performance last year that actually made me wonder whether he could be a No. 1 center, although this time around he finally showed up a little bit in the playoffs.
Chris Kreider (B/A) – Often lost in the France St. Louis story-line was THE Kreider’s return to the lineup. He needs to work on his finishing skills, but is coming along as some player, especially as a retriever on the power play. His burst on his first few strides have to be in the top five in the league in combined power and speed.
Martin St. Louis (F/B+) – During the regular season, the Callahan trade looked like an absolute disaster. A decent start to the playoffs erased some of those concerns, but after the tragic passing of his mother, he became a leader, both on the scoreboard and in the dressing room. Bonus points for leading the team in playoff goals, although the total was a bit low, and his overall point total was even less.
Brad Richards (B-/D+) – All season, he was a great player with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, but was a pretty much a liability in any other scenario. Wore down as the season went on, to the point where he was competing with John Moore for the distinction of being the worst skater on either team in the Final. However, he did score some huge goals in the earlier rounds. If he can swallow his pride, he can be a very effective role player for a serious Cup contender.
Carl Hagelin (B+/A+) – Very defensively responsible during the regular season, his offensive game took a hit as a result of having to cover for Richards and Callahan/St. Louis’ regular season struggles. In the playoffs, Hagelin, Boyle, and Moore were our most consistently excellent forwards, in that order.
Mats Zuccarello (A+/B+) – Our best forward throughout the regular season, he even began adding an agitating element to his game. He plays with onions as big as the building. After leading the team in scoring in the regular season, he and his line were up and down during the playoffs.
Derick Brassard (A-/A-) – His play at center helped make his line the Rangers’ best throughout the season. After a slow start to the playoffs, he rebounded to be very important for the long run, especially in the Pittsburgh series.
Benoit Pouliot (B/B-) – At the beginning of the season, I said how much I liked when he went to the front of the net, but he takes way too many offensive-zone penalties. Well, allow me to repeat: I like when goes to the front of the net, but he takes way too many offensive-zone penalties. If he could cut down on the stupidity, he would be a much more important player for the team.
Derek Dorsett (B/C) – Formed part of an effective fourth line, albeit the least important and most replaceable part. I thought he was not very good in the playoffs, as his lack of finish ability caused a lot of work of his linemates to be wasted with plays dying on his stick.
Brian Boyle (B+/A+) – Provided his consistently solid fourth line play and penalty killing, and also provided his consistently elevated playoff performance. He’s going to get grossly overpaid on the open market, but I’m thankful for the years of service he’s given us.
Dominic Moore (A/A+) – He only cost us a million dollars! His play in the playoffs allowed AV to have some flexibility with his lineup by moving Moore up and down the lineup. And while in his chance at second line center demonstrated why he’s best suited as a fourth line center, he didn’t embarrass himself, either. Hopefully he returns at a decent number.
Daniel Carcillo (B+/A) – I think he outplayed Dorsett from the moment he arrived. He was absolutely huge in the Philadelphia series. Sure, he can do dumb things, but I like the rest of his game way more than Dorsett’s. I’d look to trade Dorsett for a mid to late round pick and retain Carcillo for much less than Dorsett makes. The savings there could mean the difference between retaining and not retaining one of Stralman or Boyle.
J.T. Miller (C-) – Showed some flashes of potentially being a good third-liner in the future, but questions about attitude and conviction were raised by AV. That’s a very bad sign for a player who is valued for his physical play over his talent. Hopefully he continues to mature and develops into a solid contributor in the future.
Alain Vigneault (A/B+) – He is cool as a cucumber and stayed with line combinations to give them time to work and form chemistry. Shuffled the lines when they needed to be shuffled to help get certain players going. Couldn’t figure out the power play, especially in the playoffs. Was also outcoached a bit in the Final when he could not make adjustments to match the adjustments made by Darryl Sutter.
Glen Sather (B+) – Fired Torts and brought in AV. That turned out to be a great move. Had the Banff trip which was a needless disaster. Traded Michael Del Zotto for Klein in a move that was successfully balanced out the defense, but it inhibited his ability to get Stralman under contract during the season because of salary structure. Not doing so allowed Stralman to even further increase his value with his strong playoff performance. He got Girardi resigned to a contract that is well below market value. Handled the Callahan situation well, although overpaid a bit for St. Louis considering the Rangers were the only possible market for his services. Still, the moves paid off with a trip to the Cup Final. The drawback is that without making another trade, we will be without a first round pick for three consecutive seasons. That’s a tough obstacle for the franchise’s long-term prospects. Also, despite my severe skepticism, he did the right thing in buying out Brad Richards.
Photos by Getty Images.