Saturday, May 30, 2009

Eyeballing the Franchise- The Goalies

One of the most frustrating things about seeing so many mock drafts out there is that most tend to make it look like a beauty pageant and not a true reflection of a team's true needs. Making a pick is based on so many different factor made even worse by your draft position.

The only way to figure out what the Rangers needs are would be to look at what is already in the system whether it is the Rangers, the Wolfpack, the Charlotte Checkers or in the prospect ranks. Just looking at the Rangers and saying "well they need this" is just not enough because the help just might be on the way sooner than one thinks.

In our eyes given that the Rangers have "goalie guru" Benoit Allaire then they should be developing more NHL level goalies. NHL level starting goalies have high "resale" value; you can turn someone who you spent a 3rd or lower draft pick on into a valuable trading chip to help fill holes you may have elsewhere.

For the last 3 years, we have told anyone who would listen that the Rangers needed to add more goalies to their system as well as prospect pool. For the last 3 years we have been told that we are crazy since the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist.

Yes Henrik Lundqvist is one of the very best goalies not only in the NHL but in the entire hockey world, no question about it. Still we have a couple of concerns that actually start with words out of Lundqvist's own mouth.

Over the last 2 seasons, Henrik Lundqvist has made mention that he was feeling worn down either during the season or in the case of this past season after the playoffs. When you go back and look at how much he has played no wonder.

Not counting exhibitions, over the last 3 regular seasons Lundqvist has appeared in 212 regular season games last season and then another 27 more in the playoffs. That is a number that is begging to send Lundqvist to a season or career ending injury.

Should we mention who will be the starting goalie for Sweden at the 2010 Olympics? For us the smarter move would be to reduce the workload during the regular season to 55-60 games as we will leave you with this thought:

Close your eyes and imagine the Rangers losing Henrik as they did Mike Richter and Danny Blackburn. Then look at the 3 remaining goalies within the Ranger system and ask if you believe any of them could carry the Rangers like Henrik?

If you are like us then you agree a fresher Henrik can help reduce the chance of serious injury, a fresher Henrik also just might play better and longer during the playoffs. Having a second goalie who can step in should anything happen to Henrik is the worlds best insurance policy.

That being said then one has to ask why Stephen Valiquette has only appeared in 28 games over the last 2 regular seasons? When he has played it is not as if he has hurt the Rangers but most times played well.

Thus the question that has to be asked is "Do the Rangers lack confidence in Vally to handle an increased workload? Vally is popular with his teammates so we have seen them work hard in front of him but using him like the Rangers did makes you wonder.

Vally comes to the Rangers with a nice salary cap number but if the Rangers are not going to use him for more than 14 games a season then sorry they need someone else. Vally needs to play at least 25 games next season if this franchise is serious about getting better.

Matt Zaba has been one of the most pleasant of surprises for the Ranger system, as the former 2003 8th round pick of the Kings has moved his way up to the 3rd man on the Ranger goalie depth chart.

Zaba had an excellent season for Hartford going 25-10 with a 2.33 GAA and a .920 save percentage in just his second year with the Ranger franchise. Now the question is can Zaba continue to progress at age 26 or has he peaked?

For us the answer depends on the mindset that Zaba shows up with at training camp; if he shows up with the goal of just being the Ranger backup then send him to Hartford and get it over with.

The goal for Zaba has to be that he is there to become the Ranger starter Henrik or not. Yes one can say that is unrealistic but if something happens to Henrik then Zaba needs to show that he can "become the man". That is the biggest question facing Zaba as we see the tools, we see the smart positioning and we see the determination to be a winner but we want to see him showing up forcing the Rangers to keep him.

We want to see Zaba say "My goal is to be the Ranger starter come opening night and not go back to Hartford." Zaba has to believe that at any given moment he could become the Ranger starter and show it otherwise management will not have confidence in him in case Henrik does get hurt.

Remember Jason Labarbera? Glen Sather would not use him and in part we believe because he did not have confidence in his being able to play at the NHL level. That is why Zaba needs to show up with the "I am going to be your starting" goalie mindset.

Right now given his limited professional experience as well as his age then we project NHL backup unless Zaba makes the choice to not come to camp willing to be anyone's backup. If Henrik gets hurt then Zaba had best show Tortorella that he can play at the NHL level or they will trade for someone else.

Miika Wiikman started last season as the starter for Hartford last season but he struggled with his game and Zaba passed him by. Was Wiikman a one season wonder or will he return to the form that led the Rangers to trade Al Montoya?

Right now there is no way we would look upat Wiikman as anything but an AHL goalie under any circumstances. It was not that Zaba just outplayed Wiikman; it was Zaba blew right by and never looked back.

Being the 4th goalie on the depth charts is in many ways the worst spot to be in. You are closer to the ECHL than you are the NHL and if the Rangers decide to bring in another goalie then you are the one most likely to be traded or cut loose.

The only prospect among the Ranger goalies is 2007 2nd round pick Antoine Lafleur but with the clock ticking on Lafleur's draft rights nobody knows if the Rangers will sign him.

Lafleur as we have documented over the last couple of years is a frustrating prospect to watch. When his game is on you do potential for him; the problem is that Lafleur since being drafted has never put together a string of games to carry his team.

Nobody ever likes to say that a high draft pick does not deserve a Ranger contract but in this case Lafleur has to look at himself for blame. At best give him a one year Hartford contract and assigned him to Charlotte next season to either show the potential or cut him loose.

In any event regardless of the 4 current Ranger goalies, the bottom line is that the Rangers are lacking in depth at goaltender.
It is an area that the Rangers need to address with the next draft or continue this game of praying nothing happens to Henrik Lundqvist.

The 2009 NHL Entry Draft is going to offer up some very good goalies who the Rangers would be able to grab with a 3rd round or later draft pick. You will have to wait until the next issue of the Blueshirt Bulletin to see who we would want to see the Rangers grab we are sorry to say.

In any case adding a goalie is something we feel the Rangers must do at the next draft.

(Pictures Courtesy of Lundqvist and Valiquette/NHL Media, Zaba and Wiikman/New York Rangers, Lafleur/Rouyn-Noranda Huskies)


Canyon of Blueshirts said...

Lundqvist has played a ton over the past few seasons and I think he will continue to do so. Of course I'd rather see the load lightened for him but can Valliquete handle the extra weight?

Jess Rubenstein said...


That is just it, if Vally can not handle the weight then they need to upgrade the backup position.

If Vally can not handle 20 games in a season then the Ranger season would be over if Lundqvist breaks anything and is out more than a month