Last spring after being ousted from the playoffs by the Boston Bruins the New York Rangers were due for some change. They got it. A Stanley Cup winning coach was dismissed. In place of the fiery Tortorlla who’s bywords are; discipline, structure, consistency and effort is former Vancouver Canucks bench minder. It was expected that the more offensively minded players like Carl Hagelin, Rick Nash and Michael Del Zotto would (finally) flourish.

But that’s hardly the case. Del Zotto has once again found himself on the outside looking in. The Stouffville Ontario native has been punted from the lineup in a quarter of the season’s games. But why exactly? John Moore, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi each have worse on ice save percentages. Both Stralman and Moore are taking more penalties, and since none of the three is a fighter, the penalties are very comparable. No other Rangers blueliner is as likely to finish a shift in the offensive zone as Del Zotto either.

The New York Rangers are 25th in goals for heading into action on December 3rd. That’s a full ten places below where they finished last season (where MDZ played most games). They are producing at about half a goal per game below the number they put together in last years campaign. It could be just a coincidence that Del Zotto an offensive defenseman selected in the first round is regressing under an offensive minded coach.

More likely it has something to do with going from playing 23 minutes a night over the last two seasons to an anemic 18 this season. Where the time has come from is also revelatory. Under Tortorella Del Zotto played a respectable if not staggering 1:23 of shorthanded time on ice a game for each of the previous two seasons. On the other special team he an average of over 3 minutes a night. Now, he’s down to eight seconds a night of penalty kill time and just 2:30 per game of powerplay time.

It is pretty common for fans to scapegoat a player. sometimes fairly, others not. The media does it and no one who pays attention takes it too seriously. But when coaches do it, especially inaccurately, that’s something else entirely. Reading the future in goat entrails is just as easy and accurate as trying to forecast Alain Vigneault’s moves. Even working backwards with the facts to arrive at the current coach’s motivation is difficult.

In this case we have an offensive minded defenseman who’s finishing more shifts in the offensive zone than any other defenseman. While not known for his defense consistent use on the penalty kill under another coach does tend to indicate a player has some ability at a given task, and two seasons back the team’s penalty kill was better than this year’s edition. The powerplay which has improved under Vigneault is given a boost in opportunities when Del Zotto is in the lineup as only Falk draws more penalties among the Rangers defensemen.

So what gives? Has Del Zotto regressed to the level where he’s a  6th or 7th defensemen or is someone ignoring the facts?

Last year at about this time we took a look at some of the players expected to break their own personal glass ceiling.

 

David Perron: since the end of last season Perron has been traded to a a new address, but during the year is of course the story we’re after. The previous year was clearly his best on a points per game, and at a .912 ppg and a slide back from an elite level isn’t surprising. Unfortunately Perron’s slide was a bit worse than taking him back to average. His career PPG is .582, last seasons .520 probbly wrote his ticket out of town.

Sam Gagner: With another year of rising stats, it gets harder and harder to overlook Gagner. At just under .80 ppg on the season, arguing that Gagner is not capable of being a top flight center. The Oilers have possibly more problems than solutions, but Gagner is clearly not one of the problems. The only thing he needs to do now is peg the meter at over .70 fo a whole season.

Bryan Allen: Allen had an utterly average offensive season last year. His hits and blocked shots were right on the mean. And for just the fourth season in his career he got a taste of the playoffs. This time he doubled his career playoff games played. In game two against the Detroit Red Wings he picked up his first playoff point an assist.

Justin Falk: In his first full season withe Wild Falk was pushed aside by the emergence of Jonas Brodin. The arrival of  Ryan Suter also pushed out a player or two. Between his own still developing maturity, the lockout, and  the arrival of others Falk took a bit of step back last season. This year he will be a member of the New York Rangers.

Anton Khudobin: Playing  nearly a third of Boston’s games Khudobin put up  a very solid .920% with only sporadic stars on a Bruins team that never seemed to get out of third gear. At times he outplayed Tuukka Rask who signed an enormous contract this year. The Boston Bruins went on to the Stanley cup finals, in part because Khudobin’s solid play allowed them to protect Rask from the injuries he’s shown he is prone to him the past. This season he will be sharing the crease with the injury challenged Cam Ward in Raleigh.

Brandon Sutter: Last season was his second best goals per game season, and his first (s0rta) full season in Pittsburgh. The playoffs saw him gain just 3 points in fifteen games, but given how poorly the team did in the second round, it is unlikely much of the blame falls as the feet of one of the scions hockey’s first families.

Jiri Tlusty: If there is one player spotlighted last year who had the year I projected it is clearly this one. I projected a 20 goal season, before the lockout became every NHL fans living nightmare. I’m not sure even his biggest fans expected him to succeed wildly not just in having his best ppg total on the season, but simply his best career season.I’d pegged hi for 25g/55p across an 82 game season, in the truncated 48 game he had 23 goals, and 48 points both career highs. With the depth around him at both win and center, how high he flys this season will be limited only by how hard he works.

Look for a guide to next seasons potential breakouts in the coming weeks.

Some teams have continued to have a strong off season, others have spiraled into irrelevence through the attrition of free agency.

Best:

Washington Capitals: Locking up Karl Alzner at a very club friendly price was one of GMGM’s best movies. Last year he was second in time on ice for the team, and in the playoffs he was the second leading blueline scorer.

New York Rangers: Familiar face Carl Hagelin was locked up at a reasonable price, and new comer Justin Falk was signed at a bargain basement rate. With Falk’s arrival and the departure of several pieces the Rangers blueline will be younger next season.

Los Angeles Kings: Jake Muzzin is pretty solid young defenseman, and the Kings locked him up for two years at rate that will have some questioning the quality of Muzzin’s agent.

Montreal Canadiens: Michael McCarron, from the scouting reports I’ve gotten, McCarron is desperately in need of a situation where he isn’t the biggest body on the ice and strength and size won’t get him by, if he lands in either the AHL or NHL this year and doesn’t slide into Juniors he’ll get that.

Boston Bruins: Extending Patrice Bergeron and saving the world 25,000 columns on what the team would do without him ought to be counted as a Nobel Prize level act of humanitarian behavior. The NMC is irrelevant, I’m not sure how many general managers or team presidents would be foolish enough to move a player that well regarded and that talented who wanted to stay in the city.

Phoenix Coyotes: Max Domi has the potential to help transform the Coyotes offense, without being the type of defensive liability some of the players on the UFA market have historically been. If he lands in the NHL great, if he doesn’t he’s only played two years in the OHL and I’m sure the London Knights will welcome him back.

Worst:

Toronto Maple Leafs: Joe Colbourne? Why? This is a guy who hasn’t even excelled in the AHL.

Colorado Avalanche: Where is the defense?

Saint Louis Blues: Not getting Pietrangelo under lock and key or (much less desirably) traded for a stellar return is playing with fire, immediately after dipping your hands in gasoline.

New Jersey Devils: Arguably they can replace 27% of their offense from within and on the hopes that Ryder and Clowe can fill the production lost with Parise and Clarkson. I don’t happen to think they’ve own a productive enough offense, and they’ve left some quality hanging about on the free agent market.

This season will see lots of players in unfamiliar situations. Some are on new teams, some have had their teams overhauled, and others will be climbing up the depth chart. With all the movement, all the acquired experience, some players are due to rise and rise fast.

Jiri Tlusty has spent two full seasons in the Carolina Hurricanes system after three years with the Leafs. In that time he’s only hit double digits in goals twice. Last season was one of those years, and this might just be his year. In his 228 career games he’s go a meager 74 points, this year don’t be surprised if he cracks the 20 goal and fifty point plateaus, 25/55 isn’t outside possibility either.

Brandon Sutter has the unenviable job of filling Jordan Staal’s spot in the Pittsburgh Penguins depth chart. The good news for him is that everyone is expected to start the season healthy, meaning even if he’s on the ice, given the Penguins depth at forward, he’ll be the third or fourth player most opposing defenses look for, at least for a little while.

Anton Khudobin regardless of who owns the title of number one goaltender in Boston by the end of the season, all Khudobin has to do to have played his last AHL game is simply play smart. If he can do a solid job even as the number two, he will get a lot of interest from other teams when he becomes a UFA next July 1.

Justin Falk I’m a firm believer the best thing you can do for a young defenseman’s development is give them a good mentor. Falk and the Wild’s other youngins are going to have Suter to lean on. Look for his points to double, and his plus-minus to get a lot easier to look at.

Bryan Allen has never been known for his offensive touch. This year he’ll be playing alongside guys like Cam Fowler, and behind Perry, Getzlaf, and possibly Ryan. If Hiller can regain his mojo Allen might just have personal best point totals, and make it to the post season for the first time in since the last lockout. With all the offensive talent on this team, him hitting 30-35 points, as much as ten more than his previous career high is almost a given.

David Perron given the injuries this man has faced in the last couple seasons, last year might be considered a breakout season. 42 points in 57 games is a solid contribution on a very defensive minded team. Do not be surprised if he pops in seventy points this season. It is more than within his talent, and that even allows for the defensive nature of the Blues system.

Sam Gagner Its hard to remember that despite the 8 point night Gagner had about an average season for himself last year. Coming into this season though, there is no reason he can’t get slotted in between top six talent. Eberle, Hall, Paajarvi, Smyth, and potentially Yakupov this team should have a good amount of offense.