As the New York Rangers prepare for tonight’s matchup against the Boston Bruins, there is an elephant sitting in the dressing room. Dylan McIlrath isn’t quite ready to put his knee back in the game so he remains a scratch. The question is, who will watch the game with him?
Kevin Hayes is 6’5″ and 225lbs but seems as though he desires playing softer than Rick Nash lately. Hayes is a natural center who clearly is not adjusting well to the wing. He has posted 12 goals for 32 points in 71 games this season. That doesn’t seem like a bad year on the surface, but when you break things down it’s not that great either. Hayes started the season playing well. He managed to post 15 points in 25 games. He was averaging close to 14 minutes of ice time per game and, most importantly, the team was winning. December yielded two points in 12 games for Hayes. Not only was he left off the score sheet frequently, he started playing lazy. His total hits on the season are 53, he’s blocked 22 shots, and his carelessness earned him 30 minutes of penalties. He isn’t playing smart with the puck and he isn’t doing much to help his team. All players will say, “if I’m not scoring, I better find a way to be useful or I’ll sit.” Hayes’s ice time started dropping in the last five games, including only five and a half minutes against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday 13 March. Now it’s time for him to sit and think about what he wants to do about his sub par performances. His size and strength make him a valuable commodity, but not when he fails to use them to his advantage.
Oscar Lindberg is a 6’1″, 195lb wrecking ball of a player. He doe not care who you are, if your sweater doesn’t match his, he will hit you. With only 66 games to his credit this season, Lindberg boasts 12 goals for 26 points while averaging roughly only 12 minutes of ice time per game. With 127 hits in his freshman season, clearly Lindberg is not intimidated by the names on the back of his opponent’s sweaters. Lindberg has a little more time in the sin bin than Hayes, but he is playing a much stronger game. Lindberg has a beautiful chemistry going with Viktor Stalberg, which cannot be denied. Plus minus is a terrible stand alone statistic however let’s compare Lindberg’s +11 to Hayes’s +3 goal differential. Lindberg is scoring and not allowing goals against. He’s on a line who is playing a strong two-way game, this is vitally important given the struggles the Rangers seem to have in the net recently. The Rangers are at a point in the season where they need guys who do the little things on the ice as much as possible. Lindberg slots over when necessary to fill open ice, he handles the puck well, and covers his defensemen who join the rush.
Both players are centermen, though Lindberg is showing more versatility this season. He shifts between the wing and center in a fairly seamless manner and doesn’t hesitate to win draws when he finds himself in the circle. Lindberg was an early candidate for the Calder Trophy, until the Rangers’ “fearless leader”, Alain Vigneault, decided to convert the rookie into a press box fixture.
Neither player will know who is in, and who is out, until game time. So both will dress, both will prepare, and one will be left with animosity. Adrenaline doesn’t just go away once an athlete pumps up for a game. Maybe you think the decision should include another player. Who do you think should sit and why?