Welcome to part seven of our series as we span the teams of the NHL. The team we focused on is the New York Rangers and Russ Cohen of Sportsologywas kind enough to answer our questions. Russ also wrote the book “100 Rangers Greats” and now let’s get that show on the road.
New York Rangers Q&A — Russ Cohen
And away we go……..
1. The New York Rangers rode Lady Luck all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before bowing out to the Los Angeles Kings. What impressed you the most?
Henrik Lundqvist. Along the way he had some detractors in the Rangers fan base and I saw every game against Philadelphia where he was the best player on both teams and then Game 7 in Pittsburgh where he carried his team past the Penguins. It was huge, he was huge. So was Ryan McDonagh. Since covering him for NHL.com in his draft year he’s really grown. I got to know him during a book signing a while back and he’s a quality individual and now a top defenseman in the league too.
2. How much of a turning point was Chris Kreider’s return to the lineup?
It was huge. I covered the game in Philadelphia where he came back and had his “chance” to impress his new boss. I had covered him previously in the World Junior Championships so I had a baseline for him plus watching him in college and his early going with the Rangers under Tortorella. He came in with a cold stare in his eye. This was after practice and I knew that day he was here to stay. He was determined. He’s the only player I know that does around 75 push ups after every game. He’s crazy strong and now hard to handle especially when he heads towards the net.
3. Why does it seem like the Rangers always have to find far too hard in the playoffs to close out opponents?
It’s hard to explain. Players goal totals and numbers usually drop when they head to New York. A few have excelled but many have had a sight decline. Can’t tell you why and they tried to play a wide-open system. Possibly they just rely on Lundqvist too much and take their foot off the gas pedal in games a bit too much.
4. Now the Rangers have had some key depth departures in the offseason? How do you think they go about plugging those holes?
Well they signed Matthew Lombardi, and aging Dan Boyle and some AHL talent. They are pretty much capped out as they await arbitration or they can come to terms with key RFA’s. J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast will get a chance to make the team and if one of them is ready to make the jump it can be a big help. If both were ready the problem might be solved. Benoit Pouillot was a nice signing but for every one that works, 3 or 4 fail when you’re getting chancy players.
5. What does the buyout of Brad Richards really mean for the Rangers?
It was a means to an end and it gave them cap flexibility now and in the future. Down the road that over $6 million cap hit would have been an albatross.
6. New York has the possibility of three players heading to arbitration. Which player is the most likely to do so and why?
I think Derrick Brassard goes the distance. He was good, he’s never great or very consistent so they will roll the dice on that decision. I think Mats Zucarello will sign and Chris Kreider will sign at least a bridge deal but I’d offer him a long-term deal to ensure he’s a core player for years to come.
7. Henrik Lundqvist arguably was not a Top 5 goalie in the league last regular season. What does he have to do to get back to that level?
I think just having a normal schedule and not starting all those road games will help. The Garden renovation affected the entire team. They overcame it. As far as Lundqvist I think he won’t be dinged up early either. Remember, he had that early wrist injury that hampered his play for a while and hurt his stats.
8. What is wrong with RIck Nash? Does he put the funk he had in the playoffs behind him?
He’ll be okay in the regular season. Is he the Rick Nash of old? No, I think the concussions have hurt his eye-hand coordination. I wonder why he doesn’t take more one-timers. He has the best shot on the team but he kept trying to stickhandle past everybody and that part of his game is bad. He also has to get back to 30 assists and not 13 like last year. That’s just awful. He has never performed well in the playoffs so that’s a head scratcher.
9. Is there anyone in the pipeline we should keep an eye out for the big club?
Besides the two who I said were close. Brady Skjei is 2 seasons away I think. Calle Andersson is an offensive defenseman they can desperately use. He’s starting to play better in Sweden and he overcame an injury. At 20 he could be a year or two away as well. And then there’s Union Star Mat Bodie. At 24, he might take some time in the AHL and then perhaps can help the team this season or next if he proves he can play at the next level. He has offense in his game, and his defense is pretty good. He could surprise the fans. Nobody is talking about him at all.
10. What is your prognosis for the 2014-15 season?
Right now they are a bubble team. If they don’t fill the roster out a bit better, they will struggle to make the playoffs. Maybe a trade will happen, that could help. Maybe Marc Staal gets dealt if he doesn’t get that extension he wants completed before the season begins.