‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers’ power play has hit rock bottom over the course of the Stanley Cup Final. Following a dismal 0 for 6 showing in Game 3, the Blueshirts are now a combined 1 for 14 during the series.
Look no further than alternate captain Brad Richards as the main reason why the Rangers’ power play has fizzled. His overall game has disintegrated during the finals. The 34-year-old has not scored a point during the series and is a minus-four through three games. Richards is without a point in his past five games, stretching back to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
It’s long overdue for Vigneault to banish Richards from the power play. He’s struggling to control the puck, is making sloppy turnovers and has a tendency to get burned in transition.
Yet, Vigneault continues to trot Richards out there like he’s some kind of elite power play specialist. More than half of his total minutes are coming on the power play — 8:47 alone in Game 3. It’s mind-boggling stuff.
Vigneault promoted Dominic Moore to center Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis toward the end of Game 3. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Vigneault stick with Moore on the line and demote Richards, who isn’t supplying his linemates.
VIGNEAULT MUST SHAKE IT UP IN GAME 4
It isn’t just Richards who should be removed from quarterbacking the Rangers’ power play. It’s puzzling why Vigneault continues to lean on both Richards and fellow alternate captain Dan Girardi to work the point.
Girardi spent 3:17 on the power play in Game 3, and was only able to register one shot on goal. Mirroring the fruitlessness of Richards, Girardi is without a point in his past five games and is minus-four during the Stanley Cup Final.
There are plenty of more offensively skilled candidates capable of offering more than either Richards or Girardi as a power play quarterback. Anton Stralman and Marc Staal each only played for 13 seconds on the power play in Game 3.
Should Stralman become an unrestricted free agent, a large number teams are expected to target the underrated 27-year-old as a player who solidify a penalty kill, improve a power play and provide overall defensive stability.
John Moore logged 1:52 on the power play in Game 3. Moore’s game is a bit raw, but he projects to one day become a gifted power play quarterback given his fast stride, passing abilities and powerful shot.
VIGNEAULT FINALLY GIVES NASH POWER PLAY CHANCE
After only spending 26 combined seconds on the power play in Games 1 and 2, Rick Nash finally was given a decent look in Game 3 as he logged 2:18 on the man advantage.
Nash’s play has divided Rangers fans. Some want to see more of Nash on the power play, as he’s considered one of the Rangers’ most talented stars. Others have criticized Nash for not driving hard to the middle and puck possession issues.
Vigneault praised Nash’s efforts in Game 3.
“I liked his effort level tonight,” Vigneault said. “He battled real hard like he’s done throughout the playoffs for us. Doesn’t have a lot to show for it, but he’s competing hard.”
Nash understands the importance of getting the Rangers’ power play back on track.
“Regular season, playoffs, finals – you’ve got to have your special teams clicking,” Nash said. “To score a power play goal, it’s a huge deal.”
No. 61 has been a hard-luck player throughout the playoffs. Nash has only scored three goals through 23 playoff games. He was better in Game 3. Eventually, the snake-bitten Nash should change for the better.
RICHARDS HAS PRETTY MUCH GUARANTEED HIS BUYOUT
To the surprise of most everyone last summer, Rangers general manager Glen Sather opted to retain Richards instead of exercising his final compliance buyout. The decision was a gamble and proved to be a wise one.
Richards played an instrumental role in pulling this team together after Sather shipped out former captain Ryan Callahan to acquire evergreen 38-year-old Martin St. Louis. Immediately, Richards stepped forward to assume the role of de facto captain. Along with the supremely-confident St. Louis, Richards helped instill an atmosphere of genuine self-belief in the Rangers’ dressing room.
Following the much-publicized falling out between Richards and former head coach John Tortorella, Vigneault was able to rebuild Richards’ confidence and squeezed the most out of a declining 34-year-old veteran. 51 points in 82 regular season games isn’t bad production. It just isn’t the kind of production that makes retaining Richards’ $6.67 million per year cap hit running through the 2019-20 season an intelligent decision.
Should Richards suffer a career-ending injury or retire during the remainder of the contract, the Rangers would be subjected to significant cap recapture penalties. Sather has until June 30 to decide whether to utilize his final amnesty buyout. Jettisoning Richards appears to be a no-brainer.
The Rangers’ roster will continue to evolve to suit Vigneault’s uptempo philosophies. Speed and puck possession are the two biggest trademarks of a Vigneault-coached team. Richards offers neither of these things. At his current age of 34 and beyond, Richards will continue to lose foot speed.
According to Capgeek.com, the Rangers have $53.9 million committed to 13 players including Richards. That figure does include the salaries of restricted free agents Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, John Moore and Justin Falk. Nor does that amount include potential unrestricted free agents Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Raphael Diaz, Dominic Moore and Dan Carcillo.
Next season’s salary cap is projected to be between $70-71.1 million. Buying out Richards would get the Rangers’ 2014-15 cap payroll commitments down to roughly $47.23 million. In addition to paying raises to a number of RFAs and re-signing key UFAs, the Rangers will be looking to extend alternate captain Marc Staal during the summer. Staal is set to earn $5.45 million in the final year of his five-year contract and is commanding an annual cap hit of $3.975 million.
Despite his likely buyout, Richards will be remembered as a Ranger who was a positive locker room influence. Rick Nash and Derick Brassard are among Rangers who have endorsed all-situation defenseman Ryan McDonagh as the Rangers’ next captain. McDonagh is considered a “captain in waiting” and will have benefited from studying the way Richards has conducted himself throughout the Rangers’ run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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