Monday, April 30, 2007

Is there a more underrated player than...

... Michal Rozsival?

Every Rangers' game I've seen recently, he's impressed me, and after a career year in the regular season, he's already got three goals and five points in seven playoff games. He's one of the key cogs now on a New York power play that is the best in the league, at least in terms of artistry, and scored the winner in a must-win on a beautiful point shot today against the Sabres in double overtime. Rozsival also played the most minutes of any player on either team (38:16) and finished plus-two on the day, despite the fact it was uncertain whether or not he'd return from a knee injury suffered earlier.

Not bad for $2.1-million/year.

And yet his signing in August was little more than a footnote, even though he finished last season at plus-35, which was good enough to take home the Bud Light Plus-Minus Award while playing for a team not known for its defensive prowess.

Rozsival's not a huge guy (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), but the real key to his game is a combination of above average skating and puck-moving ability. An outlet pass is such a simple thing, but when you're outletting to the likes of Jagr, Straka and Nylander, it can make a big difference if you're enabling them to gain that extra step up the ice.

Going back 10 years or so, I remember watching him as a youngster, an import player on the Swift Current Broncos who emerged as one of the best defencemen in junior hockey in his sophomore WHL season. A mid-round pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins, he had a few nondescript years there before missing the entire 2003-04 season with a ghastly knee injury, then retreated to the Czech Republic for the lockout year before breaking out last season in New York alongside current partner Marek Malik.

He's one of those skaters that has really benefited from the 'new' game, becoming the Rangers' equivalent of a Brian Campbell or Brian Rafalski — blueliners who play the game a certain understated way that doesn't often involve knocking the tugboats in front of the net on their cans (Campbell v. Umberger excepted). There's been more of a premium on fundamental skills — stickhandling, skating and passing — for defencemen in the past two seasons, something that's allowed more than a few players previously branded 'soft' excel (see Visnovsky, Lubo or Timonen, Kimmo).

All that said, it's worth keeping in mind that Rozsival's still just 28, and will be an unrestricted free agent following next season.

And given what we've seen so far, there's a good chance he'll be one of the guys taking big-ticket offers come July 1, 2008.

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At 7:25 AM, April 30, 2007, Blogger mike said...

Rozsie! Rozsie! Rozsie!

Replacing Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!

At 9:31 AM, April 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd put Brian Campbell of Buffalo in the same underrated category as Rozsival. A fine, fine player who gets zero attention from the hockey media.

At 11:38 AM, April 30, 2007, Anonymous Jenn said...

I'd like to add Kris Draper of the Wings to the highly underrated by the media. The guy is a solid player, a true workhorse, great face-off winner, awesome PK, and at 36 still fast as hell.

At 11:50 AM, April 30, 2007, Blogger John Fischer said...

Let me be a homer here and argue that Jay Pandolfo is a bigger bang for the buck in terms of "underrated" hockey player.

For the low, low price of $836,000 per year (according to the NHLPA), you get one the game's best shutdown wingers - matching up against top lines all day long. What's more is that he rarely takes a penalty, he currently leads the NHL in least penalty minutes in the playoffs (with at least 20 games, I believe).

He gives you great coverage on defense, he's a hard worker, he's fairly quick, and he doesn't take any penalties. Thing is, he's got the offensive abilities of a snail sometimes, but he did tie his season-high in points this season (13 G, 14 A) and when he does score, the Devils have only lost twice, I believe.

At 2:43 PM, April 30, 2007, Blogger JavaGeek said...

Rosival is an excellent defenseman, but:

There are a few things you're missing in his salary:
1. It almost tripled from his previous contract
2. At least one year was a restricted free agent year (reduced salary)
3. His line mate is Malik, the most consistent plus player for years!
Malik: (31)
2002: +23 (VAN)
2003: +35 (VAN)
2004: +10 (CZECH)
2005: +28 (NYR)
2006: +32 (NYR)
Rozsival: (28)
2002: -5 (PIT)
2003: N/A (-)
2004: -4 (CZECH)
2005: +35 (NYR)
2006: +10 (NYR)

His next contract will likely be higher than his true worth due to his inflated plus-minus.

At 2:59 PM, April 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only thing he said about his salary was that it was $2.1 million and would be going up in 2008.

What's 'missing' there?

At 3:56 PM, April 30, 2007, Blogger mike said...

What Javageek is missing is that Malik is carried by Rozsival, rather than the other way around. Malik is soft and moves with the grace of a dying Frankenstein monster, and is prone to the odd giveaway now and again--right, Buffalo?

At 4:37 PM, April 30, 2007, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

For the low, low price of $836,000 per year (according to the NHLPA), you get one the game's best shutdown wingers - matching up against top lines all day long.

Just like to point out that that is 29% higher than what the Ducks are paying Pahlsson ($650k) for a similar role / similar effectiveness.

At 9:44 PM, April 30, 2007, Blogger emailmike1994 said...

I think I nearly fell out of my chair reading: "Malik, the most consistent plus player for years"

I'd have to go out on a limb here and make the assumption you've seen fewer than 10 New York Rangers games this season. I'm willing to bet my cherished Evgeni Malkin bobblehead I picked up in the Burgh this year at a Pens Bolts game that my previous statement is on the money.

If you had seen any more shifts from our dear Czech friend, Big Marek Malik, you'd have to rethink your whole premise.

Yes the numbers are there as confounding as that may be, but be aware Malik's plus minus is reflective of one thing during his time in New York. On a consistent basis the top forward line and the d-pair of Rozsival and Malik roll out there together as a five man unit.

That means Malik has been the beneficiary of being on the ice for the majority of the time with this line that scored over 180 goals over the last two years. The fact alone is largely responsible for that inflated figure you see next to Marek's name.

His huge frame is about as useful as, pardon the expression, tits on a bull, as he delivers body checks about as often his countryman wearing the number sixty-eight.
Malik has also scored as many goals on his own goalie as he as on his opponents this season.

Roszival has improved not only the aspects of his game that James referenced, but he has also added sandpaper to a game that completely lacked it last year.

He has to be the strong part of the pair as his partner is either burned to the outside with speed he simply doesn't possess or ignores the concept of gap control and lets enemy forwards dictate where their shots come from. Rozy is also compensating for the lackluster backchecking often on display from Jagr and Nylander.

So before we go giving any credit in any other direction let's take a step back and realize who we're talking about. That's grounds for a public stoning around Rangers fans. I'll let you off with a mildly on topic tongue lashing.

At 1:27 AM, May 01, 2007, Blogger JavaGeek said...

I want to highlight one other thing:
Look at the game sheets for the 12 games Malik was missing and Rozsival played and tell me how Rozsival did without Malik?

Here I'll do it for you:
He was +0.176/game in the games Malik played and was -0.167/game in games he didn't play. Of course that's just coincidence, right?

It appears some people here have very strong opinions on players. So I may as well concede that Rozsival is the all star on the Rangers defense and Malik is a slow oaf with no skill.

At 9:07 AM, May 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes javageek, you might as well concede that to those who watch every single ranger game and actually know what they are talking about rather than looking at the +/- statistic.

my only issue with rozsie is that he should shoot a bit more. he's always looking to pass the puck to jagr.


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